March 13, 2019
In his 2nd inaugural address, Ronald Reagan said, “There are no limits to growth and human progress when men and women are free to follow their dreams.” First impression: that’s a nice-sounding sentiment — way to stay positive, Ronnie! Second impression: what a load of crap (and a horrible foundation for economic policy in the age of overshoot)! This episode of Crazy Town focuses on the limits to growth, including the growth imperatives built into our economic institutions, and explores how the economy could make a shift toward sustainability. Along the way, Asher, Rob, and Jason take some potshots at Ronnie and his cohort of math-challenged wishful thinkers.
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- Ronald Reagan’s 2nd Inaugural Address (1985)
- Jimmy Carter’s Crisis of Confidence Speech (1979)
- Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources
- 238 academics call for wellbeing instead of growth.
- Albert Bartlett refutes Julian Simon.
- Math behind E. coli and mass of Earth in a day (doubling time of 20 minutes).
- Good overview of exponential population growth and logistic growth with carrying capacity.
Asher Miller 0:01
This is Asher, and I’m here with Jason and Rob. Guys. If you had to describe this podcast in five words or less, what would you say?
Jason Bradford 0:08
I’m gonna go with “Wile E. Coyote guzzling gasoline.”
Rob Dietz 0:13
I’m thinking “climate change diarrhea hurricane.”
Asher Miller 0:17
Are you serious? Maybe I should do this thing on my own.
Rob Dietz 0:20
Fine. It’s a show about how to stay sane in a world where there’s too many people consuming too much stuff and the planet can’t take it anymore.
Asher Miller 0:29
You had me at diarrhea.
Jason Bradford 0:34
Caution – if you’re allergic to four letter words, you might want to try a different podcast. You guys ever go to the monuments in Washington DC? They’re awesome, right? You got the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, all kinds of good stuff.
Asher Miller 0:50
I only go to the Civil War Confederate heroes monuments.
Jason Bradford 0:53
I saw Lincoln at night, it was pretty spectacular.
Rob Dietz 0:56
Yeah, well, I got to tell you this quick story about a monument I saw in DC. I was there for a conference on ecological economics and the environment. And we were of course, having this meeting in the Ronald Reagan building.
Asher Miller 1:12
Yeah, ecological economics, the first person you think of is Ronald.
Rob Dietz 1:14
Oh, yeah. Yeah. You know, total environmentalist, right? Yeah. So it’s actually an irony because the EPA is housed in that building.
Jason Bradford 1:23
Rob Dietz 1:24
But so in the main foyer, where our conference, you know, had the big gathering space, there’s these two monuments, these big stone deals that are pinned up on the wall – one is just a relief of Ronald Reagan’s head. It’s kind of nice, because just his head. Maybe it got chopped off. But the other one is this quote of Ronald Reagan’s, which was completely ironic, given the conference that it was at. You want to know what this thing said?
Jason Bradford 1:54
Rob Dietz 1:54
Well, let’s, let’s hear it from Reagan’s mouth. Here, play this clip.
Ronald Reagan 1:58
There are no limits to growth and human progress, when men and women are free to follow their dreams.
Asher Miller 2:06
Okay, so repeat that for me.
Rob Dietz 2:08
He said, “There are no limits to growth and human progress, when men and women are free to follow their dreams.”
Jason Bradford 2:17
Geez, wanna punch Ronnie in the mouth. It’s just so stupid!
Asher Miller 2:23
“There are no limits”
Rob Dietz 2:25
No limits to growth.
Jason Bradford 2:27
Rob Dietz 2:27
Jason Bradford 2:28
Well, I can think of a few. But I don’t know, is that we’re gonna get into?
Rob Dietz 2:32
I’d like to. What can you think of? What do you got?
Jason Bradford 2:36
Oh my goodness. You’ve rabbits in Australia or whatever, I mean, come on! I think the world is full of problems when things grow too big. I used to teach an ecology class, right? And we would do this, we did this simple exercise, where I would have the students calculate how long it would take for a bacteria, humans, or elephants to equal the mass of the Earth given, like their intrinsic creative growth, you know. This bacteria can divide every 20 or 30 minutes, and you know in a day or two, or three or something, it hits the mass of the planet Earth. Doubling every 20 or 30.
Rob Dietz 3:19
Something must be limiting those bacteria.
Jason Bradford 3:22
Well, that’s the thing. It’s that they always run into limits.
Rob Dietz 3:25
But “there are no limits.”
Asher Miller 3:29
He’s talking about humans, okay?
Jason Bradford 3:31
Right. We’re exceptional.
Asher Miller 3:33
Jason Bradford 3:34
We have brains!
Asher Miller 3:35
I mean, I’m still growing. I mean that’d be growing the right way.
Jason Bradford 3:39
I’m trying to shed a few pounds.
