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Social Limits to Growth- Fred Hirsch

Lazy cut and past from Amazon review

Social Limits to Growth sets forth a new view of the nature and the limitations of economic growth. The author's central argument is that there are indeed limits to growth currently exist and are essentially social rather than physical. As societies have become richer, an increasing proportion of the extra goods, services, and facilities sought by consumers cannot be acquired or used by all, without spoiling them for each other. So frustration is heightened by material affluence, which is why affluence does not make a satisfied society.

This book offers important insight on apparently disconnected aspects of the current malaise...such as alienation at work, the rat-race element in education, deterioration in city living, consumerist relationships with neighbors, friends, and sex partners, as well as accelerating rates of inflation and unemployment.

Key Concept

Positional goods: the idea that once a society has escaped the state of scarcity where the provision of the absolute neccesities of human life (Food, shelter, clothing, etc) the further creation of wealth in a society serves primarily to create social distinction rather than provide for human existence. Thus, once a society escapes scarcity the social impact of further economic growth is essentially fixed and zero sum.  I'm trying to figure a way to integrate this into measures for a research paper I'm working on about the relationship between economics and democracy.

I come from a red state, 'nuff said.

The Gift-Marcell Mauss

Linca led me to it.  The assumption that market as defined by the exchange of goods and services primarily defined by subjective utility of the individual as the operative mechanism rather than an intersubjective social significance not reducible formal value has always existed is utterly inaccurate.  Before greed was made good by the normative doctrine of economics, the primary purpose of wealth in a society was to convey social distinction.  Redistribution and reciprocation rule.  The wealthy have an obligation to care for the poor, and this in turn creates social obligation from the poor to those wealthy who provide for them.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Oct 8th, 2007 at 07:29:12 PM EST
About the Gift (which I have to read too), I wonder how come this is not some sort of compulsory reading for each and every student going into the social sciences...  Is it unknown in the USA colleges or wasn't it on your reading list beforehand?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Mon Oct 8th, 2007 at 07:48:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ha!

The dominant paradigm in the social sciences is a death struggle between the biological micro structures (psychology) and the presumption of micro level rationality (economics).  A role for society?

Largely ignored.

I've come to the conclusion that I might be a better fit in terms of a sociological orientation and an eye towards privileging theory as the substantive basis formal measures are based on, in Europe rather than America.  But I know that doing my doctoral work in Europe would make it nearly impossible to come home.  So that means emigration.  And I'm not ready to do that.

So I fight my fights here.

And I'll give my consent to any government that does not deny a man a living wage-Billy Bragg

by ManfromMiddletown (manfrommiddletown at lycos dot com) on Mon Oct 8th, 2007 at 07:56:47 PM EST
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Sadly true, outisde of Anthropology, which is hardly a social science at all.  There's a reason nobody reads anthropology any more - it's just WAY too far outside the "mainstream" of academic debate nowadays.

Cultural and social construction of reality?  Please, we're all rational actors here.

by Zwackus on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 02:34:53 AM EST
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French economists and economics commentator are fond of reminding everyone that their discipline is a science, often comparing their results to that of the theory of gravity.

But social sciences ignoring anthropology, is a bit like chemists, biologists and engineers deciding collectively that physics ain't that important and one can theorise and experiment without it.

It seems in the US this wilful ignorance has reached sociology (It seems not to be the case yet in France).

 

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 07:13:21 AM EST
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Yes, American sociology has of late become quite enamored of rational choice theory.  It makes possible such pretty models, full of math and stuff that looks sciency, and brimming with truthiness.
by Zwackus on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 08:33:36 AM EST
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But I know that doing my doctoral work in Europe would make it nearly impossible to come home.

It seems to be the reverse in France : young researchers from France, studying in the US have a hard time coming back, whereas oodles of French doctors emigrate to the US. That's the situation I know of, in the hard sciences mostly ; It seems it is different in sociology ; because of too different schools of thoughts?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 07:15:57 AM EST
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I have not seen the stats myself, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the US is importing more scientists than it's exporting. I.o.w. that the US is not training enough competent scientists to fill all the science jobs it has. This could be A Very Bad Thing for our American comrades when someplace else decides that they want to start playing the brain-drain game...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Oct 13th, 2007 at 09:52:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a common find on syllabi in Anthropology, and is widely acknowledged by Anthropologists as a foundational work in anthropological theory and cultural theory (of the "what is culture and what is its relation to society and to the world" strain).
by Zwackus on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 02:33:22 AM EST
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Been meaning to suggest you look at the first couple of chapters of The Barbarians Speak by Wells.  The entire book is on the interaction of the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes along the border which is not terribly relevant, for you.  In various places in the first couple of chapters, tho', he talks about archeological evidence for the rise of economic stratification in those tribes.

May provide some 'ammunition' for your thesis.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Mon Oct 8th, 2007 at 08:08:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
once a society has escaped the state of scarcity where the provision of the absolute neccesities of human life (Food, shelter, clothing, etc) the further creation of wealth in a society serves primarily to create social distinction rather than provide for human existence

My impression is that social differentiation, or wealth and power gaps, are perhaps the only growing things that would be sustainable in the long run... if not for physical limits of resources. In particular, greed, as unimaginative but "optimal" survival strategy, was growing to great heights cyclically throughout the history, destroying the material base of itself each time. Say, with the emergence of agriculture, spurts of greed and social competition are inferred by Bender-Hayden's theory. (I'll try to write a diary on that soon.)

P.S. I'm reading now Gore Vidal's "Messiah".

by das monde on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 03:57:56 AM EST
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I suspect there's a Darwinian bottleneck which means that species intelligence always tends towards the lowest limit needed for immediate gratification, competition and survival. In most environments that's usually going to be too low to make good species-wide strategic planning likely.

What seems to have happened with humans is that the limit rose a bit higher than usual, probably through reproductive competition - but not high enough to be truly smart.

Darwinian solutions are always short-term and instinctive, and more effective in the short term - which is fine as far as it goes, but creates a reproductive cost for the more strategic kinds of intelligence which are capable of planning ahead.

Long term solutions are likely to frustrate any number of hard-wired tendencies, and that's not going to make them popular, or likely, with individuals who don't have the cognitive or empathic skills needed to understand why they're necessary.

And so - most species won't make it. You may get a sudden die-off, or you may get cycles. But breaking out of that pattern is going to take a lot of luck, and some stray well-intentioned randomness.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 05:43:46 PM EST
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My response is long enough for a diary. Enjoy! :-)
by das monde on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 10:49:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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