Is there a limit to growth? LO5596

Daniel Aronson (
Mon, 12 Feb 1996 22:24:32 +0001 (EST)

Re: comments originally appearing under "LO and Big Layoffs LO5497"

On Sat, 10 Feb 1996, Michael McMaster wrote:

> Ginger asks, "If there are limited resources, isn't there a limit to
> growth?"
> According to physicists, we live in an expanding universe. According
> to me, we live in a universe of ever increasing complexity. One
> source of the increasing complexity is linguistic and, as far as I
> know, there is no limit to this resource or this possibility.
> Given that, there is not necessary limit to growth.

I am afraid I must offer an alternate view. Neither the idea of an
expanding universe nor increaseing complexity raises limits to growth.

1) When physicists say the universe is expanding, what they mean
is that the matter in it is moving away from the centerpoint of the
universe. However, this has *no effect* on resource-based limits to
growth, bucause the total amount of matter and energy in the universe is
constant even as it occupies more space. A pound of iron is still only a
pound even if it is dispersed over twice the area. Since matter is neither
created nor destroyed, there will be no new resources no matter how
expansive the universe. (Spreading the same matter/energy over a larger
area can even make limits to growth lower as it requires energy to collect
the same amount and some is wasted in the process. Imagine spilling a bag
of flour.)
2) Complexity may be increasing, but that means nothing for growth
- that is, increase in size. What it does mean (and a wonderful thing too)
is that *development* may occur. We tend to use growth and developement
interchangably in talking about econ., business, etc., but they are not
the same. Living systems continue to develop long after they have stopped
growing quite often (we stop growing by 20 usually, but we continue to
develop). As for information and complexity, yes, they may not have
meaningful limits - and their increase fosters development, which can be a
most wonderful thing - but they do not raise limits to *growth.* This is
more than fine with me, as development - evolution, maturity, etc. - is
what I treasure.

(For an excellent discussion of "growth" vs. "development" see _For the
Common Good_ by Herman Daly et al. An *excellent* book.)

> Also, the expansion will be connected to previous states and, by that
> at least, thoroughly interconnected. This seems to me good news both
> for our understanding and for the long-term consequences of growth.
> What seems like unfavourable growth is not disconnected from the
> larger whole and that is what provides the signals of change.

Growth can and should be connected to previous states, but it is not
always. While writing my thesis, it occurred to me that unconnected growth
is *exactly* what makes cancer kill. Cell grwoth is necessary for
survival, but growth outside of the limits kills.

I find the situation hopeful as well, when development displaces growth as
a goal.

Daniel Aronson <>

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