Chasing growth a flawed model - academic

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With China's massive economic growth have come pollution and longer working hours, says Christoph Schumacher. Photo / NZH
With China's massive economic growth have come pollution and longer working hours, says Christoph Schumacher. Photo / NZH

New Zealand's continuous pursuit of economic growth is depleting the country's resources while failing to satisfy our material desires, says an academic.

Dr Christoph Schumacher, professor of innovation and economics at Massey University in Auckland, said economic growth had become an end unto itself rather than a means to a better life.

"Our current economic mantra is always about growth, but continuous economic growth is not environmentally sustainable, and it is not making us happy," he said.

"So, if it's not sustainable and it's not making us happy why are we so obsessed with this model?"

Schumacher, who will deliver a public lecture on the theme next week, said New Zealand, like most countries in the world, was using resources at a faster rate than the earth could replenish them.

"Sooner rather than later we're going to run out."

His criticisms come as GDP figures released today show the country's economy grew 1.5 per cent last quarter, underpinned by a 9 per cent lift in forestry.

"GDP doesn't measure how much of our resources we've used or the hours people have worked," he said.

"It doesn't say anything about the well-being of our people."

Born and raised in Germany, Schumacher has lived in New Zealand for 12 years and taught at Massey University for a decade.

He said he had linked current GDP growth with various happiness surveys and found as countries grew their national wealth, the less happy they became.

Instead of increases in productivity and efficiency leading to a shorter working week, allowing more leisure time, people were working longer hours than ever before, he said.

"Economic growth needs to be part of it but it's not the synonym of well-being," he said.

"We've become so obsessed with making money that we've forgotten to spend it on making our lives better."

He admitted some of the blame lay at the feet of economists.

"Us economists have not done a good job of coming up with new models that don't put economic growth at the forefront of everything.

"Maybe we need something that takes into account our ecological footprint or how long people have worked to produce this output."

His talk next week is entitled 'Why Aristotle would own a surfboard'.

"For Aristotle, the purpose of human existence was 'the good life'. The surfboard is really a metaphor for all those things we enjoy in life but often don't have time to do.

Schumacher said he was aware that many would disagree with his views and see him as a radical.

"They would point out that if we don't grow we go backwards and that the quality of life would decrease because if we lessened our incomes we couldn't afford the latest goods."

Schumacher will speak next Wednesday March 27 from 6.30-7.30pm at Massey University's Albany campus. Click here for details.

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