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Why does the economy have to grow?

Agriculture.com Staff 01/16/2009 @ 11:27am

It is difficult to have any profound ideas the second week of January! There are still two months of winter left in the Corn Belt. The temperature here Thursday morning was the coldest since 1996. I wrapped up the first two "Winning the Game" workshops this week, just enough to get my brain in gear for the busy weeks ahead.

We hear a lot about the state of the nation's economy. One look at the year end statement from my retirement account tells me that this retracement in the stock market will have an effect on my life some time in the future. No doubt prices for agricultural commodities are being affected by the situation in the outside markets. Talking heads on the media say that things will get better when the economy again starts to grow.

I have heard this kind of talk many times. I wonder why the economy has to grow. It seems to me that the perfect situation would be where the economy grows only as fast as the population grows. In a college class many years ago, the professor made the statement that humans are the only organism whose population has grown at a sustained rate since the beginning of time. His point was that if any plant or animal multiplied at a rate faster than one to one, over thousands of generations it would take over the earth and finally use up all the resources.

I look back at my almost seven decades of life and marvel at the changes. My family consumes so much more than my parents did that it is hard for the younger generations to comprehend how we lived. Mom and Dad did not have a second vehicle until I convinced them that I needed a car for my sophomore year in college, in 1958. They never had central heat or air-conditioning in their home. However they considered themselves fortunate because dad no longer had to cut firewood for their gas space heater.

I consider how much material "stuff" I have and how I could live without a lot of it if I wanted to. When I hear of the current financial problems in the general population, I wonder if these tough times might not be good in the long run. Maybe this will cause people not to value "stuff" so much. Maybe they will start putting a few dollars away instead of spending money they don't have. Maybe there will be fewer people subdividing good farm land and so more of it can be left in production.

If we do those things, the economy is not going to grow. However, it will use up fewer resources and leave more for future generations. This might delay the next economic shock such as there was in the energy markets this last year. As my professor long ago said, "Some time this all has to slow down." Maybe this is the time.

It is difficult to have any profound ideas the second week of January! There are still two months of winter left in the Corn Belt. The temperature here Thursday morning was the coldest since 1996. I wrapped up the first two "Winning the Game" workshops this week, just enough to get my brain in gear for the busy weeks ahead.

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