Growth Fetish

Clive Hamilton

conspicuous consumption

Growth Fetish is a 2003 book about economics and politics by the Australian liberal political theorist Clive Hamilton. The book argues that the policies of unfettered capitalism pursued by the west for the last 50 years has largely failed, since the underlying purpose of the creation of wealth is happiness, and Hamilton contends that people in general are no happier now than 50 years ago, despite the huge increase in personal wealth. In fact, he suggests that the reverse is true. He states that the pursuit of growth has become a fetish, in that it is seen as a universal magic cure for all of society’s ills.

Hamilton also proposes that the pursuit of growth has been at a tremendous cost in terms of the environment, erosion of democracy, and the values of society as a whole. One result is that we, as a society, have become obsessed with materialism and consumerism. Hamilton’s catchphrase ‘People buy things they don’t need, with money they don’t have, to impress people they don’t like’ neatly sums up his philosophy on consumerism.

Hamilton proposes that where a society has developed to the point at which the majority of people live reasonably comfortably, the pursuit of growth is pointless and should be curtailed. The surplus wealth could then be diverted into the essential infrastructure and to other nations that have not reached this level of wealth. Hamilton adapted the term Eudemonism to denote a political and economic model that does not depend on ever increasing and ultimately unsustainable levels of growth, but instead ‘promotes the full realization of human potential through … proper appreciation of the sources of wellbeing,’ among which he identifies social relationships, job satisfaction, religious belief for some, and above all a sense of meaning and purpose.

Hamilton relates the fetish for growth to a ‘development mentality,’ and to a neoliberal ‘instrumental value theory [which] maintains that, while humans are valuable in and of themselves, the non-human world is valuable only insofar as it contributes to the well-being of humans.’ To this he contrasts the stance of the ‘transpersonal ecology’ described by Warwick Fox: this is ‘centered on the notion that only the ego-involved, contracted self can imagine itself to be distinct from the natural world and that expansion of the self beyond the boundaries of the personal necessarily means that one’s awareness, and ground of concern, extends to the natural world.’

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