Rob Dietz 3:40
I think you might be confusing developing and growing. But let’s talk about that a little bit. Like what was Reagan talking about? He was talking about economic growth. And for our listeners out there, we might all want to get on the same page of what that is. So what what that means is, when your economy is growing every year, the gross domestic product, or GDP, is increasing in size. And GDP is just a measure of the dollar value of all the goods and services that get produced in an economy. So it really boils down to how many people do you have, and how much are they consuming. So if you’re talking about growing the economy, you’re either adding to the population or you’re adding to the amount that each person consumes, or both.
Jason Bradford 4:26
Asher Miller 4:28
That’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been doing both, right.
Rob Dietz 4:30
And I should mention that economic growth, it’s pitched as ‘you want to grow a certain percentage every year’. 3% is often what’s thrown out there. So that means exponential growth like your…
Jason Bradford 4:32
Well it divides 3 into 70. And that gives you the doubling time, right? So..
Rob Dietz 4:49
Right. Let’s stick on that for a sec ’cause that’s not a commonly known thing. So that’s the rule of thumb; you take 70…
Jason Bradford 4:57
Divided by the percentage, 3%
Rob Dietz 4:59
of annual growth rate.
Jason Bradford 5:00
Yeah, so that was 20-something – 22 years, 24 years? Three into 70.
Rob Dietz 5:06
Yeah, something like 22 and a half years, maybe?
Jason Bradford 5:08
Asher Miller 5:08
Yeah, to double.
Jason Bradford 5:09
To double. Right.
Rob Dietz 5:11
So that means, okay, so if we had 3% growth every 20-plus years, the economy would double in size.
Jason Bradford 5:16
Right. Which is incredible to think about. So imagine if we’re trying to grow the world economy at 3% right now, at 23 years to like 2040, or whatever. We have double the consumption of resources that we do now. I don’t think that’s even possible anymore.
Rob Dietz 5:36
Well, then you that’s the problem with the whole exponential growth. 20 years beyond that.
Jason Bradford 5:42
It’d be four times. Right.
Rob Dietz 5:45
Asher Miller 5:46
Well, we’ve had periods where growth has actually been much more than that. I mean, China has been growing at, you know, close to like, 10%.
Jason Bradford 5:53
Yeah, for a clip, right.
Asher Miller 5:54
Which is fucking crazy.
Jason Bradford 5:56
So that means they double their economy in seven years. Can you imagine living through that? I mean, people say China’s nuts.
Asher Miller 6:04
My son is a little over seven, he’s grown more than twice the size. Clearly achieveable.
Jason Bradford 6:11
Okay. So there’s an appropriate period of growth.
Rob Dietz 6:13
Thankfully, his exponential growth is gonna slow down. Otherwise, he’d be like that guy Robert Wadlow. You guys know him?
Asher Miller 6:20
Jason Bradford 6:22
Guinness Book of World Records. Yeah. Is he still the top?
Asher Miller 6:26
Eight foot eleven that guy. Eight foot eleven!
Jason Bradford 6:29
Is he still the record holder? Do you know?
Rob Dietz 6:31
Asher Miller 6:31
He couldn’t even dunk a basketball cause he- like hit his elbow on it.
Rob Dietz 6:34
Right. Probably smashed his forehead against the net, you know? I remember… I think every kid from our era was fascinated by the Guinness Book of World Records. And he was the page that you turned to first. Yeah, it’s just incredible to see this man who’s eight foot eleven!
Jason Bradford 6:53
Yeah. What were your other favorite pages?
Asher Miller 6:55
Oh, the two fat twins or whatever.
Rob Dietz 6:57
The dude with the massively long mustache
Jason Bradford 7:01
The fingernails that were all curly and disgusting.
Yeah, we all had the same favorites.
Rob Dietz 7:07
You know, Arnold Schwarzenegger was in that version – he’s like the most muscled man or something
Jason Bradford 7:13
They do better now, with all the steroids.
Asher Miller 7:15
The man who took the most steroids.
Rob Dietz 7:18
But getting back to to Wadlow. Like that guy, there was something wrong with his pituitary gland, right. And it’s actually a really sad story, because he was this really well-liked person. And he was a celebrity, right? ‘Cause you can’t not notice this guy. And so he started actually touring with Barnum and Bailey, or the circus. And he started going to parades and stuff. And he ended up dying really young at the age of 22. Because he was in a parade and he used to wear leg braces, and one of them rubbed his ankle and he got a blister, and a blister went septic, and his heart just couldn’t pump blood to his extremities well enough to heal stuff like that. So, you know, you think about that – you get a blister and you die. That’s what happens when continuous growth is pushing the limits of the system. And of course, now that we’ve figured out what was causing that was a, you know, a problem with the pituitary gland, medically we stopped that growth so that, you know, this person could continue to develop rather than continue to grow.
Asher Miller 8:25
Well we wanted him to be tall enough that he could actually still make money off of his height.
