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"For the last 200 years, capitalism has indeed grown constantly, but only by constantly expanding its markets and its resource base".
Just to put a little more concreteness on your point: let's take two relatively new industries, computers and endovascular medicine, and I would ask you if they fit in your model. The whole computer/internet industry has exploded in the last 50 years. The treatment of many diseases, which were either not treatable, or treated only with very invasive surgery, are now treated with tiny catheters that thread there way through our vessels and treat diseases such as blocked vessels in the heart (treatment called angioplasty), cerebral anneurisms, lower leg thrombosis, etc. has also exploded over the last 30 years. Our efficiency has been greatly increased by computers/internet, our pleasure and learning greatly expanded--ex. this very blog. Lives have been saved with less invasive products, quality of life has been greatly expanded, people that would have died are walking around leading very productive lives.
I guess i'm just not sure how these industries fit in that statement.
The problem I have with this is not the realization that continued economic growth is no longer possible (it's about time politicians starting telling people to expect hard times ahead). My problem with a position like Gordon Brown's, or with the "official" reaction to Delphi's bankruptcy in the US, is that they do not question the need for the profits of capital to continue growing as before, at the expense of larger cuts in the general standard of living.
I just don't share your pessimism about economic growth and our future. Once again sticking with these two industries, I think computerization is going to continue to give us wonderful tools for work and play. And expand the ability for people in LCD's to learn and become very productive and happy in a more connected world economy. In healthcare, there are some many new products and developments coming out of the base of these endovascular technologies, and i think they're going to have even more dramatic effect on length of life and quality of life. And as countries become wealthier, they will have more money and can, if they choose, devote more of their wealth to higher tech medical devices.
I'm not so naive as to realize that there aren't world issues to overcome. But how would you see these two industries fitting into your above view of the future.
Regarding computers, that 'explosion' is a bit overblown. But good you mentioned it, for this is used to overstate the US economic growth: instead of calculating with the real sum, for example the PC industry's income is added after multiplying with a so-called hedonic price index (HPI), which is supposed to express improvement in quality. If a computer with the same speed now costs the half, or if the average speed of PC processors increased by two, this is "corrected" in GDP calculation by multiplying the real sum with two. (Other countries have since adopted some HPI, but with less brutal ratios, and the USA remains the most 'consequent'.)
From 1995 to 2000, computer investitions rose from $20 to $87 billion. But with HPI, the sum added to the 2000 GDP was $240 billion. In the last figure I have a source for, Q4/2001, an increase of $1.9 billion was blown up to $23.5 billion.
This is troubling both because the majority of even 'analysts' (at least those writing or talking to the media) doesn't seem to have heard of HPI yet compare US GDP figures with other countries' as if the measure were the same, and because the chosen measure of quality increase is hogwash. If you use your computer most of the time as text editor or a terminal to some database, being twice as fast means not much, surely not "twice as good".
There is a lot of other such statistical wizardly behind every economic success claim, including those on productivity and 'efficiency'.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
By itself the GDP tells very little. Simply a measure of total output (the dollar value of finished goods and services), it assumes that everything produced is by definition "goods." It does not distinguish between costs and benefits, between productive and destructive activities, or between sustainable and unsustainable ones. The nation's central measure of well being works like a calculating machine that adds but cannot subtract. It treats everything that happens in the market as a gain for humanity, while ignoring everything that happens outside the realm of monetized exchange, regardless of the importance to well-being.
They really do assume that computing power is something you can value like apples and oranges.
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