This is the startling title and thesis of an article by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian on 9th October, and brought to my attention by Paul Trathen. To summarise, Monbiot argues that continued economic growth is unsustainable and likely to lead to ecological disaster, and that we, in western countries, are no longer in poverty and so have no need for further growth.
Is it not time to recognise that we have reached the promised land, and should seek to stay there? Why would we want to leave this place in order to explore the blackened wastes of consumer frenzy followed by ecological collapse? Surely the rational policy for the governments of the rich world is now to keep growth rates as close to zero as possible?
Of course governments will not follow this rational policy, but will seek continued growth. But will it work? Recent events in the banking system have shown how volatile things may be, and people are beginning to realise this.
I have just decided to buy a new house (and have had an offer accepted on this one, just a mile from my current home and very near my church), rather than leave in a bank the money from the house I sold earlier in the year (which I bought with money inherited from my parents). I am doing this even though everyone is predicting that the housing market is likely to fall. One reason for this was my concern about the security of even the safest bank deposit. I was also challenged to some extent by John Richardson on the ethics of living on interest; and someone gave me a word about Jeremiah buying a field. I thought I was going against the standards of the world in doing so. So I was actually a bit startled to read on the BBC website today that
A majority of British people believe buying property is now a safer place to put their money than saving with a bank or building society. …
That belief is directly at odds with the view accepted by the overwhelming majority of investment professionals.
They regard cash as safer than property because as long as the bank is solvent, there is no risk to your capital.
Of course the point, following the Northern Rock scare, is that people no longer trust that banks will remain solvent. Or they might recognise that “no risk to your capital” doesn’t apply in a situation of high inflation and collapse of a currency, which might be triggered by major bank failures.
The financial professionals may have no time for Monbiot’s thesis, but perhaps it resonates a bit better with ordinary people who prefer to find their security in bricks and mortar rather than in financial spheres that are starting to look like bubbles.