The obsession with economic growth

Growth doesn’t mean economic growth driven by the profit motives, indifferent to

. It must be driven by human values and inclusive

ATUL SEHGAL

Economic growth is the watchword these days. Every individual, every community, every society, and every country seems to be
interested in such growth. Today, we indulge in glib talk of economic growth all the time. The developed countries as much as
the developing and the laggard countries seem to be obsessed with this term. Every political head talks of growth and makes it
the prime agenda item of governance. Institutional agencies work overtime to analyze the growth patterns of various countries
and extrapolate them and, at the same time, attempt to draw a policy framework to accelerate growth. Economic growth seems
to have become the key issue for the welfare of nations as also human individuals.
Is the above obsession with economic growth really proper? Does it necessarily lead to individual and collective action
conducive to peace, progress, and prosperity? Does it result in action that enhances the happiness quotient of people? Does it
lead to living paradigms that protect the global physical environment? Does it engender a human approach that affects the
improvement of the quality of human life on this planet? Is it consistent with the spiritual character of a man? These important
questions cry for urgent answers because our progeny’s survival is at stake.
We need to find answers because our sustenance on this planet is threatened by the adverse fallouts of environmental
degradation. It seems that this relentless pursuit of economic growth by all has eroded the happiness of people. It has
generated newer types of problems unforeseen by the human population. We know that earth has plenty of material resources
for its 7.9 billion human population. Beyond any semblance of doubt, there exists in this enough to satisfy everyone’s
needs but not enough to satisfy everyone’s greed.
The concept of economic growth is closely linked to productivity, for productive work creates wealth. But a person
cannot become productive without a supporting ecosystem. Also, a person cannot be expected to be productive if he is
deprived of the necessities of life like adequate food and nutrition, and housing. In the twenty-first century world too, there
are close to 200 million humans who live in deprivation of such necessities. The stark disparity of wealth prevalent in the
19th and 20th centuries continues into the 21st century. Even today, 15 percent of the global population owns or
consumes 80 percent of the global wealth.
Growth is commonly understood as an accretion to wealth and well-being. Such growth, therefore, means purely
economic growth. But consider the fact that the planet has limited, finite resources, and its population is only increasing, not
falling. Growth without human values is lopsided growth or exclusive growth. These values are humanism, righteousness,
and preservation of environmental purity. Assiduous adherence to these values will bring about inclusive growth and
maintain peace and harmony. Scientific techniques and technological processes that degrade the environment lead to
growth with deleterious side effects. A work culture devoid of spiritual values leads to exploitation and plunder, driven by
greed. It leads to malignant growth, like the growth of cancer cells.
Man’s obsession with material growth should be supplanted by an obsession with balanced growth, which is material cum
spiritual, driven by principles of righteousness or dharma. Only such type of growth establishes and maintains stability. It
prevents ruthless exploitation of man by man and doesn’t let grave disparity and inequality set in. It promotes harmony,
peace, and happiness and is sublime. We surely need to develop paradigms of living that will bring about the balanced
growth of humans inhabiting this planet. These paradigms will be necessarily built upon a humanistic work culture and
environmentally friendly technologies. They will be built on collaboration rather than fierce competition. They will be
premised on the welfare of all rather than the survival of the fittest. They will be based on the growth of true knowledge,
maturity, and humanism rather than the growth of gross wealth.

Our pursuit of unbridled material growth has created a huge ecological and environmental crisis. Many of our so-called
scientific processes are based on half knowledge because we are unable to control or counteract their dangerous side
effects. The cost of rapid industrialization has been tremendous. We have burdened mother earth with a heavy
concentration of solid, liquid, and gaseous pollutants and are witness to severe sporadic spells of cyclones, tsunamis, dry
spells, wildfires, and floods. We do realize that global warming, climate change, and ocean level rise are the result of
environmental degradation caused by our crude, cruel and inferior technologies coupled with the near-mad pursuit of
economic growth. We need to align our thinking with nature and the principles of harmonious existence (dharma) delivered
to us by the Creator to achieve growth that is in sync with nature, conducive to universal welfare, and sustainable.
(The writer is a Management
Consultant based in New Delhi.
The views expressed are personal)