One of the foremost organizations working to educate policy makers and the general public about the benefits and principles of sustainable economic policy is the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE). Their current newsletter presents what they've been doing to promote “a hopeful vision of an economy that fits on this finite planet:”
The current president of CASSE, Rob Dietz, is working on a new book, Enough Is Enough, based on the report of the same name. This is a tough enough concept to get across in Chelmsford, but it is even tougher at the national level. Mr. Dietz tells the story of meeting a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, Cecilia Rouse, at the New Green Economy Conference in Washington, DC last year. Ms. Rouse used the term "green growth" several times during her remarks in a session titled “Progress Moving Toward a Green Economy.” When the session was finished, he asked the question, " You spoke about green growth, but just last night, Herman Daly accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award on this very stage for his work on the steady state economy – that is, an economy that aims for stability instead of growth. But the idea of a steady state economy is rarely considered among policy makers. Would the Council of Economic Advisers be willing to facilitate a public dialogue about the limits to growth and the steady state as an alternative?"
Her response revealed that she didn’t understand the question – she used phrases like "sustainable growth," "steady state growth," and "balanced growth." Similarly, Chelmsford’s policy makers use terms like “smart growth” and “sustainable growth” to justify continued encouragement of new construction. But unlike Chelmsford’s policy makers, Ms. Rouse asked for clarification and suggested a followup meeting. At that meeting the following week, CASSE executives made a mini-presentation to an economist with a real interest in learning more about what sustainability really means.
It’s unfortunate that Chelmsford’s top officials still reject discussions about the limits to growth, the necessity for regional planning, and steady state economics – even though the Merrimack Valley has a steady state population, a tremendous advantage for sustainable economic planning and increasing prosperity. The Town Manager and Community Development Director continue to present formal endorsements of concepts like “smart growth” as though they are beneficial to a densely developed community like Chelmsford.
There is also a highly anticipated new documentary coming out soon titled, “Hooked On Growth.” A trailer can be viewed at http://www.growthbusters.com. We are seeing more challenges like this to flawed economic truisms (“growth is good,” “growth provides prosperity,” and of course, “growth keeps taxes down”). Whether this will alter the brainless acceptance of perpetual growth policies by public policy makers (many of whom are realtors, real estate lawyers, and developers that have personal interests in promoting growth) remains to be seen.
Roland Van Liew