[getsmart-l] Growth - or the "End Of Growth"?

John O'Gorman jcogorman at sympatico.ca
Sun Jan 6 13:09:16 EST 2008

Attached are two columns. The first is from the Globe and Mail to which I have appended web references for Doug Saunders references so that you can pursue the sources. 

The second is from the Liberal and relates the story of York Region's galloping expansion to the detriment of later generations. Just why does a council, local and/or regional, think that if it is not paving the agricultural fields that it is being remiss in its duties. Why can councils not reconsider that expansion is worse than consolidation and re-develop the albatross of bad development that previous councils have hung around our collective neck!!??

Getting ready for a no-growth future
DOUG SAUNDERS Globe and Mail Update January 5, 2008 at 12:05 AM EST

dsaunders at globeandmail.com 

LONDON — Can you do well without having more? In these austere and bloat-sapping weeks after the holidays, a lot of us find ourselves asking that question. And it's one that the whole world is pondering at the moment, since it appears that 2008, for many countries if not the whole world, will be a year without economic growth.

A non-growing economy is something we haven't experienced in 15 years or more. We usually associate it with unfortunate things: unemployment, rising poverty, reduced social mobility — a worse chance for everyone. http://www.feasta.org/documents/feastareview/daly.htm and  Brian Czech 
Shovelling Fuel for a Runaway Train
Errant Economists, Shameful Spenders, and a Plan to Stop them All  http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9057/9057.ch06.html 

But could there be a way to have a good life without growth? For the past 40-odd years, a handful of economists, environmentalists and assorted observers have been arguing that we can, and should, and ought to do so now.

The zero-growth movement, a product of the tumult of new thinking of the 1970s, is enjoying a significant renaissance today. There is renewed interest in the idea that humanity might be able to prosper without either economic or population growth (to the extent that those concepts can be separated), and that this may be a good idea.

It was 36 years ago that the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth, which suggested that the population-driven growth in resource depletion was going to lead us to doom within a lifetime.

Five years later, economist Herman Daly came up with an idea he called "steady-state economics," which held that economic policy could be aimed to maintain our stock of resources rather than maximize growth. He suggested that we stop treating the depletion of the world's resources as "income" on our balance sheets and start looking at it as depreciation.   http://dieoff.org/page88.htm   ("No one can deny that if we had more resources and were truly richer, all our economic problems would be more easily solved. The question is whether further growth in GNP will in fact make us richer. It may well make us poorer. How do we know that it will not, since we do not bother to measure the costs and even count many real costs as benefits? These critics simply assume that a rising per-capita GNP is making us better off, when that is the very question at issue! ")

None of this was taken very seriously at the time. But two things have happened since then.

First, the crisis in climate change, and the realization that human inputs play some role, has made leaders everywhere realize that we are burning up the world's resources too fast. Some of Mr. Daly's fringe ideas have become tangible reality: He proposed that we should place an economic value on the depletion of resources; today, we have things such as the European Emission Trading Scheme, which tries to place a market price on pollution in order to reduce emissions.

Second, in the past four decades the quality of life for the world's poorest people has improved dramatically, as a result of smart policies in education and health that were made possible by that burning up of energy. Economists now largely agree that economic growth makes it possible to move large numbers of people out of poverty, if governments are willing to use that growth to pay for it.

If you stop one, must you stop the other? Without growth, must poverty increase? That's my central question here. In the seventies, that was an all-or-nothing matter: It looked as though we would keep increasing forever, ruining the world, and poverty was the only alternative. Today, thanks to those education and health programs, it looks like the world's population will stop growing in about 50 years — that is, if we maintain enough prosperity to keep education and health levels growing. Will it require economic growth to get there?

And what happens then? When the population stops growing, Mr. Daly's ideas will have their ultimate test: Without population growth, we surely won't have economic growth. No-growth economics, in our children's lifetimes, will become everyone's economics.

So the steady-state economists deserve a closer scrutiny: Not only do their ideas make more sense today, but they're an eerie portent of the future. What do they offer us? Can they suggest a way to make human life better without economic growth?

On the face of it, that's impossible: To raise people out of poverty, and make full employment a reality, you need sources of economic revenue that governments and other economic actors can draw upon. But if the population is stable or shrinking, that becomes hard to imagine: A non-growing population is by definition an aging one, and more old people means more people who use up government money (in health care and pensions) without paying any income tax.

If governments have rising expenses (and they rise extremely fast if your population is aging) and declining sources of tax revenue, they run into huge troubles, and things such as poverty alleviation, environmental policy, education and health care become unrealistic.

Some zero-growthers realize this, and say it's okay: The Earth should come first.

Environmentalist George Monbiot made this argument strongly a few weeks ago in his column in The Guardian, arguing that the coming recession, if it occurs, should be welcomed because it will finally curtail the increase of carbon-emitting consumption.