Jason Bradford 8:29
Yeah, like seven foot, seven foot one is ideal, right? For its center?
Asher Miller 8:33
Yeah, basketball. Yeah. What I’m interested in thinking about a little bit is where does this fixation on growth even come from? Right, like, have we always been trying to grow our economies and growing population? Have we always grown them? And if you sort of look back at the historical record, you sort of realize that it hasn’t necessarily been the goal of society. And we’ve had periods of growth over time, and then periods of contraction. It wasn’t really until, you know, the last relatively recent period in human history that we’ve just been growing and growing and growing. And it’s amazing, because it’s like, so embedded in our consciousness, this idea of growth, you know. I remember there was this scandal, this supposed scandal that happened, I don’t know, a few years ago, called Climate Gate, you know, and supposedly there were some guys who were climate deniers, and they hacked into the email of a climate scientist.
Jason Bradford 9:32
I remember that.
Asher Miller 9:33
And they basically, you know, said they found a smoking gun where there were communications in the development of these scientific reports that they’re writing, where they claimed that they sort of were conflating the numbers, you know what I mean? And it was like, ‘ah, we gotcha, you guys are faking this thing. This is not real.’ And I remember Bill McKibben, who, you know, he’s a fellow at Post Carbon Institute, and one of the founders of 350.org, you know, he’s really well known as a climate activist and writer. When that whole scandal happened – and the timing of it was such that it was done right before this, you know, big international meeting to try to get action on climate – and, you know, he made this comment, like, ‘look, there’s been so much climate science done so much study done, you’re gonna find inconsistencies, you’re gonna find this stuff, you know, because they’re mounds and mounds and like piles of paper, that could fill a room, right? So you could cherry pick whatever you want.’ And I was thinking about that, because there is nothing. You go into a room that says we can grow the economy forever, population forever, on this finite planet – you go into a room, and there’s like, no data to support that at all. But we just walk around taking it for granted, like it’s like gravity or some other physical law.
Rob Dietz 10:46
Well that’s the problem, right? It’s wishful thinking. I mean, you talked about going back in history. There was a time where growing the economy probably did help with progress. Right? That you could have more people working together to solve some problem that we had. But it’s not always the case. And, we just ran with it. You know, like, at some point in history, you said, okay yeah, growth and progress seem to be going hand in hand. Therefore, growth forever must be the way to go.
Jason Bradford 11:14
Well it’s like your kid who’s seven or eight can grow for a while, and growth and progress go together. But at some point, it tapers off. And they reach adulthood.
Rob Dietz 11:24
But then you get these magical statements from the Reagans right, ‘there are no limits to growth!’ He just sounds like a Disney character!
Jason Bradford 11:33
You know, what’s interesting is that – if you think culturally, Reagan followed Carter, right? And what was going on with Carter? You know, in that administration.
Asher Miller 11:41
Carter was coming in, well, first of all, you know, Carter, I think, was coming in after a period of, I would say, maybe the pinnacle of environmental awareness, sort of, in this country. And he wasn’t necessarily like THE environmental president, although it was something that he was concerned about. But he was dealing with a lot of economic issues, and there was concern about energy shortages, you know. And so he was, I think, trying to… Remember he reduced the speed limit on highways?
Jason Bradford 12:10
I’d never do that. God.
Asher Miller 12:12
Yeah. You want to guarantee yourself a short political career?
Jason Bradford 12:16
But he tried to speak very honestly about the situation! Yeah,
Rob Dietz 12:20
That was number one, though. Like, yeah, if you want to get booted out office, just lower the speed limit and tell the truth.
Asher Miller 12:27
Jason Bradford 12:28
Two things you should never do.
Rob Dietz 12:30
There’s a reason none of us ever made it onto our student councils.
Asher Miller 12:34
But you know,you touched on this, Rob, like, I think that our sort of economic thinking or, you know, it’s called the dismal science – it’s not a science, but the the field of economics grew up and matured in a period where we actually had pretty remarkable growth.
Jason Bradford 12:51
Cause of oil.
Asher Miller 12:52
Right? Well, really, yeah, it’s driven by energy and this abundance of like, the short term abundance of a supply of magical energy that we’re able to harness and turn that into consumption of resources and get people to buy shit. And, so you’re born into that. Just like someone is born into wealth, and they feel like they earned it, you know, they’re born into that. And, they feel like that is normal. Right? So, it kind of makes sense that we might think, ‘oh, well, not only has this worked so far, it’s going to continue to work, you know, sort of indefinitely in the future.’
Jason Bradford 13:25
You know what, it pisses me off. It’s like, okay, I think it’s a problem of scale, like you’re saying, during the development of economics, of economic theories, okay, which, in the 19th and 20th century was Industrial Revolution time, tremendous growth potential because of fossil fuels. I kind of think of it as a trajectory like, I remember watching Mark McGwire hit a home run in Cardinal Stadium, right? The ball would go up for a while, and then it would start coming down. But if all you did was extrapolate from the first, you know, second off his bat, you would think ‘there were no limits.’
