Wade McIntyre: Harnessing growth key to U.S. survival

Wade McIntyre

In medical terms, “growth” is described as a morbid formation. Healthy people avoid bad growth in their bodies like plague.

In business and finance, growth -- whether healthy or not -- is good if it makes enough people enough money.

Until recently, American business and financial sectors grew at all costs, showing little concern over how their efforts would ultimately affect America's landscape or economy.

For instance, rarely did strip-mall developers in America face opposition to their building plans. Or, if old-growth forests stood in the way of prestigious developments, the forest and its flora and fauna habitat were swept away.

Unrestrained growth has drawbacks other than cheapening the value of our surroundings and lives with urban and suburban sprawl, the overrunning of natural resources, and the washing away of visible efforts from earlier American generations who built the country with work ethic, sacrifice and honest effort.

As college graduates of the Class of 2009 are learning, the sudden collapse of out-of-control growth and the expected shifting into years of reduced or even stagnant growth will affect their earning potential and living standards.

According to a recent Price-WaterhouseCoopers survey of international CEOs, nearly 70 percent of those questioned plan to cut back on investments due to the economic crisis.

It seems that decades of MBA financial engineering of growth has done very little to encourage productive investment in America's economy. In other words, investment in fixed capital assets, the tangible and lasting symbols of orderly growth that we can look about us and see, have paled dramatically in comparison to the number of leveraged investments that suck their profits from other assets that may be equally speculative and leveraged, while leaving the public little or nothing in return.

This year, college graduates will start their careers in probably the worst job market in a quarter of a century.

They must trade down to lower paying jobs than they are trained for; the lucky ones who wind up in their chosen fields will receive reduced wages and be forced to toil in a less innovative work environment, all because unrestrained growth has failed the nation miserably.

The current economic dilemma should give cause for looking into even greater long-term global problems caused by unrestrained growth.

The world started growing uncontrollably with the advent of the industrial revolution. Before then, population levels hovered well below 1 billion people. By 1975 the global population was 4 billion, in 1994 5.6 billion.

Today, it is around 6 billion, and some prognosticators suggest that at current growth levels, within 60 to 75 years, the earth will be home to 10 billion humans, a point at which, or near at which, people will start fighting among themselves for the basic necessities of life, food, water and safe ground upon which to live.

The time has come to develop more sustainable growth patterns that do not depend upon population increases to provide bigger consumer markets for product consumption.

Now, while we're all in a state of economic shock, we should take a lesson from earlier civilizations that overpopulated themselves into oblivion, and address the imminent overpopulating of all of humanity into such a state.

It is time to develop prosperous, sustainable economies that do not  encourage and rely so much on unrestrained procreation -- to put a harness on growth before it chokes the life out of us.

Weekly Citizen