End of Growth

Interesting to see how fast the end-of-growth meme is spreading outwards from the commentariat to the governing class.

George Monbiot has noticed that Ed Miliband’s holiday reading included Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth. The book was a singular choice: Gordon Brown ignored it; Peter Mandelson responded with a witless piece of official sloganeering about growth, and David Cameron torched its publisher, the Sustainable Development Commission, as one of his first acts as PM.

Richard Heinberg’s The End of Growth is just out in print, although I’m still waiting to be able to get hold of a copy in the UK.

Even the BBC, sworn to uphold the idea that everything in the garden is lovely, is broadcasting seditious scuttlebutt on the Today programme, tacitly acknowledging that Permagrowth economics is now pretty much wedged into a cul-de-sac of its own making.

A couple of years ago, the Today presenter Evan Davis predicted that peak oil would be one of the business world’s leading topics of conversation in future. But, like Prosperity without Growth, Davis’s prediction sank without trace. Funny that.

For today’s Today, though, Davis got commodity trader Jim Rogers’ take on what’s going on:

“If the world economy gets better, then commodity prices are going to go through the roof because of the shortages that are developing. If the world economy does not get better, commodity prices will still be firm, (a) because of shortages and (b) because governments will print money

“Throughout history when governments have printed money it’s led to rises in the price of real assets. Whether it’s rice or silver or natural gas or whatever it happens to be, people try to protect themselves when money is being debased.”

That is the peak oil vs. financialisation argument in a nutshell. Growth has been killed by shortages – primarily of energy – while attempts to substitute a kind of ersatz growth based on thin-air money printing for the real thing are self-defeating.

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