Rob Dietz 14:03
Yeah, that ball’s still in orbit, isn’t it?
Jason Bradford 14:05
Still in orbit! But that’s the thing, it’s
Asher Miller 14:07
It’s up there with Elon Musk’s car somewhere.
Rob Dietz 14:09
And a whole big bag of steroids as well.
Jason Bradford 14:12
Exactly. But there’s no perspective on that there are physical laws related to a baseball and flight and there are physical laws related to an economy and it’s very ability to grow and they’re just different scales of change.
Rob Dietz 14:27
Now you’re just talking crazy. See, you know where Reagan got a lot of this stuff from was from a business professor named Julian Simon.
Jason Bradford 14:36
Rob Dietz 14:37
You guys remember that?
Asher Miller 14:38
Oh, of course I remember Julian Simon
Rob Dietz 14:41
Whatever Simon says, we do.
Jason Bradford 14:43
This is gonna hurt!
Rob Dietz 14:44
So he wrote this book called The Ultimate Resource. And of course the ultimate resource is the vaunted human mind ’cause people never do anything stupid. We’re just the greatest.
Asher Miller 14:56
Well remember Reagan said there are no limits to human innovation. Right?
Rob Dietz 15:00
Well, yeah, growth and progress. So in this book that Julian Simon wrote, The Ultimate Resource, he had this quote where he said, ‘we have in our hands now, well actually, in our libraries, the technology to feed, clothe, and supply energy to an ever growing population for the next 7 billion years.’ Now, I don’t think he understood how big a billion was, but he later kind of retracted that and said, ‘Oh, no, no, I meant to say, 7 million years.’
Jason Bradford 15:31
Did they never take high school math?
Rob Dietz 15:32
I don’t know. But then the kind of humble physicist, Albert Bartlett, did a total take down on Simon – he actually ran the math on growing the population at 1% a year over 7 million years.
Asher Miller 15:46
Which by the way, 1% a year would be a disappointment to most economists and politicians, right?
Rob Dietz 15:51
Yeah. So he did this way back in 1998. And with that much grow, if you get a population of 2.3 times 10, raised to the power of 30,410, which is way bigger than the estimated number of atoms in the universe…
Jason Bradford 16:09
The universe is huge.
Rob Dietz 16:12
I mean, he said it would only take 17,000 years to get to the number of atoms in the universe, not 7 million, let alone 7 billion.
Jason Bradford 16:23
Rob Dietz 16:24
And this is the kind of stuff that Reagan based his…
Asher Miller 16:27
Julian Simon maybe wasn’t so great on that. Right?
Jason Bradford 16:31
But here’s the thing, though, here’s the thing. These are the people who we elect, who we put in charge of policy. I mean, does anyone nowadays really have full faith and confidence in elected officials and policymakers? I mean, in 2018?
Rob Dietz 16:49
What kind of question is that? You know, to be in 2018? You can be in the year 18.
Jason Bradford 17:00
Right. I don’t know. I’m just flabbergasted by this.
Rob Dietz 17:07
Well, okay, so a little bit of a saving grace. There are some economists and other kinds of professors who actually took a physics class, who know something about energy, and they’re actually saying, we need to change; we need to prepare for a post-growth society.
Asher Miller 17:26
Yeah, I mean, there’s people doing it now. There was a recent meeting that happened in in Brussels, right? Where they were, what, 238 economists who all signed on to basically say..
Jason Bradford 17:38
Academics, not economists.
Asher Miller 17:39
They’re not all economists.
Jason Bradford 17:40
Not all of them. Some of them.
Asher Miller 17:41
Um, and they they basically called for getting rid of GDP as a measurement of our well being right, we need to track and measure different things. Pursuing GDP at all costs -GDP growth at all costs is just destroying us and the planet.
Jason Bradford 17:57
I think one of them was Dan O’Neill, who Rob knows pretty well, he wrote a book with him.
Rob Dietz 18:00
Yeah, yeah. Dan, I think he was the lead on that. And yeah, I worked real closely with Dan in the book Enough is Enough. So yeah, most of what I learned, I learned from him, you know, because I don’t know anything.
Asher Miller 18:12
Well, I hate to be a cynic about this, but like, this is not new. And no offense, Rob, but the book that you and Dan wrote wasn’t necessarily, you know, completely virgin territory.
Rob Dietz 18:23
No, no, no, it was not. In fact, it was not at all our own thinking. We just rated stuff that’s been around for a long time.
Jason Bradford 18:31
What came out in 1972? Does anyone remember?
Asher Miller 18:34
I did, I came out of my mother’s body in 1972.
Jason Bradford 18:38
Rob Dietz 18:39
We don’t really want to hear about that.
