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I caught part of an interesting episode of Freakonomics on NPR today.  I'd link it, but I don't see it on their podcast page yet.  They were talking about focusing on gross national happiness (GNH) instead of GDP.   We could bring our environmental impact down to sustainable levels while maintaining or even improving individual satisfaction.  They said that we need to realize that success doesn't mean perpetual economic growth.  The main point was that the Earth can't support infinite growth.  More growth drains more resources and releases more carbon.  Bottom line:  unfocused economic growth is bad for the environment.

 

This is a new (for me) way of looking at things.  The concept immediately made sense.  I understand that (trivial example) a hug could make a person happier than a new cell phone even though it wouldn't show up in GDP growth.  But, I'm having a hard time understanding how this would work. 

 

One suggestion mentioned on the podcast was that if we distributed income more fairly, we wouldn't need as much.  This is where I start to get confused.   Dollars aren't consumption.  Consumption is the driver for resource requirements.  When Bezos (and his ilk) take an oversized share of income, then that should actually depress consumption and reduce environmental impact.  

 

When someone like Bezos spends $250 million to buy a business (Washington Post, for example) that spending doesn't create any additional strain on the environment.  On the other hand, if I give a homeless person $20, they're likely to buy something like a sweater or a meal.  As much as they deserve and need that, there is environmental impact.

 

If Bezos distributed all his money to the nation's poorest people, those poor people would spend most of that money on consumption.  That's a major point made by liberal economists who argue that wealth redistribution would boost the economy.  But, wouldn't that also increase environmental impact?   Income inequality is bad for many reasons, but I don't see it as bad for the environment.  If anything, it reduces the need for resources by restraining much of the population from consuming.

 

Another thing they mentioned was the possibility of focusing economic and scientific development on environmentally beneficial goals such as more efficient transportation.  OK.  At the expense of what?  Will we restrict access to environmentally impactful consumer goods such as cell phones and disposable diapers?  

 

I wish I had caught the whole show.  I'll listen again when it's available online.

 

I don't mean to sound overly critical.  I love the concept of focusing on happiness or satisfaction instead of GDP.  But, I'm completely confused on how 'degrowth' would work in practice.  Does anyone have a good understanding?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Here's an article on the same subject:  The Urgent Case for Shrinking the Economy   "When limited resources are directed toward clean energy infrastructure, public health care, and regenerative agriculture, it will still be possible to build and power modern 24-hour hospitals in every city, but not to have Xbox consoles, two-car garages, and giant appliances in every home. The post-growth economy could not succeed solely by redistributing wealth; it would have to redefine it, too."

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