Growth – is it good or god?

Growth is good: it is evidence of life, and we all need evidence of that sometimes.

Except, of course, that if you and I grow too much, we become obese, and that is bad. So in our particular case, growth should be reined back, so that we remain capable of moving about.

As far as house prices go, you can look at growth in various ways. Growth in the number of houses is widely accepted as good, because it will enable many people currently homeless to get a roof over their heads. On the other hand, it means that we lose many acres of countryside, which is bad.

So it becomes a question of the greater good. Do we sacrifice our green and pleasant land so that people have somewhere to live? Put like that, the answer is straightforward – until so much countryside is covered with concrete that it is hardly worth living at all. (This is also known as the wind farm paradox.)

Then there is the question of house prices. If they grow (as they are doing at the moment), you could argue that to a buyer it doesn’t matter, because the house you sell is worth more too. But what if you don’t have a house? Growth in house prices is clearly bad for you.

And yet the economy needs to grow, doesn’t it? Not necessarily: a stable economy works perfectly well.

You wouldn’t think so, of course, when you listen to the news. The people at Tesco are worried at the moment because the company is not growing. And to listen to political analysts, you would assume that if companies are not growing, they are doomed.

In fact, this is rubbish. How can it possibly be true? Say I shop at Tesco. (I don’t, but let’s overlook that for the moment.) I buy my groceries on a fairly regular basis; I need roughly the same amount each week. But for Tesco to be “successful”, I would have to increase my purchases on a regular basis. This would mean I have to eat more, and this would mean I would grow in a very personal way – which, if you remember, is bad.

So how can this constant search for growth be made to make sense? Well, Tesco could encourage immigration, which would not be popular in a country the size of ours. Or they could urge customers to switch from other supermarkets. What is the point in that?

It makes much more sense to maintain stability, and this goes for most companies. It  would be good for the poor, but it would be bad for rich investors, who are basically gamblers. I bet you know whose side I’m on.

To western democracies, growth is a kind of god. But it’s a false god.

At this stage someone usually pats me on the shoulder and says patronisingly: “Tim,” (they always use your name, as if you need reminding), “you don’t really understand.”

And they’re right. I don’t. Or maybe I wish I didn’t.