Asher Miller 18:41
1972. Limits to Growth. Right?
Jason Bradford 18:44
Asher Miller 18:44
So for those listening, who aren’t familiar with this, limits to growth was a study that was done by these MIT researchers, they were, you know, contracted by a group called the Club of Rome, to basically try to answer this question of like, ‘if you sort of extrapolated the trajectory we’re on, you know, what would happen?’ And they, I think they had actually developed the first computer model, at least, that I’m aware of, and they kind of plugged in this data, you know, looking at inputs like resources and population and pollution, and they sort of try to model out these different pathways of what would happen. And as the title explains, there are limits, right? And even if they tweak certain things, you know, you at a certain point, run up against your limit – the limits of being able to continue to grow. And in their standard-run scenario. We’re kind of tracking that.
Jason Bradford 19:38
Yeah. They updated it in 1992. And then I think there was another publication in 2004. And in the last few years another research group kind of like looked at it again and said, ‘Gosh! They’re on this sort of business-as-usual trajectory that was done in ’72!’
Rob Dietz 19:56
You know, I think there are two things that are fascinating about it. I mean, one is that they were systems analysts – they actually looked at feedback, they looked at the connections between what was going on in the economy and what happens in the environment – which is something you don’t get when you’re in a standard economics course or all of your training as an economist.
Jason Bradford 20:19
And you had a major in economics, right.
Rob Dietz 20:21
I don’t recall ever touching the limits to growth in any conversation. I don’t know. Somehow I got past that.
Jason Bradford 20:30
Rob Dietz 20:30
But the other thing that’s amazing about it is the assassination job that was done on that poll, on the limits to growth, on the people that worked on it, ..
Jason Bradford 20:41
Rob Dietz 20:42
Yeah, Jimmy Carter, he was a proponent of what was in there, it was very much an orchestrated ‘we got to take these people down so that we can keep growing the economy, because that’s what we’re all about’
Asher Miller 20:55
And I think we have to, you know, be interested and talk to people who kind of lived through that moment. You know, we’re all born around that time now. But we were still developing and growing ourselves.
Rob Dietz 21:07
At that time, I said, there were no limit, right?
Asher Miller 21:10
You said, because you didn’t want to have to go to bed. Right? There are no limits.
Rob Dietz 21:14
Elmo told me – ‘There are no limits’.
Asher Miller 21:17
But you know, there’s this period, right, in the early 70s, where the environmental movement – really, I think they learned from the civil rights movement – they stepped up, and they were demanding action on protecting the environment, you know, protecting watersheds and forests, and all those things. And, you know, the first Earth Day, right, was that 1970? I mean, that was like 10 million people marching in the street, which, you know, I don’t know what the population of the United States was at the time..
Jason Bradford 21:45
It was four million.
Asher Miller 21:47
Pretty amazing! There was a lot of pollution created by all those 6 million people coming in, to participate in the marching. So but it was a significant percentage of the population. People were mobilized on this stuff, right. And then limits of growth comes out and population bomb comes out, you know, there’s a lot of conversation
Jason Bradford 22:05
Silent spring was before that, that was a huge!
Asher Miller 22:07
There was a lot of conversation about sort of, hey, there actually are limits to us dumping our waste in, you know, into our rivers. And, there’s a real impact on the environment from our behavior. This is before I think climate change even was like..
Jason Bradford 22:20
Nixon signed the EPA.
Asher Miller 22:23
Nixon, in some ways, was the most progressive, if you actually look at policy that was,..
Rob Dietz 22:28
Oh, tons of things came in around that time – Clean Water Act, the Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, it was like the golden age of putting in check that kind of growth.
Jason Bradford 22:39
Asher Miller 22:40
But then there’s a reaction to that. Right? So the reaction to that is attacking the authors of Limits to Growth. I remember, I asked my dad who, you know, was born in ’45. He was a baby boomer, part of that whole generation. And I asked him, you know, have you ever heard of this thing, and I mentioned Club of Rome, he was like, oh, yeah, those guys, they were discredited.
Jason Bradford 22:57
I’ve heard that even from like, academic biologists. I mean, if you haven’t read it, necessarily, and you’ve just heard the story around it, you think, oh, I’m not going to bother with that. I mean, the the propaganda is incredible. You read it, you go – yeah, no doubt, reasonable. And yet, there’s an aura around it that was wrong. And that’s what I find absolutely fascinating – that was able to create that.
Asher Miller 23:24
And it’s persisted. So it’s fantastic that there’s this group of academics, you know, that are demanding thinking differently about what our economic goals are, of course, it’s in Europe, you know.
Rob Dietz 23:39
It’s a much harder sell here, in the good old US of A.
