Published:  12:16 AM, 16 September 2019

Is growth a development sine qua non?


Our conventional development thinking still nestles highly in growth-centric development vision. The influence of this vision has made us so much stuck in the growth-rut that we cannot still think of any alternative to growth-centric development vision clearly.

But, now the objective condition has stood such that alternative is necessary for the human race for its survival and thriving. In all the economies of the planet earth from high performing to low performing ones, all of them still make use of gross domestic product (GDP) as the most critical indicator of development of a country.

When the need of the humanity has arrived to thrive collectively with strong social foundation along with sound ecological support system, obsession with growth has become obsolete thinking and not an up-to-date one for the current emergent need.

In the remote past, Gautama Buddha had found solution to human sufferings in nirvana. When a human being would be able to extinguish the flames arising out of worldly desires to consume and enjoy, only then the person would not come to life cycle again and be subject to worldly sufferings. The idea of high thinking and plain living has been a human wisdom to counteract the desire of possessing the excesses due to human greed since long.

The industrial revolution in Great Britain ushered in a surge of increased industrial production never thought before. The prime motive was to earn uninterrupted heap of profits by the owner producers. The wheels of production could move uninterrupted, had there been a matching consumption, not necessarily by all.

In the modernization era, economic massification became a catchy word. The students of economics used to be taught about the logic of mass-production, mass-consumption and their ultimate equilibrium. E. F. Schumacherwhile writing his book 'Small is beautiful' in the early seventies began his introduction with a premise that problem ofproduction was over.

Surely, production problem was solved, but at what cost? He argued clearly that environment had much degraded to sustain an ever-accelerated production. He saw solution in small-scale production and consumption with a small feedback-loop to monitor abnormal deviations, if any.

At the course of modernization era in the West, Mahatma Gandhi came to India with his modern education on law to pursue his legal profession in pre-partitioned India. Onhis professional pursuit, he had to go to South Africa, but one day his humiliation in a train compartment by a white police personnel turned him into a different protesting person against injustice, illegality and discrimination.

However, he came back to India ultimately and mingled with the suffering people for their emancipation by his leadership characterized by the principles of non-violence and holding on to the truth.

His cherished vision for development of India was to turn it into a place where every village would emerge as a self-reliant village republic devoid of onslaught of the most dominant growth-centric economic development and supportive matching technology.

In independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister to make a modern India following the foot-prints of Western Modernization. Perhaps, Gandhiji's was a non-growth like model. May be some of the thinkers now are illuminated by his vision and spirit for the "self-reliant village republic".

Since then, much water has flown through the rivers of the sub-continent. In two-winged Pakistan, growth-centrism and development without consideration of many other vital things went on hand in hand till its end. Then, we, the witness to development paradigm-shift, have found gradual more emphasis on"space-ship economics" over the"cow-boy economics" by the development thinkers and policy-makers in the global arena.

One author David Korten in his book "When Corporations Rule the World" wrote his view on the situation by describing it as cow-boys in the space-ship. But cow-boys need to be astronauts. "Space-ship economics" is about reuse, recycle, regenerate and so on. It does not emphasize growth; rather it emphasizes sustainability and acting in the spaceship collaboratively like the astronauts.

Once, an environmental thinker remarked growth as the ideology of cancer. He justified his remark by his logic and the biological facts generally known by us at present. He argued that fast growing cells of cancer spread and end up by destroying normal host cells of a human body, thus causing death to the affected person. Our planet earth is a closed system and does not function by taking inputs from outside other than the partial solar energy input.

So, infinite growth with finite resource base of the earth planet cannot be sustained in the coming days of this ongoing century.Time has come for the dominant growth vision/ideology to be a back-burner for the sake of human existence on the planet earth.

In the quest of sustainability and progress, we now see human development index (HDI), social progress index (SPI) and so on along with the long prevailed gross domestic product (GDP) used for indicating the degree and level of development of peoples of states globally.

Bhutan emphasizes human happiness as the indicator of development of its people. Dominant development paradigm (worldview) based on growth-centrismis still dominant. But alternative development thinking based on social justice (distributive, gender equality, etc.) and safe ecological system has also been emerging keeping in view the critical need of human existence and thriving on earth.

It is said that main content of politics is economics and the main content of economics is the technology employed in the production system. Doughnut Economics written by Kate Raworth has put forth seven ways to think like a 21st-century economist not emphasizing growth.

The ways are: (1) change the goal - GDP to the Doughnut, (2) see the big picture - self-contained market to embedded economy, (3) nurturehuman nature - the  rational economic man to social adaptable humans, (4) get savvy with systems - mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity, (5)design to distribute - growth will even it up to  distributive by design, (6) create to regenerate - growth will clean it up again to regenerative by design, and (7) be agnostic about growth - growth addicted to growth agnostic.Her vision of a safe and just human society to be from the present endless growth to thriving in balance is depicted in a doughnut like model. Can we opt for this?


The writer is the advisor to Centre
for Development Innovation
and Practices (CDIP), an MFI

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