from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #22


#22A: Here "Expansionism" refers to a nation's economic (not territorial) expansion.  One who embraces the policy of pushing economic growth behind this worldview theme will not similarly value the diametrically opposed "Sustainability" (theme #23A).  Unlike those laissez faire capitalists (who invest in theme #19), those who like expansionism have few qualms about government interference in an economy (which itself can be gauged by various indicators)—as long as such meddling enhances economic growth prospects. 

     In terms of increasing production output, economic growth can be brought about by increasing production input and/or increasing productivity.  Nationally this can be done by             1) increasing population growth (increasing eventual labor force growth), 2) investment in economic infrastructure (land, new industrial plants & equipment), 3) investment in human capital, 4) beneficial technological change, and 5) improving the political, and socioeconomic climate.  With respect to investment, it is generally thought if a nation maintains essentially full employment and keeps inflation in check, its rate of economic growth should be directly related to the % of its gross domestic product that is reinvested back in the ways noted above. 

     The % increase in real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is typically used (as a first approximation) to measure how fast economies are growing.  The extent to which this gauges real increases in standard of living is debatable.  Critics point out that GDP includes not just economic "goods" but some "bads," omits distribution of income considerations, doesn't include things like the leisure time people have, etc.  In attempting to "heat up" their economies, nations must watch inflation.  Indeed, economic growth per capita in the 5% to 10% / year range, if maintained in the long run, results in doubling of economic output per capita in seven to fourteen years (see Figure #22b), but often causes dramatic price rises!  Interest rates also need watching, since low rates can spur investment. 

     Critics charge economic growth increases inequality: that the share of the "economic pie" "have nots" get decreases.  Expansionists say the solution is to grow the pie.  Since Malthus' 1798 essay arguing populations grow exponentially while resources to support them grow linearly (see Figure #22a), many have noted that growth can deplete non-renewable resources rapidly.  By the 1970s, environmentalists charged that expansionists failed to appreciate natural "limits to growth."  They expressed concerns that human society could, like other species in stressed eco-systems, "overshoot and collapse."  Growing consumerism and associated resource use & pollution added to their fears.

     Fast forward to 2009 and global economic crisis. After many lessons in how technological developments can dramatically change market conditions and in the dangers of unregulated financial speculation,  many former pro-growthers feel the





                  back to worldview theme(s) #22


booming "business as usual" era of recent decadesdriven by consumer spendingmay be over.  Besides enormous debt and rising unemployment in the affluent world, there are global concerns:  1) failed nations mired in poverty or inequality breed terrorism threatening everyone;  2) world-wide oil production may be at or near its peak, 3) global climate change concerns.   They seem increasingly willing to consider the changes that those respecting "Ethical Globalization" (theme #51) and "Environmental Economics" (theme #40) suggest. 

#22B: Promoters of imperialistic global capitalism won't make such concessions.  Globalization, they argue, has benefited the developing world—lifting hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty, increasing life expectancies, decreasing child mortality, boosting literacy, etc.  They point to the transformation of China from near basket case to near economic superpower.  They believe governments and corporations extending power & influence over those in other countries is fundamentally good.  Their intervention philosophy is built on ethnocentrism, and on the assumption that, given the backwardness of the people affected, such domination will greatly spur economic development.  They argue an earlier era of European colonialism in Asia and Africa had lasting benefits.  As for environmental concerns, they feel that energy, mining, and timber companies need to go wherever oil, natural gas, timber and other valuable natural resources are found, make arrangements with local governments to facilitate timely resource extraction, and bring them to market. "People need jobs and the world needs energy and natural resources.  Everyone can be happy!" they argue.    

Figure #22a: Linear vs. Exponential Growth


Figure #22b: Growth Rate vs. Doubling Time

Growth rate,

% per year

Doubling time, years