Asher Miller 23:42
But this is, you know, 45 years after the publication of Limits of Growth, you know, came out, and I don’t know that we’ve gone much further, you know, in terms of people’s understanding or questioning of these things. I think part of it is, and this is what Julian Simon was doing and I think what Reagan was talking about. He was talking progress, but I think a lot of people point to human ingenuity, or innovation, you know, and they say that there aren’t limits to that, right, and so we’ll somehow figure out a way to deal with these physical limits, you know, we’re gonna get more efficient, we’re gonna substitute resources. If we deplete one resource, we’ll get another one.
Jason Bradford 24:17
So the Limits of Growth modeled all of that. They said, what if we got more efficient? What if we substituted? What if we had technical innovation, that allowed us to blah, blah? Everything you’re talking about, they thought about in ’72? And they said, let’s throw that into the computer model.
Asher Miller 24:33
But even most environmentalists don’t really understand the exponential function. And so they think that substitution, you know, is totally achievable.
Jason Bradford 24:43
What I think is going on, is that in some ways, okay, there’s actually this structural lock and an imperative for growth in the systems that we have in pl ace. And somehow, unless you can accept that there’s a structural barrier and that you have to get around those somehow, you won’t move past. And that’s why I think these European folks are gonna probably try to talk about it. But Rob, you’re better at this. You wrote a book that dealt with this to some extent.
Rob Dietz 25:12
I think you’re exactly right. Like, why would a Reagan or a Simon to let’s keep growing the economy forever? It’s because the way we built the economy, the way it’s structured, it relies on growth right now. So you would have to have an entirely different sort of economy that didn’t need to grow in order to function. And so there’s things about our economy that have to have that growth. One example is that all of our money is created as debt.
Jason Bradford 25:40
Rob Dietz 25:41
Yeah. Basically, banks issue money into the economy expecting to be paid more, later.
Jason Bradford 25:48
Right. Principal and interest.
Rob Dietz 25:49
Right. So you have to have growth in order to have that money supply increase. There’s other things too, there’s this whole notion, a lot of us have of, ‘we can get something for nothing’. Like if I invest money in the stock market, or I buy a house and I don’t do anything to it, I can suddenly sell it for more a few years down the road.
Jason Bradford 26:14
Although retirement funds are depending on that exact issue. Right?
Asher Miller 26:17
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if the psychology [is] so much “I can get something for nothing.” I think that it’s the only avenue that people are offered for envisioning a retirement that is, you know, you work your ass off for decades, right? And you don’t necessarily get compensated well enough that if you, you know, saved and squirreled away your money without it growing, that you could live off of it, you know, when you retired.
Jason Bradford 26:43
Well, that’s a convenience though, of those, you can keep wages down, if people are expecting, they’re going to be able to invest and save..
Asher Miller 26:52
And that’s a structural thing, which has to do with the fact that the wealth and generation isn’t distributed equally, right. So people can can work a shitty job if the company sets up a 401k for them and they stick their money or they have a pension, or any of those, but you stick your money in the market and you just wait, it’s gonna double every seven years or whatever the hell.
Rob Dietz 27:14
But that’s a structure of the economy right now that we’re all invested in, right? Because if you put money into a mutual fund, or stocks or some kind of retirement account, and you’re expecting that to grow exponentially, I mean, what something like 8% a year, averaged out is what the stock market is growing at.
Asher Miller 27:34
Well, they say, but it actually hasn’t really performed that well, you know, historically over long term.
Jason Bradford 27:41
I buy low and sell high though.
Asher Miller 27:43
Jason Bradford 27:43
Asher Miller 27:44
Oh, man, you gotta teach me your tricks.
Rob Dietz 27:45
Yeah, I do the opposite.
Jason Bradford 27:48
You do NOT teach me your tricks!
Rob Dietz 27:49
Right. Right. And I work for a nonprofit too!
Asher Miller 27:52
Hey, you, you’re real smart.
Jason Bradford 27:54
Well, then I think there’s legal stuff like if you’re a corporate executive, right? You have legal imperatives for profit, and there’s a lot of pressure from, you know, the public markets to keep expanding to keep growing your share.
Asher Miller 28:10
That’s the only way you’re gonna get equity for people because they think that they’re gonna be able to grow that equity. Right?
Rob Dietz 28:14
Right. Well, then you can see how that plays out among corporations that were originally built for social purposes or, you know, that had environmental or socially conscientious things built into their structure. Most of those companies end up getting bought, you know, like, Ben and Jerry’s got bought by Unilever, or Wholefoods, which was on a crazy growth path anyway, ends up getting bought by Amazon, right.
Asher Miller 28:44
And if you’re in the public market, you could just get a hostile takeover even.
Rob Dietz 28:48
You know, my favorite was… you know that outfit Burt’s Bees? You know, they were sort of like natural products? They got bought by Clorox.
Asher Miller 28:58
Those bees are now very sad.
Rob Dietz 29:00
They’re chlorinated bees.
