In what feels like a throwback to another era, banks and big business are once again talking about ‘growth’, and economic development. Both of which amount to the same thing to the men and women of money—profit.
After over a year of utter turmoil, death, illness, heartache, social and economic lockdowns, some nations—the wealthy nations who, unlike poor countries, have been able to stock-pile vaccinations and immunize there populations, are opening up. The impact COVID has had on their coffers has been measured and, as the twisted wheels of consumerism begin to churn again, they are evaluating their short term financial prospects and working out how much richer they can become.
In the UK, the head of Barclays Bank recently announced, “The UK economy is on course for its biggest economic boom since 1948”—whoopee! In the midst of the pandemic, the bank, which is Europe’s largest financier of fossil fuels (£20bn in 2020 alone), made record profits in the first three months of 2021 of £2.4 billion, due, to quote the nauseating jargon, to “strong growth in its corporate and investment banking division and an improved mortgage book.” Lending money to ailing businesses mainly, loans that have been guaranteed by the government, so another win-win for the banks.
France and the U.S. have announced ‘growth’ (of 0.4%) in the first quarter of 2021. In UK house prices are once again increasing, announced as if that’s a good thing by greedy estate agents and ideologically-trapped politicians. German financial institutions are forecasting a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increase of 3.7% this year. China has declared GDP growth of 18.3% in the first quarter of 2021, which is the highest ever recorded. In India, where COVID is running wild due to government stupidity and a totally inadequate, criminal underfunded health care system, estimates of GDP growth for the year vary from 10.5%-13%.
All of this ‘growth’ is based on one thing, consumerism, the very same consumerism that caused and is fueling the environmental emergency, which is the greatest crisis of this or any other time. Consumerism has also imprisoned the human spirit, and led to the construction of petty little lives that revolve around the pursuit of pleasure, which is sold as happiness, and the accumulation of stuff, the vast majority of which is not needed. Discontent is maintained, desire constantly inflamed, widespread misery leading to wholesale mental health illness, guaranteed.
And so it goes on, the madness, the ideologically-rooted consumer lunacy in which a tiny number benefit enormously, while the majority struggle to survive.
Some hoped, prayed, begged, that COVID would bring about a fundamental change in approach; perhaps a period of quiet, of enforced economic withdrawal would allow for a socio-economic re-evaluation, for an influx of common-sense. ‘Build back better’, ‘new normal’, a ‘green recovery’, all such slogans have tripped of the tongues of duplicitous politicians and corporate leaders everywhere. But now as some countries begin to relax controls, the divisive, environmentally destructive pre-COVID patterns are set to be repeated. What will it take, we ask, for substantive change to come about and socio-economic justice to be created?
We, by which I mean the vast majority of people, the masses, are not interested in GDP figures. ‘Growth’ needs to be completely re-defined, released from the narrow confines of an exploitative economic model that is obsessed with profit, is inherently cruel and destructive, and has promoted a set of values and ideals that have caused widespread illness, of people and the planet. What matters to individuals everywhere is not GDP growth, what matters, is the creation of happy, harmonious societies; societies in which governments, businesses and individuals live socially and environmentally responsible lives, where the pressure to become something, to conform to a stereotype and to achieve, is absent or diluted.
Love as growth
At the heart of any fresh understandings around ‘growth’ must be the cultivation of social justice and trust, which, if brought about, would allow the possibility at least for peace to come into being for the first time in human history. For such a rational shift to occur, the socio-economic order needs to be re-fashioned and perennial values of goodness—cooperation, tolerance, mutual understanding, that unite people actively encouraged. Consumerism, founded on greed, fear and insatiable desire must be allowed to fall away, replaced by sustainable ways of living based sufficiency; competition (subdued somewhat during COVID) between nations, regions, states and cities must soften in light of the recognition that the various interrelated crises of the age, can only be met and overcome by united action.
Focused expressions of goodwill, as seen by community endeavors throughout the world in times of need (COVID pandemic included), unite people, helping to banish tensions and build trust; this is worthy development or growth, and is readily achieved when the habitual urge to compete is negated.
Individual growth we could describe as the apprehension and expression of who and what we essentially are, of realizing innate potential, and contributing to the well-being of society, thereby strengthening group growth, not financial gain, success and status. And collective growth, which flows from such individual understanding, must be concerned with growth in the expression of love in our world; with the creation of peace and unity and of environmental healing, ending hunger (which could be quickly achieved if the will/love to do so existed) and compassionately responding to the refugee crisis and the global displacement of people. Love, expressed not in emotional, sentimental terms, but love as that driving force for good.