Vandana Shiva: Economic ‘growth’ “is a mechanical gauge that only measures the growth of money, and in achieving its goals it is destroying both Nature and society”

Here’s another article (and see this) by a magnificent woman whose potent and elemental language speaks the authentic common-sense — the sensing in common — of the world’s peoples. Her predictions of increasing global hegemony and misery in the 2006 video at the end now splay out for all to see and experience. Thanks to

Beyond ‘Growth’

Nature and people are rendered invisible, as ‘growth’
replaces the wellbeing of the Earth and community

December, 2011 (?)

by Vandana Shiva


Sixteen photographs of a single shoot of the vine Lonicera japonica, superimposed as a time-lapse image of its clockwise rotation over 2 hours Courtesy: Botanical Society of America.

The maintenance and the renewal of life—the wellbeing of all beings—is our highest goal and the objective for all Earth-centred cultures and economies.

‘Progress’ and ‘growth’ have, of course, been the objectives of the dominant economic paradigm, but this is a mechanical gauge that only measures the growth of money, and in achieving its goals it is destroying both Nature and society.

Society and culture have been reduced to ‘economies’, economies have been reduced to market economics, and market economics has been reduced to finance, which in turn has been reduced to abstract instruments with names like derivatives, securitisation and collateral debt obligation.

At the same time, the Earth community has been reduced to the human community, and humans—as Earth citizens, with duties and rights—have been replaced by large corporations, with no duties to either the Earth or society.

Corporations have been assigned legal personhood, and corporate rights have annihilated the rights of the Earth and the rights of people to the Earth’s gifts and resources. Corporate rights are premised, of course, solely on the maximisation of profits.

The distancing of these financial instruments of growth from reality must create bubbles—the housing bubble, the food bubble, the land bubble. Just as the illusion of growth and the fiction of finance have produced a volatile and unpredictable economy, the fiction of the corporation as a legal person has replaced citizens and made our societies unstable and unsustainable.

Back at the start of the 20th century, Labour Lord Chancellor Richard Haldane said “a corporation is an abstraction. It has no mind of its own any more than it has a body of its own.” But although corporations are not natural persons, they are recognised in law as such. A construction thus gets ‘human rights’ and is able to supersede the human rights of actual people and the natural rights of all beings.

Corporations are also allowed to expand their ‘human rights’. They are able to transform biodiversity into their ‘intellectual property’ by shaping laws like the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, administered by the World Trade Organization. They can, for instance, own water and rivers. They can own the air, the skies and even the carbon in the atmosphere. And they can own—and trade in—ecological services through the so-called Green Economy.

Democracy is supposed to be by the people, of the people, for the people. But on 21 January 2010, the US Supreme Court legalised democracy as being of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations, by ruling that it is ‘a violation of corporations’ civil liberties to limit their influence over the political process.

US culture and technology commentator Douglas Rushkoff observes: “Even though they are artificial entities, with greater access to capital, infinite longevity, and no interest in or connection to humanity, we now guarantee them the right of free speech… Freedom of speech was intended as a way for human beings to guarantee their ability to speak out against largely systemic and structural repression. Now, that structural repression itself has that same guarantee.”

In effect, the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case allows corporations to hijack democracy from citizens. It allows them to consolidate the corporate state, which privatises every aspect of life—food, water, health, education—and transforms it into a commodity to maximise profits.

There are three tools corporations use to do this. The first is the use of technologies that transfer production from local communities to distant corporations, substitute biodiversity with toxic products, and reduce everyone to consumers of toxic, non-renewable products whose cost is high but whose price is cheap.

The second instrument is the creation of tools for wealth accumulation. These tools include measuring wealth as capital whilst ignoring Nature’s wealth and society’s wealth. They also include measuring wealth as growth of GNP and GDP.

More often than not, the tools of technology and the tools of wealth appropriation go hand in hand, reinforcing each other. Thus genetic engineering goes hand in hand with patents on life and the privatisation of biodiversity. And dams for long-distance water transfer go hand in hand with water privatisation.

Globalisation has imposed this truncated model of being human worldwide. And in the process it is robbing people of their cultural diversity and the common universal humanity that rises from being members of our Earth Community.

Abstract constructs help make money out of money. But life in Nature is extinguished and life in society is impoverished. This is the third instrument of profit maximisation.

The undermining of wellbeing and real prosperity is repeatedly justified by ‘growth’ and ‘progress’. But growth of what? Progress towards what?

Growth of money and finance has gone hand in hand with growth of unhappiness and depression, poverty and destruction, hunger and thirst. The absence of financial growth and the lack of commercial transactions in indigenous cultures and societies is seen as lack of ‘progress’ and evidence of sustainable cultures being ‘static’. But sustainability is not a static state: it is dynamic. Rabindranath Tagore wrote: “You have to judge progress according to its aim. A railway train makes its progress towards the terminus station towards which it is in movement. But a full-grown tree has no definite movement of that kind; its progress is the inward progress of life. It lives, with its aspiration towards light tingling in its leaves and creeping in its silent sap.”

Growth of life cannot be measured by the same criteria as growth of commodities, growth of commerce and growth of cash.

The dominant model of ‘economic development’ has in fact become anti-life. And those who pay the highest price for this ‘mis-measure’ of growth are women, indigenous peoples, farmers and future generations.

Across the world, there is a deep questioning of growth. In the rich North, the search beyond growth is guided by disillusionment with and the failure of the growth economy, both because it has not brought satisfaction, joy and happiness, and because it is now collapsing.

In the countries of the South, the imperative to go beyond growth comes from the fact that growth robs poor people of their resources—their land, their biodiversity and seeds, their water and food. Growth destroys self-provisioning economies that are based on sufficiency, self-reliance and sustenance. The rich and powerful of the South who have grown richer and more powerful call for more growth, of course.

The violent replacement of sustenance societies through the imposition of growth hides the ecological destruction and economic dispossession of these groups. Nature and people are rendered invisible as ‘growth’ replaces the wellbeing of the Earth and community. Means become ends, and human ends are forgotten.

This article was first published in Resurgence magazine, ed. Satish Kumar.



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