Jason Bradford 29:03
Well, is there any penetration like in terms of the context of policymakers and economists, politicians to the idea that we can’t keep growing the economy forever? Do you see that there’s signs of these academics in Europe?
Rob Dietz 29:20
It’s very fringe still. I mean, so let’s talk about the mainstream again. You know, we’re going back to the mid 80s. You know, the time of legwarmers, and feathered hair.
Jason Bradford 29:30
Wonderful time. Wonderful time.
Rob Dietz 29:34
Yeah, don’t start singing Cyndi Lauper songs, okay? But let’s fast forward to now – the Secretary General of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, that’s the OECD, one of the kind of prestigious ones along with the World Bank and your federal banks of the nations. This is one of your big..
Jason Bradford 29:57
The major developed nations in the world are members.
Rob Dietz 30:00
Yeah! And this is all about how do we progress or grow economically together. Right. So, the Secretary General of that group, the OECD, recently said, ‘we believe that it is possible to tackle climate change and grow the economy. Our bottom line is that green and growth are compatible. We can and must have them together.’
Jason Bradford 30:25
Oh, my God.
Rob Dietz 30:26
I like, first of all, that the guy says, ‘our bottom line is’ – so there he goes with the financial spreadsheet analogy.
Asher Miller 30:34
But I think the the key word there is ‘must.’ He feels the ‘must’.
Jason Bradford 30:38
He feels the structural imperative.
Asher Miller 30:39
He’s hoping it [the economy] can, you know?
Rob Dietz 30:41
When you look, one side of that is Green, meaning that we don’t warm our climate to the point that we go extinct. That’s based on physics. That’s how much CO2 and other greenhouse gases we put in the atmosphere. There’s nothing to say about that.
Asher Miller 30:57
By the way, there are limits to those things.
Rob Dietz 30:59
Yes. So the other side is we must have growth. Why? Because we want it.
Jason Bradford 31:06
Well, he’s looking at demographic information. Like, there are so many people who are going to retire in this timeframe, and they’re going to require a pension system. And, we’re going to have to have replacment infrastructure as a government around the world. So we’re going to require to have this much available to fix roads and bridges. And I mean, they’re just looking at this. I mean, I think they’re looking at these things and saying they don’t have a clue of how to do without growth.
Asher Miller 31:33
Every institution needs it. I mean, the government needs it, because they need increased revenues from taxes. And those increased taxes are only going to come from increased growth in income.
Rob Dietz 31:43
Well, this is the point. It’s that we’ve got to figure that out. We’ve got to figure out how to have an economy that does not require growth, because to say we have to have both green and growth is just fantasy.
Jason Bradford 31:55
It’s fantasy. So the problem is, then, if you’re stuck on the growth, you can’t actually think past it at all.
Asher Miller 32:03
You know, what I think it is, is actually taking Reagan’s statement, right? And he said, there are no limits to growth or human progress, right? And if you actually split those apart, he conflated them. Right. And I think that that’s been our general policy and our attitude for decades on end. And we’ve actually embedded that in our institutions.
Rob Dietz 32:27
Well, except for RFK, who said we shouldn’t be following GDP. We know what happened to him.
Asher Miller 32:34
He was an outlier. Right? And he didn’t last very long. So you know, those two things have been conflated – progress, and growth, right? We see them as interchangeable, synonymous, you know, mutually dependent – whatever you want to say. Right? And I actually think it’s the opposite. I, at this point, despite whatever the OECD guy wants to say.
Rob Dietz 32:57
Is it OECD or OCD?
Asher Miller 32:59
Yeah. OCD. I’m obsessed about growth.
Despite all that, we’ve actually hit the limits. We’re seeing that right, we’re seeing that. And in fact, if you look at economic growth, we’ve seen that it’s taking an incredible amount of intervention into the economic system to try to grow it and it’s not been benefiting everybody, right?
Jason Bradford 33:19
Pushing on a string they say.
Asher Miller 33:20
That system itself is wobbly, right, at best. And then clearly, the plan is trying to tell us – ‘Whoa. You know, you’re gonna continue on this path, you’re gonna get bitch slapped pretty hard’, right? And so I think it’s because we’ve tied these two concepts together. Now, if we let them go, and we said, ‘actually, growth is the thing that’s inhibiting our problem’…
Jason Bradford 33:42
It is! Right.
Asher Miller 33:43
Just like, you know, what’s the 8 foot 11 guy?
Jason Bradford 33:47
Rob Dietz 33:47
Asher Miller 33:48
Right. Growth was inhibiting his progress. Right? So if we could let that go, I know that is to say Kumbaya ’cause we actually have to take that attitude and actually make difficult structural changes to our institutions, our monetary policy, all these things as a result of that. But I think that that’s the mind shift that needs to happen.
Rob Dietz 34:07
That is clearly the first thing. I agree. That’s the first thing that’s got to happen. It’s that let’s let go have this ‘we must have growth’, and then you can start looking at things to do.
