by the Sandwichman
The "concept of growth" concedes too much emotional appeal to a notion that is actually more about delusions of grandeur and bloating than it is about the kinds of organic processes we associate with children, grass, trees and gardens.
Economic growth becomes an oxymoron when it is orchestrated by elected officials for the sake of their incumbency with the rules of the game dictated by career investment bankers serving out their revolving-door appointments. Such a concept doesn't deserve to be called growth with all of that term's positive connotations. What's growth got to do with it, anyway?
After pondering for several days about a substitute for the word growth, I stumbled across "groat". It sounds like how growth might be pronounced in some dialects. A groat, though, is an English four-penny coin, introduced in the 13th century. Similarly named coins had been introduced earlier in the same century in Venice (grosso, meaning large or thick), Holland (groot, meaning great or large) and France (gros tournois).
The names of the coins referred to the fact that they were thick silver coins in contrast to the thin pennies or deniers already in circulation. A higher denomination coin is a response to debasement of the currency. To the extent that coins were the currency in the 13th century, economic growth became the public policy "coin of the realm" in the second half of the 20th century. And successive governments globally have predictably debased that currency by parlaying the GDP into Gross Domestic Ponzi-schemes in which debt-fueled economic growth is supposed to generate the tax revenues to perpetually service the accumulated debt.
Debasing coinage is what governments do. Gresham's law: bad money drives out good. Grass grows. Trees grow. Children grow. Governments debase money.
Another feature recommending groat as a critical terminological substitute for growth is the fact that the coin evolved into an exclusively ceremonial token, given out by the sovereign as symbolic alms to the poor each year on Maundy Thursday (and, of course, groat rhymes with bloat and with gloat).
Peter Victor's chapter on the history of the idea of economic growth relies heavily on H.W. Arndt's Rise and Fall of Economic Growth: a study in contemporary thought. A pivotal element in the evolution of thinking about economic policy was the argument put forward by R. Harrod in 1939 and E. Domar in 1946 that economic growth, defined as annual increase in national income, was indispensable to maintaining full employment.
Although Harrod's and Domar's argument is commonly misrepresented as "Keynesian", Keynes himself viewed government growth stimulus policies as only one of the possible strategies for addressing with the problem full employment and one that was only applicable for a limited period of time (Keynes estimated a best-by date on the growth stimulus policy of about 15 years after the end of the World War II). The "ultimate solution", Keynes stated in a 1943 Treasury Department memorandum and again in a 1945 letter to T.S. Eliot was "working less".
John R. Hicks – whose 1937 mathematical 'interpretation' of Keynes (featuring his famous "IS/LM curve") was crucial to Harrod's and Domar's efforts – subsequently (1975) repudiated that earlier contribution as too static and unhistorical. Similarly, Simon Kuznets, who developed the national income accounts relied on to measure economic growth, warned "The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measurement of national income... Goals for 'more' growth should specify of what and for what."
Economic growth is thus today thoroughly debased and effaced from its original conception. To continue to call it growth is to circulate a counterfeit. Let's call it economic groat.