The poor, he acknowledged, have been the main beneficiaries of economic growth: "The massive improvements in human welfare — better housing, better nutrition, better sanitation and better medicine — over the past 200 years are the result of economic growth and the learning, spending, innovation and political empowerment it has permitted." http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,2186692,00.html 

But, he asked, "at what point should it stop?" And, in his mind, the answer was clear: Now. The poor people he sees around him "have expensive haircuts, fashionable clothes and mobile phones. … Is it not time to recognize that we have reached the promised land and should seek to stay there?" ("But because political discourse is controlled by people who put the accumulation of money above all other ends, this policy appears to be impossible. Unpleasant as it will be, it is hard to see what, except an accidental recession, could prevent economic growth from blowing us through Canaan and into the desert on the other side. ")

Call me anthropocentric, but I'm not ready to put air quality before human development. Not yet. I'd like to have both, but I'm not ready to dump one for the other, not when human conditions are still improving. I don't want to hear about steady-state economics unless it can actually help people, not just maintain the status quo.

So I asked Herman Daly how his theories would deal with this problem. After all, he has never (unlike many of his followers) proposed some central-planning model of government-imposed economic limits, a Lenin of the hydrocarbons. His writings are sometimes vague, but they do put human lives at the forefront.

"As you point out, an increase in the average age of the population is an inevitable consequence of moving from a growing to a stationary population, and that creates a problem for social security systems in which the working age cohorts are taxed to subsidize the non-working cohorts," he admitted.

Then he suggested a sacrifice: "I think we have to make some adjustments, namely raising the age of retirement. That keeps us in the working, tax-paying cohort longer, with less time as pension recipients."

Quite a reasonable answer, especially compared with those proposed by a number of his followers, who would impose government rationing of working hours and other concepts that stink of the 20th century's worst moments.

But a lot of economists suggest that a raise in retirement age wouldn't come close to solving the problem. The trouble is that the world has never really seen serious social betterment without economic growth. And the theories, even human-friendly ones like Mr. Daly's, don't make it look easy. Since none of this is simply theoretical any more, I'd like to hear more. It's a problem we'll have to solve.


Residential growth outstripping commercial by 2 to 1 margin 

Regional News Thornhill Liberal Jan 02, 2008 09:18 PM  - Patrick Mangion

With businesses beating a path to York Region’s doors, things have been pretty rosy north of Steeles Avenue the past few years.

But that may change if demand exceeds supply.

Residential growth often outstrips commercial by a two-to-one margin.

That means many of York’s municipalities need to tread lightly in the coming years if they are to strike a balance and have enough jobs to keep you off already clogged highways.

The last decade has shown Toronto’s loss has been York’s gain in many cases, as company’s in search of lower taxes and a larger footprint put down roots in Vaughan, Markham, Richmond Hill, Newmarket and Aurora.

State Farm Insurance opened its Canadian headquarters in Aurora this year and Honda plans to do the same in Markham. 

With developers pining for a piece of the lucrative residential housing boom, municipalities have been forced to become protective of what little employment lands remain, said Ana Bassios, Richmond Hill’s commissioner of planning and development.

“The bedroom community could be in danger without a sustainable fiscal base,” Ms Bassios said.

The town is embroiled in a dispute with developers over 270 acres between Leslie Street and Hwy. 404, north of Elgin Mills Road.

While Richmond Hill envisions a sprawling commercial/industrial campus that would rival West Beaver Creek, some developers would rather build homes.

However, Richmond Hill is one of several southern municipalities earmarked for growth by the province.

The land use issue went to the Ontario Municipal Board earlier this year where a more diplomatic decision was handed down. Some of the land is reserved for businesses and other portions zoned for retail and residential.

But that decision is being reviewed and could change, Ms Bassios said.

“Absorption of the town’s employment lands has been much quicker than we anticipated. The Leslie lands are the last employment lands left. This is absolutely one of the highest priorities,” she said.

That is particularly true in Newmarket, where the region’s smallest town (geographically) is nearly built out.

Less than 100 acres are left for business, economic development officer Chris Kallio said.

It means the town finds itself in a unique situation.

While neighbouring towns such as East Gwillimbury and Aurora are undergoing unprecedented commercial growth, Newmarket is forced to turn business away, Mr. Kallio said.

“I get calls from commercial brokers looking for a seven-acre parcel for manufacturing. They know we’re a good location and we have a good labour force, but we can’t do it.

“We can’t promote ourselves as a manufacturing centre in the future because of land constraints,” he said.

Plans are expected to take shape next year for an eight-acre office and commercial development. 

It will be a harbinger of things to come, Newmarket Mayor Tony Van Bynen said.

“The focus will be on creating the types of jobs that can be multi-storey,” the mayor said.

That includes adding high-density office buildings in the town’s already existing corridors, such as Yonge and Davis Drive, a large portion of which can be centred around Southlake Regional Health Centre, Mr. Van Bynen said. 
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