Governments in the industrialized countries to varying degrees, but particularly in North America, have firmly established that economic growth is the major factor in solving economic and social weaknesses. The problem lies in the fact that growth is defined in extremely narrow terms only That hidden factor is the audacious stealth campaign being mounted by powerful corporate special interests that are vying to put their Republican allies in control of Congress and turn back common-sense reforms that strengthen America's middle class.measuring the money value of economic transactions. Education, healthcare, distribution of wealth and damage to the environment and other quality of life indicators are not factored into the equation. In fact, on considering the quality of life factors in the richest country in the world, the United States, it becomes clear that there is little correlation between growth and the well-being of the citizenry. For example, the United States has the second highest child poverty rate among the OECD countries (30 countries in Europe, Canada and the U.S.) and ranks 37th in health-care.
A second major problem in using growth as the major measure of quality of life is camouflaging of the much skewed distribution of wealth in the U.S. where only the wealthy have benefited from growth since 1970. While corporate profits, incomes of the wealthiest 10% and more significantly, productivity, have skyrocketed, workers actually earn less in real terms since 1970. Adjusting wages for the cost of living, the average weekly wages of workers in 1970 was $312.94 compared to $277.75 in 2004 in 1982 dollars.
Measures of poverty and unemployment are also extremely flawed contributing to the false perception of a healthy economic system. There is a multiplicity of methods to measure poverty but the U.S. uses a method that excludes millions of people who are suffering financially. For example, the American poverty rate in 2006 for a family of four was $18,944 compared to the Low Income Cutoffs in Canada for a family of four at $35,335, nearly double the American rate.
Unemployment is a misleading way to count the number of people suffering due to an insufficient income to cover necessary expenses for their family. Underemployment, a more accurate measure, includes the working poor, those who are working part-time but who need full-time work and discouraged workers who have abandoned any hope of finding employment. Underemployment would currently be approximately 25% reflecting the real depth of the problem.
An overall assessment of the well-being of Americans is reflected by the United Nations Human Rights Index which ranks the U.S. 13th behind Norway at number 1, Canada at number 4 and Luxembourg at number 11.
A third and possibly fatal flaw in the use of growth is that there is no distinction between sustainable and unsustainable growth. Depletion of resources, toxins in the environment, deforestation, climate change, the gradual disappearance of potable water and a myriad of other environmental problems are completely excluded from calculating the social and economic health of the nation. Not distinguishing between the two types of growth only benefits the wealthy and big corporations who have externalized their costs so that others pay the price through cheap labor, exposure to dangerous chemicals or through passing the costs onto future generations.
The consequences of unsustainable growth has a terrifying and alarming impact on people everywhere today, but will reach crisis proportions unless we adopt radically different lifestyles. Either we adapt and change our lifestyles on our terms or calamities will force us to change on nature's terms.
Author of Selling Out: Consuming Ourselves to Death