Economic growth is inevitable for mankind. Growth has obtained the centre stage of public life today. Economic performance, economic growth, economic expansion and so forth have become obsessions of all modern societies. The performance of a government is measured by growth of its economy – everybody believes that.
It is a perception, a thought, a belief, that has grown with time, and it is now deeply established that growth is the only criteria to judge the performance of a nation. These perceptions are created by dominant groups in society. Growth needs energy and resources. Economic development consumes natural resources abundantly without any limit and without any tangible benchmark. This unabated use of resources quite significantly infringes on nature. Man does not consider himself as a part of nature but as superior to nature. He wants to dominate it, conquer it. But the result is obviously disastrous.
Natural resources are limited. Their use has already threatened the selfbalancing phenomenon of nature. And nature has signalled it quite loudly during last couple of decades. It now even threatens the existence of humanity. We happily use natural resources, fossil fuels, ground water etc. without considering it as ‘capital’. We do not have the urge to maintain this ‘capital base’. It seems these resources are ‘income’ to us. But the depletion of ground water and fossil fuels will raise serious questions about the existence of mankind. We do not put limits to these uses, rather maximise them according to increasing growth in economy. Thus growth has its costs.
The ‘quality of life’ is often synonymous with the ‘quantity consumed’. For example, the more we consume, say, electricity, the ‘better off’ we are. This is the common belief in today’s world and therefore practised widely. We feel happy if we can consume more goods, more luxuries. But that is not always true. A person with meagre consumption of electricity living in the lap of lush green nature may find more peace, more confidence, a healthier physique, and less stress. In fact, we, the educated people, are now far away from nature.
Nature does not raise curiosity in us. Night sky, morning sun, morning trees and birds do not engulf us with joy, peace and happiness. From dawn to dusk in big cities, we never come close to nature, we are surrounded by bricks, iron, steel and people. These big cities were born in nature’s lap, near river water, on fertile land, in places where weather was conducive for our living. But that nature is now far away from our big cities.
Nature is now a part of our luxuries. We go to the hills by motorable roads with no hassles, throw our bodies in home stays and hotels with absolute comfort, enjoy every bit of our journey. The man with fewer demands has a lower consumption; lower consumption causes lesser production, and thus lesser growth, and lesser destruction. Gandhiji once said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.” So there cannot be unlimited, generalised growth.
Materialism has no limiting principle; but it is placed in an environment with limited resources. We on earth now number 775 crore, fifty years ago we were 368 crore, hundred years ago 191 crore, two hundred years ago 100 crore. The population will reach 900 crore, by an estimate, by 2050. We are now gradually grabbing more and more space on earth’s surface, utilising more natural resources. Is Earth only for mankind? The concept of exponential economic growth comes from the idea that we are to grow. Once we achieve our needs, our greed for luxuries should grow. This is the common concept inscribed in our education, in our ideas, in our social system.
We are repeating and practising the same ideas, concepts and perceptions. We are believers, and not the thinkers. Research in science and technology is also oriented to satiate human needs and greed. There is more development in technology to reduce man’s working time and thus increase leisure hours. But scientific efforts are not integrating us with nature. We are defying nature. Growth is indulged in by greed, where growth expands greed. Greed and envy destroy intelligence, happiness, and destroy the desire to live peacefully. Perhaps a peaceful mind may not be that creative. But destruction of intelligence is really a concern.
A rise in GDP does not have all-pervasive solutions to human problems. It does not provide work for all. It does not solve the problem of poverty, rather it increases the gap between the rich and the poor, increases frustration, insecurity, and alienation in society. Displacement and immigration are the major concerns of today’s world. Millions of people are either displaced locally or migrate, sometimes illegally, to more prosperous countries only to survive physically. And the concern is that the number is increasing. But an economy must not compel citizens to leave their own country, to leave their family behind only to survive or for a better livelihood.
So, all is not well. We should reconsider our thoughts on maximisation of consumption of goods as a benchmark for good economy. We must determine the just or right quantity of goods to be produced and consumed. A benchmark for utilisation of natural resources for production of these goods is equally important to determine. Focus should also be shifted from goods and services to human factor. Man is “labour” when he produces goods and is “consumer/customer” when he consumes those products or services.
The creative aspect of man should come to centre stage. The repetitive, soul-destroying, meaningless and mechanical work necessary only to survive physically is an insult to human nature. Man is not only “labour” or a “consumer”; he bears a soul and requires its nourishment too. Life of man is meaningless without wisdom. To be able to find wisdom one must first liberate oneself from greed and envy. The economy should honour this soul searching; it should assist one to attain wisdom.
(The writer is a cost accountant working in a senior position with a state power utility. The views expressed are personal.)