The Limits of Growth

By: Randolph Buss | Wed, Jun 8, 2005
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Ok, I am going to be a bit provocative here: does it matter that you (a worker from the West) are willing to work longer for less pay, possibly less paid holiday and quite possibly less perks (if you have any at all - I don't)? I think the global answer to that is NO. Nobody cares about you or your fears or your needs. Only you do, sadly. The "paradise" offered up by politicians over the last 25 years or so of a globalized world whereby we all profit from some sort of nebulous global trade has in fact been not only oversold but may also be coming to an abrupt end.

It is now plainly clear to the politicians within the EU that there has been a serious "disconnect" between reality and what they have promised and imagined for the peoples of Europe (and USA/Western World). The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, that the political union being strived for within Europe is possibly a good thing on paper but may also be mired down in having been concipated in a Cold War bloc mentality which no longer exists in reality. The Cold War politicians and their offspring have been whittling and chiseling away at forming a more or less united Europe these last 50 years since the end of WWII but have seriously missed the demographic and social consequences of an eastern Europe joining with its cheaper labour pools and its "hunger" to catch up to the West, but also missed or at least misinterpreted the global facts of India and China coming "on-line" to join the party as well with their hunger for advancement and enthusiasm.

My point is this: in a world polarized by trading blocs, capital is now global and highly transportable across regions of the world. You and your job are likely not moveable or willing to move. This "discrepancy" may be the largest challenge, or as some now say, conundrum, facing Western politicians. Likewise, it is a challenge now for workers in the West to find suitable jobs.

As global manufacturers simply move entire production facilities over night to low cost labour regions of the world and displace local workers from jobs, and thus not only reduce capital inward investment but also lose the private purchasing power of those jobs lost, politicians may now be rapidly waking up to the fact that globalism is more than just a concept but in fact has serious consequences in a highly mobile world of capital (financial and human).

The flip side is one of controls, tariffs, trade blocs, putting the walls up, closing the fortress doors. This would scare not only scare "global business" but could lead to a quicker exiting of those enterprises to cheap labour regions and hence a quickening on the social burdens of countries as workers join the hoards of others on the dole, thereby throwing the social transfer systems into even more disequilibrium than is currently the case.

These are the challenges and conundrums facing countries and politicians and workers. With a unified Europe of 450 million people, but with highly divergent labour and wage structures; a USA with 300 million people largely coherent but also with intense pressure from legal and illegal immigration - are these any match for India and China, each with a population over 1 billion? In the medium term I don't think so. I believe the pace will accelerate much faster than anyone now thinks as global capital looks for global investment at the cheapest possible rates.

The final thought on this issue is one that has me losing considerable sleep: Many businesses in the West today produce nothing of value. By that I mean this: A society thrives and moves forward by producing industries which are needed and which benefit the citizens - food production, construction, etc. - and which produce a lasting value or infrastructure for the nation. A German politician once stated, and I repeat this again because it is so true, "We are nation of manufacturers and exporters, we cannot survive by cutting each other's hair."

The current businesses I see popping up are these: A company which sells ring tones for mobile phones and offers a subscription service to constantly change your ring tone, a company which builds a business model for swapping music files, a service company which help one find the best deal on items being offered on the internet, etc. ad nauseum. The point of all this ? The point is, is that NOTHING is being created of lasting value - these are all businesses based around CONSUMPTION and not PRODUCTION. The largest growing sector in the USA has been in the financial sector. Again, NOTHING is produced. It is simply a sector where money or insurance or derivative instruments or whatever is pushed around, "managed", fretted over, etc. Of course such financial and service companies are required, but my point is, should they be in the majority or minority for a nation or people or civilization to survive and grow and prosper?

To conclude, the limits of growth are likely to be finite. The biggest time-bomb waiting out there is a fat and lazy West accustomed to a high-end lifestyle clashing with the hungry and up and coming East who have been held down long enough. The results will be earth - shattering. Believe me.

Addendum: my personal belief is that great opportunities await those entrepreneurs and companies that offer a solution to the environmental and energy problems awaiting us. I am talking about alternative methods of material recycling, energy recycling, alternative cooling and heating methods, etc. The simple fact is, we as a civilization are using much more resources than Mother Earth can produce, or better said, give up. We are eating our own seed corn. Either we will find technological solutions to our incessant consumption or risk a 19th Century World War scenario in what was known as the "big grab" for control and resources. If you haven't already noticed, that game is in full swing at this very moment.

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I would like to take a moment to let you know how much I enjoy your newsletter for just the reasons that you mention as your goals in your recent note to subscribers. I have commented to friends and students that your analyses and musings are among the most altruistic and well written that I have found online. G. O., Geneva, Switzerland

Mr. Buss, Excellent letter as always of course. I cannot express my gratitude of "having eyes and ears", within the European Community. You, Sir, are simply, an information resource of inestimable value. Danke Schoen!! JZ, USA


 

Randolph Buss

Author: Randolph Buss

Randolph Buss
Berlin, Germany
www.dinl.net

Randolph Buss, currently works in portfolio & asset management | commodity fund advisory & management | macro investment research as editor and publisher of his newsletter read in over 45 countries.

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