Re-Assessing Growth

Posted on September 6, 2012

Instead of obsessing about growth, we should be using this recession to re-evaluate it and change the relationship between business and society.

We have come to expect social cohesion as a given. The widely accepted economic model of boom and bust, with its constant cycles of growth and decline, has always provided a comforting sense that everything will be alright in the end and that growth is always just around the corner. But it is becoming increasingly obvious that this is no longer the case – the inconvenient truth of finite growth has reared its head while governments and businesses bury their heads in the sand and turn to outdated economic theories to find a way out. Growth built on debt is not growth.

We have become obsessed by economic growth fuelled by debt at the expense of development in other critically important areas of society. Intellectual growth, cultural growth, moral growth, spiritual growth, artistic growth, social growth, and compassionate growth – to name just a few – all of which make a vital contribution to our collective ‘wealth’ and cohesion.

What is it that has led us to define human development almost solely by financial parameters? The answer is simple. Blind belief in financial growth and scale as the twin pillars of human progress has created a paradox that has hidden the concentration of power in an ever smaller and self interested elite. According to Gary Hamel, proclaimed by The Wall Street Journal as the world’s leading business expert, it has fuelled ‘the growth of a national and global oligopoly with the power to fix its own rules for its own self-interest’. A recent study found that the 500 largest global firms account for 40% of world GDP, run by a vastly powerful elite of CEOs, and endorsed by politicians for their own benefit at the expense of the rest of society; 1% versus 99%.

It was only a matter of time before a serious financial downturn exposed the system’s inequalities and fanned the embers of unrest but, whereas in past recessions the prospect of a relatively quick return to growth could be used to alleviate social unease, the clear lack of a recovery in the foreseeable future has allowed the seeds of discord to grow. However, it is not too late to change course, and herein lies our challenge: to ensure that we take this once in a generation opportunity  to evaluate meaningfulness and human progress and use it to rebalance business objectives with the wider interests of human society and the future of our planet as a whole. Above all, we need to do it before it’s too late and change is forced upon us.

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