End of economic growth


It is October 2010 now and I wrote this essay more than 10 years ago; I was a beginner in writing English then, so in 1999.

In the West we are used to economic growth, with ups and downs of course, but on the whole a steady growing. And since we are used to it, we often think that the economic growth will continue in next centuries.
But that will not happen I think, and of course I will explain why.

First of all, the economic growth in the last century can not be seen separated from the technological growth we experienced. Without that enormous technological growth, world-economy still would have a rather primitive character, a local character as well. Just think away our transport- and communication-technology.

In the last century, or couple of centuries, we have discovered many new techniques, one after another. And of course we started to produce these techniques, and every new technology (the car, the grass-mower, the washing machine, the spin-drier, the color-tv and in the last 10 years the pc in particular) involved a further economic growth.
So the economic growth mainly was the result of the technological growth.

Now it is a fact that all these techniques have the same purpose in a way and that is to make human activities more easy and comfortable. We want to move and travel, to transport, to dwell, to sleep, to wash, to farm land, to manufacture all kinds of material, to cook, to write, to draw, to calculate and so on. And the purpose of every technique is, to make one or more of these human activities more easy or comfortable, or at least less uneasy when we think of our medical techniques.

Only one century ago, most of these human activities still were hand- and foot-work. Now we have technical tools for every human activity. Since we have our computer, that also applies to our mental activities. We now have technical tools for all our activities, I think. It is not easy to mention an activity we have no tools for.

That source is dried up. Our techniques are either transport-means or communication-means or tools to clean or wash, or agricultural tools, or machines to produce and build all sorts of things, or tools to repair and maintain things et cetera. And we now have means to travel over land, under the ground, over and under water, in the air and even in space, and also in many different ways. And the same is true for communication and for all our sorts of work and other business and activities. We now have tools and techniques for all our activities.

To invent a really new product, one has to discover a new human activity. And that is not easy, I think.
At the most you can try to improve existing techniques or invent alternatives that then replace old techniques. It may be possible to invent a new engine, but one can never invent 'the engine' again or 'the car' or 'the airplane' or the wheel, the piston and cylinder, the bolt and nut, all these electromagnetic and chemical basic-techniques or all basic-techniques around light and lenses, or the plough, the pair of scissors, the knife, the hoe, the hinge, the chair, the bed, the coat and so on. There is not much left to be discovered actually.

That age has finished, the age of discovering. Like we have mapped all continents, islands and rivers, we also have mapped nearly all parts and species of nature, the possible workings as well, the natural forces for example. We even have reached the heart of the matter, that what moves our reality on the deepest level.
We do not yet understand everything, the why and how of DNA for example or the quantum-phenomenon. So there still is work to be done for physicists and other scientists. There still is growth possible of our science and knowledge, a growth of the quality of our knowledge with as result a growth of the quality of our products and techniques as well.

But when it concerns just discovering, just looking as well with microscopes, telescopes and other tools, then we are reaching the limit of our possibilities. There for instance is something like a shortest wavelength of light and even future generations will never be able to cross that border. We now have reached that limit and that is why we can say that 95% of everything is mapped or 90%, surely when it concerns the headlines, the basic techniques.

Maybe we will never stop discovering new butterflies or insects or other tiny life forms (new sorts may come to existence constantly) and the same might be true when it concerns technology. But these future inventions will always bring us only minor changes in our society and way of living. We will never experience revolutions again like brought by the first car, the telephone, the radio, the television set, the computer, the electric light, the lens et cetera.

Just a hundred years ago everything still was completely different, primitive actually. We then had mapped maybe 10% of the technical possibilities of nature, a small part anyhow. Even many headlines were not yet known then, so just a 100 years ago.
In just 1 century, we have experienced an enormous technological growth, a very fast growth but also a unique one.
The just finished century really was very unique in the history of mankind, the age of mapping. And that map is nearly finished now. And one can discover things only once.

Technological renewals and renovations in the future will more and more be minor and minor qualitative improvements of already existing techniques and products. And that does not necessarily involve an economic growth. Quite often nothing is happening in the economy if a part is changed by a new and better part. Think of the cd that replaced the lp, the pc plus printer that replaced the typewriter. The new part appears, the old part disappears, and the quantity then does not change, while the quality improves.

And if there is a change in the quantity of the economy, then it will be a shrink rather than a growth. I can imagine that after 10 or 20 years from now, we all have flat screens in our homes, to watch tv, to work with the computer, flat screens much lighter in weight than our cathode-ray tubes, using much less energy as well.
And after that 'revolution' has finished, we will see that the industrial circle that produces these screens has shrunk, simply because of the fact that we can provide the society then with the same amount of screens and even more with less labor and material.
And that will happen with many products, especially when every household on earth has a washing machine and a tv-screen and so on (until that time the world-economy will grow of course, but not in the West, because of the fact that the poor countries will produce their products themselves).

Different products will also become just one product. I think that in future we will find just 1 tiny box in every household, taking care of all incoming and outgoing information and communication (so radio, tv, telephone, internet and so on in one). With one or several screens and simple keyboards in the rooms of the house. At the moment one first must learn to manage a personal computer in order to be on internet. After maybe ten years however everyone can see internet on tv, while nothing can go wrong. You then have to know nothing of software and the like. You then go on internet to for example a Word processor website and write your letter there.
Such kind of integration, so different products becoming only 1 product, of course also means a shrink in our economic activities, and that will happen more and more in future when the quality of all our products improves. More quality often means more simplicity.

So do not expect a further economic growth in future. At the moment information- and communication-technology still is developing in a fast way. But after 10 or 20 years, we have found the right way, the best way of doing these things.
See how unique the time is, we are living in, really special in the history of mankind. The end of the fast age of discovering and mapping.
And if you see that, you also see that we are at a turning point, an important turning point in the history of mankind, whether we like it or not. It is just a fact.

1. Because that not much is left to be discovered and mapped, that just is a fact. Only a fool searches for new continents.
2. That in last century, we especially were focused on discovering, as far as economics is concerned, that also is a fact. Innovation still is the keyword there.
3. That innovations in the future will more and more be minor improvements of the quality of existing products, that also is an obvious fact, I think.
4. That a qualitative growth often means a quantitative shrink (less material and labor), that also is a fact.
5. That the future will be completely different from the past, therefore also is a fact.

It therefore would be wise to accept these facts also in our mind, and in politics.
The economy will shrink more and more in future. Less and less labor and material will be needed, to give us all we have now and even better. See also 'standardization' under the 's' of the alphabetical index of the Relational philosophy.
Being free is the purpose of being a human. And we now can have the conditions to really be free. All together.

end 1999 - beginning 2000

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