Thursday, August 13, 2015

Paradox: Raising productivity may give us less of what we need

Continuous growth is the natural state of the economy in capitalism, because everyone is struggling to remain competitive by improving their productivity. Companies compete by offering more for less, so they must continually streamline procedures, and automate and outsource work to cheaper suppliers. The remaining employees will need to work more efficiently. In return we get more stuff cheaper.

But – as many studies on happiness show - at some point, more stuff and more money, doesn’t make us much happier. We barely have the time or attention to consume it all. In extreme cases, products, whether it be clothes, toys or food, are produced, distributed and discarded virtually un-used – or they accumulate in attics and storage rooms. Instead, what we really need might be less stress, and more time to savour what we have.
Likewise, producing and consuming more typically translates into greater use of resource and CO2 emissions.
Paradoxically, we are running faster and spending precious resources in order to get more stuff we don’t really have the attention to enjoy.

Is this raising productivity or the opposite? Are we getting more or less? It’s not always clear. The problem is that we seem to be stuck in fast forward towards more and more. If you chose less growth, you will lose out completely in the competition  – and for most, that’s not very attractive either. Indeed a paradox.

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