The Diseconomics of Growth, H V Hodson: 2020 #2

Written in 1972, this is a straightforward, well-written explanation of how focusing on economic growth for returns, can mean we, and the planet, can suffer as a result.

Industry, individuals, investors, governments all want growth – it’s how we measure our success at whatever level, now as in 1972. Nothing is likely to change that short of a “believable threat of human extinction” (p.95). Hodson’s argument is that we could, instead of reaping instant reward for growth, use the growth to deal with the shortcomings of the current (then and now) economic system. So, dealing with the impacts of cheap, growth goods – pollution, noise, environmental degradation. “Higher productivity is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and we have a choice of ends.” (p. 101) Instead of better spending power, we might choose a better environment.

Policies should discourage businesses and shareholders to “treat as income what is really the running-down of a capital asset”.

“The world has to live within its means, and the better off should show the way to the worse off”, (p. 192). Hodson invites us not to voluntarily lower our life standards, but to change them “to accord to a more sensible and far-sighted view of man’s place on the planet and his demands upon its resources” (p. 212).

Growth does not equal welfare for all of society or the planet itself. We can all reduce our “redundant consumption (p. 231), and take personal action (p. 236).

Almost four decades later I don’t think much has changed here. It was written before IT became as commonplace as it is today, before Chernobyl, before the Berlin wall was brought down, but its message of thinking long-term, and less selfishly still stands true.

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