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What he really is concerned with is the amount of productive capital and the value of infrastructure and land.
Part of the point is that productivity increases lead to a decrease in the demand for labour unless the amount of capital chasing after labour increases at least at the same rate.
A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
Natural resources certainly exist, and the destruction of natural resources has an obvious real-world effect.
So why do economists apparently prefer to deal with fictions than realities? I suppose one reason is that once upon a time capital would have been based on some notional and desirable physical incarnation of value such as gold. Or cowrie shells. Or wives. But today the notion that capital has a physical basis is obsolete. It's purely a social tradition. You can still buy things with capital, but that's only because everyone agrees to play the game and not ask questions about how it's played.
That's why you won't find a rational underpinning to economics and to ideas like GDP. It's like trying to find a rational reason for the pyramids.
To me the constant quest for 'growth' looks like any other irrational ritualistic anthroplogical activity. Humans seem to get stuck into these collective belief systems based on simple primate desires for more status and more resources - like pyramid building or 'growth' - and continue until the local ecosystem falls apart or some other drastic change happens. Otherwise there's no one outside of the system to point out that in most ways the beliefs and actions are really rather silly, if not actively destructive and pointless in a monkey-trap stupid kind of a way.
It's true there's a rather vague and inconsistent conflation of 'growth' with personal freedom that's often used a justification it. But we're on much shakier ground there, because it's hard to prove that this personal freedom is universal - for most of the world it hasn't been - or that it's not a kind of semi-voluntary ritualistic slavery, even among those it's supposedly benefiting.
My point is really that the bottom line - as its known - refers to perceived value in terms of this famous fiat money. In this world view the productive value of any asset - including money itself - can only be assessed in fiat money terms.
The fact that it's mythical fiat money that's being accumulated is very much the problem. By using only this one dimension of value the real social, personal and ecological costs of 'growth' can be kept hidden. And the benefits of social developments that can't easily be assessed in fiat money terms can (literally) be discounted.
So a factory or a computer can only be considered 'capital' in reference to this one dimensional value yardstick. These items may, or may not, have real-world productive value in the sense of personal empowerment and social development. But that productive value is always assessed indirectly in terms of a fictional fiat-money based number that hides information about how this kind of 'capital' is created and used.
It's not so much that I'm confusing the two - more that economic accounting is based on keeping the two confused.
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