Tradeoffs: Growth / Stagnation

If the cold calls aren’t about non-existent accidents, they’re about my computer viruses, unpaid tax, my pension, or the impending disconnection of my broadband. Fraud and mis-selling are on the rise.

Why? Because in a world of secular stagnation there are fewer legitimate business opportunities – which diverts some entrepreneurs towards crime. Of course, some people are wrong’uns who’ll be fraudsters anyway, and some are moral paragons who never will be. At the margin, however, costs and benefits determine behaviour and so stagnation promotes fraud.

Good Stumbling and Mumbling post laying out examples of the negative impacts of a stagnating economy compared to a growing one. Stagnations shifts many tradeoffs towards the undesirable end of the spectrum:

  • Entrepreneurship shifts towards fraud
  • “Normal” valuations shift towards detached-from-fundamentals valuations
  • Accessible housing stock shifts towards speculation over limited property
  • Open access to career opportunities for the less traditionally credentialed shifts towards exclusive hiring tracks
  • Positive sum politics shifts towards zero sum politics

Which is why I can’t support the de-growth movement. Shifting from (say) 2% to zero trend growth isn’t merely a small difference in degree. It has all manner of cultural and political effects, many of them unpleasant. And of course, there is a constituency which supports this – not just financial and political grifters, but social conservatives, (some) home-owners and parts of financial capital which profit from the ultra-low interest rates caused by stagnation.

What we need is an alternative to this – one which sees that the cause of many of our social and political problems is capitalist stagnation, and which offers an alternative to this. This need not be a very leftist programme: it should reprise Blairite themes of modernity, hope and optimism. Such a project, however, requires an opposition – which we do not have.

Not all growth is created equal but I will take growth over stagnation every time.

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