Jason Bradford 34:17
And the innovation can take off. That’s the crazy thing. I want people to be innovative, within the context of these limits. And then let’s see what can happen. But if you ignore those limits, then you’re gonna be an idiot.
Rob Dietz 34:32
Yeah, yeah. It’s hard to be innovative when you’re dead.
Asher Miller 34:35
I remember I heard about this study where they looked at behavior of children in terms of how they explored the world – if their backyard was fenced in or not fenced in. So like, maybe the these were farm kids or whatever. And their backyard went out into farms. It’s a little similar to your property Jason, what you have, right, but you actually have a fence. And what they found was that the kids who had a fence actually explored virtually the entire area of their backyard, no matter how big it was. The kids that didn’t have a fence stuck really close to the back door.
Jason Bradford 35:08
Oh that’s weird.
Asher Miller 35:08
You know because, for them, in a sense having a boundary, allowed them to feel like they could explore.
Jason Bradford 35:15
Asher Miller 35:15
And you know, and to your point, I think, Jason, that if we said, okay, well, let’s sort of be creative within these limits, right. We’ve gotta cap CO2 emissions, we’ve gotta cap economic activity, you know. What do we do with that? You know, and it changes the ballgame. And it does provide a huge opportunity for thinking more innovatively about how we exactly do things.
Rob Dietz 35:37
Yeah. And one opportunity that we already know a lot about is the the whole issue of equality. So there was this economist, Henry Wallach. He lived from 1914 to 1988. And he was this real prominent economist, head of the US Central Bank. He said, ‘growth is a substitute for equality of income. So long as there is growth, there is hope. And that makes large income differentials tolerable.’ This gets back to what you were saying, Asher, about how if you have growth, you don’t have to pay people, you know. Well, guess what, you know, the reverse is also true for that. If you have greater equality of income, that’s a substitute for growth. And it’s a real positive way forward, you know, that one of these innovations we could really work toward, if we agree that there are limits to growth.
Jason Bradford 36:33
Asher Miller 36:34
Well, it makes me think of what you said about Robert Kennedy, right? That was in ’68, you know, you’re saying… What was that quote? That GDP measures everything except that which is..
Rob Dietz 36:46
That which makes life worthwhile, or worth living.
Asher Miller 36:50
Yeah. And I would say, you know, in terms of the things that we need, we do need politicians that are going to be brave, you know, they’ll obviously have to be educated by this thing, because they’ve been steeped, like every student of economics that goes to university every year, in a mindset that’s totally setting us in the wrong direction. But they also have to have courage to stand up and say, ‘we’re measuring the wrong things’, you know.
Rob Dietz 37:14
Well, that brings us right back to Carter and Reagan. Carter was a nuclear physicist and a peanut farmer. So he certainly understood some things about science and some things about the way the natural world works. And what was Reagan? An actor. He certainly understood make-believe.
Asher Miller 37:33
Yeah, exactly. So we, I think, have a lot of in a sense, power, in terms of deciding, you know, who is going to represent us. And the other thing I would say to people is to consider (and this is really hard, right?) because we’re all locked in the system too. So just to tell people this is kind of like ‘gulp’ – think about what you’re doing with your money. You know, if we need to shift this trajectory, maybe don’t think about trying to maximize, you know, your investments within the stock market. There’s probably good reasons to be a little skeptical of that in any case in terms of protecting your assets, but why don’t you put that money to work in a way that’s gonna provide you benefits, long term and immediate ones, you know, that may not be monetary, but put you in a position where you can actually progress and thrive and be happy in the future.
Rob Dietz 38:23
Either that or go on Amazon and buy as much plastic shit as you can. One of the two. I don’t know.
Asher Miller 38:28
Yeah, you’ll definitely get a nice buzz when you when you get that box.
That’s our show! Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, please subscribe to the podcast and while you’re at it, rate or review it at iTunes. That really helps get it in front of more people. To learn more, visit postcarbon.org/crazytown. And if you want to actually learn something, instead of listening to us bozos, you should check out Post Carbon Institute’s Think Resilience course. It’s four hours, 20 bucks, and will seriously change the way you see the world. Catch you next time on the mean streets of Crazy Town.
Jason Bradford 39:06
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Asher Miller 39:14
I like money. No. Who?
Jason Bradford 39:15
Rob Dietz 39:16
Oh, Finacon. That’s the financial advisors to financial advisors.
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Asher Miller 39:39
Right. So Finacon basically helps you get ahead of the game and then you could shuffle bad investments to your clients, right? So you can make money. You get fees from your clients, while getting them to invest in bullshit stuff. Finicon helps you invest in real stuff.
Jason Bradford 39:56
Rob Dietz 39:56
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Jason Bradford 39:58
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Asher Miller 40:05
All right, well thank you Finacon, we appreciate it.