Growing weeds

Kiwiblog gave a list of 10 ‘axioms’ yesterday about economics.  The problem was that all 10 are true only in the sense that they are good for the economy because a good economy has been defined in such a way as to make the axioms true.

Take for instance the worst of Farrar’s ten, number 4; The best measure of a good economy is its growth.

Why do we assume all growth is good?  A growing tomato vine is good, a growing weed, not so much.  Yet we measure both as though they are the same. Even though top economists might not agree with me a growing economy is not necessarily a good economy.

Putting aside the issue that we currently use a measure of growth (GDP) that includes a whole lot of weeds on the positive rather than the negative side of the ledger, sometimes you can just have too many tomatoes.  A little bit of pruning, a little bit of restrained foresight, a little bit of diversity maybe better than the monoculture growth that economists want.

It’s self evident that you only need as much food in your fridge as you can eat – too much more would be wasteful rot.  And off course, any gardener will tell you what happens to the land when you push it too hard and try to get too much growth out of it too fast.

(Jackhumm, you seem like a gardener, you might like to comment on the analogy?)

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12 thoughts on “Growing weeds

  1. stevedore – you’re right – I do seem like a gardener! Purely by chance, I’m just in from a day’s pruning, so I’m interested in your analogy but I think right off, you and I have different views on weeds! I’ve built my garden on the back of weeds – without them I’d be struggling to garden at all. They provide so much value; nitrogen (the leguminous weeds), carbon (all of them), shelter for the soil from the sunlight and pounding rain etc. However, I am supportive of your point that the GDP measure is hugely faulted. It’s patently obvious and until realistic measures (of wealth/wellness/satisfaction) are adopted we’ll all be ‘led down the garden path’ when it comes to the country’s well being, economic or otherwise. Further to your analogy (they’re risky things to make!), growth, which we greens like to hammer at when we see it big noted, is surely a good measure of success in a garden. The more the better from where I’m standing. Some gardeners might disagree and try to curtail growth with herbicide and so on, but I say, ‘bring it on’ the more vegetative growth, the better the system is working. This works when all of that growth stays within the system and feeds further growth. In an economic system, you could say the same, only I see that much of the benefit of growth is squirreled away, wasted or sent offshore, weakening the system and requiring expensive inputs. That’s as far as I’d like to push the gardening analogy 🙂
    btw If you have too much food for your fridge, build a ‘clamp’ or a cellar to store it in or share with friends 🙂

  2. Heh jackhumm! Too much food is certainly not a problem in our house.

    Like you I’m happy to let the weeds grow and everything else too so long as they leave space for the things I plant to poke their heads through – but I’m not adverse to limiting growth (plucking not herbicides) that I don’t want in favour of balance. Which I guess is my main point – there’s a big difference between the diverse weedy gardens that support entire ecosystems and the grow fast, harvest fast, grow again monocultures that industrial farming promotes.

  3. The axiom was the best measure of an economy is its growth. Not a perfect measure. I’m well aware of the criticism of GDP, but has anyone come up with a better measure?

    Yes some bad things which happen, lead to higher GDP. But mostly GDP growth does correlate to happier people.

  4. Thanks DPF. I think I would respond to say that mostly GDP growth correlated to happier people. GDP was only a good measure of an economy while growth or something that resulted from growth was the end goal. And that’s fine when you’ve got unlimited resources. But now that we’re pushing up against the limit on so many resources that are crucial to our economic wellbeing (carbon, oil, gas, water, arable land,etc) growth can no longer be the end goal. Any economic strategy that aims for all growth regardless is even more flawed than one that aims for no growth at all. We can’t afford to have mainstream ‘top’ economists stuck in that old way of thinking.

  5. dpf – ‘the best measure of an economy is its growth.’ Perhaps that is a fair statement, but it is focused on only one thread of the fabric of society, there are many more. GDP is far too highly regarded here in NZ and should take its place amongst other more robust and humane measures.

  6. Stevedore – dpf – If I could stay in gardening mode for a bit – GDP might represent the commerce that develops from the sale of veges from your garden, but doesn’t take into account the depletion of your base (soil) every time you sell something off-site. The loss can be covered by importing energy in the form of fertilizer for example, but something fundamental has occured in the meantime – a weakening of the system. If this seems obscure, I blame the fact (probable) that you are not gardeners 🙂

  7. They’re not axiomatic, even in the economic sense, and are hotly contested by a small (but well argued) section of economists. Not for nothing is economics known as the “dismal science”, for it’s tendency to abstract, and let theory lead facts. Propositions 1,2,4,5, and 9 are all questionable, and 8 is so vague as to be meaningless (while providing plenty of room to fit with the chosen ideology of the reader).

    The happiest society in the world is not coincidentally both one of the most wealthy, the most equal, and has high levels of cycling and renewable energy.

  8. I meant also to add – And has had for 80 years an extensive welfare state, with very generous unemployment and other social assistance, a social wage (top-ups for low skill jobs like cleaning that would otherwise be paid badly), and reasonable levels of government intervention.

  9. Alright George – I’ll take the bait – where is this happy place? Nice posts btw.

  10. Does Denmark use the decision making system that Guy Salmon (Ecologic Foundation – Bluegreen lobbyist) talks about? I forget the term, but it refers to getting experts together along with government reps, upskilling everyone then requiring politicians to accept the learned decisions arrived at? It sounded great when I read about it and I know it upset the true hard right, as evidenced by an article to our newspaper from the Chairman of the regional council. decrying the method saying that only elected reps should be involved in decision making.

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