Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shrugging off growth in Japan

Growth, of course, is one of the fundamental laws of nature. According to currently popular scientific theory, the universe has been expanding—growing—ever since the Big Bang about 14 billion years ago. At some point, some scientists further theorize, the universe will slow, stabilize, begin to contract, and eventually collapse in upon itself again. In other words, there are limits to growth as fundamental as the dynamics of physical cosmology.

Biology provides a more immediate and accessible model for growth within a far shorter timeline. We are born, we grow to maturity, we stabilize for a while (if we are fortunate!), we deteriorate (please, not so fast!), and we die. No one argues about this limit to growth.

In my review of Fred Pearce’s book, The Coming Population Crash…,” I commented on his observations about the limits of population growth. I won’t repeat that, except to say that—of course—there are limits to sustainable growth. (Read previous post.)

But, for some reason I have yet to understand, it seems impossible to get people to recognize that there are similar limits to economic growth. The U.S. in particular has long adopted an economic model of free-market capitalism based on growth that it has pretty successfully exported throughout the world. Globalization: this is not news. But what we seldom see in the news, unless you’re paying close attention to non-traditional sources, is stories about the limits to economic growth. (There is a biological analog for endless growth: cancer. The limit of cancer growth, unfortunately, is the death of the host.)

What a relief it was to read an opinion piece in last week’s paper called “Japan and the Ancient Art of Shrugging.” Commenting on the widely reported emergence of China as “the world’s second largest economy,” after the U.S., the author, Norihiro Kato, likens Japans reaction to shrugging it off and—this is the beautiful part—accepting a balanced, relaxed bodily posture. He doesn’t mention Zen, but he could have. It isn’t a universal reaction, he admits, but generally the Japanese have come to regard stability, not growth, as an appropriate model for a sustainable economy. I’m hoping the U.S. reaches maturity before the cancer is irreversible.

Read “Japan and the Ancient Art of Shrugging.”

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