Why I disagree with the view that the US needs another baby boom in order to sustain economic growth

By Nina Steele 

Living beyond our means is wrongRecent figures released by the US census Bureau, show that the population of the US grew by 0.7% in 2016. The fact that these figures are the lowest recorded since the great depression, has led some to suggest that only a baby boom can avert a severe decrease in population numbers, which will inevitably impede economic growth. The assumption being that economic growth is the solution to all our problems. But is it?

The last baby boom certainly did wonders for the US economy. Data for that time, which usually refers to the period between 1946 and 1964, suggest that: “the baby boom triggered a housing boom, consumption boom and a boom in the labor force. Between 1940 and 1960, the nation’s GDP jumped more than $300 million. The middle class grew and the majority of America’s labor force held white-collar jobs. This increase led to urbanization and increased the demand for ownership in cars and other 1950s and 1960s inventions”. No wonder then that many economists and analysts alike see population growth as the only way forward.

The problem with this constant focus on growth, is that it seems to have a complete disregard for the impact that an explosion in population has on the environment. In addition, this obsession with economic growth, which simply relies on people to keep spending, has not only created unbridled materialism, it has also led to people drowning in debt, and all the social woes that this ultimately causes. If the financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that living beyond our means and excessive greed always leads to trouble.

It is time that economists and policy makers, started seriously considering other ways of making the economy work for everyone, other than this constant focus on economic growth. Most people, particularly in the West, do not need more stuff. Yet the economies in these countries rely principally on people buying more. It makes no sense at all and is morally wrong, without mentioning the damage that this constant need to produce more stuff is having on the earth resources as a whole. As those resources are not endless, care has to be taken so future generations can benefit too.

In order to achieve this new economic model, policy makers need to encourage people to reject materialism and adopt a simple lifestyle instead. That may sound anathema to many, but I believe that as this current economic model is not sustainable in the long term, the sooner alternatives are discussed and ultimately pursued, the better.

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