Growth is killing us

A couple of weeks back we had the great Steve Harrison in the agency to talk about the great Howard Gossage (Steve will happily pop round to your agency to do the same. Comment if you want me to put you in touch).

In the Q and A at the end I said that one of the many things Howard was remarkably prescient about was his desire to keep his agency small. He worked in an old fire station in San Francisco and never employed more than a few people because he couldn’t see the point in growing. He was the font of quality, aided by a few others; why dilute that by increasing in size?

These days that idea is ridiculous. Of course, if you are doing something well you do more of it and earn more money. Then you get more people to join in and do the work you can’t do and earn even more money (never mind the question of diluting the quality of the work). And on and on until you become Martin Sorrell.

It is taken for granted that what human beings want is ‘progress’, but that is defined as ‘moving onward or forward to a destination’. The problem here is that we have no destination. In general, people just want more than what they have. The idea that anyone should be satisfied with the way things are and just stop is a bit of an odd one to get your head round. You can’t just stop. That’d be crazy. What would you do? How would you be able to afford a bigger TV or go on more holidays or just be more ‘successful’?

But the problem is, as Steve said to me, capitalism is just one big Ponzi scheme and at some point we’re all going to realise that we can’t just keep taking to make more. Whether it’s the massive and obvious destruction of the environment (have you seen the weather lately?) or the terrible consequences of financial and political greed that millions of people continue to suffer, this love of progress doesn’t seem to be improving the world (see here for why the introduction of agriculture screwed the human race in so many ways). Of course, making progress in civilisation, learning and creativity are not bad things in themselves, but marching on to ever greater levels of consumption will have to end somewhere disastrous.

Like many things happening right now (any support for Mitt Romney, climate change, Rupert Murdoch not being in prison etc.), I don’t really understand why nothing is being done. Why aren’t we collectively demanding justice, or an improvement to the way we live on this planet?

My little effort is this blog, but beyond that I feel pretty powerless to stop what appears to be a great slow slide into oblivion.

If I’ve got it all wrong, please let me know in the comments. I would love to believe it’s not as bad as it seems.