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Limits of growth

In the future as well, growth in the Western economies will probably continue to slow down. In the long run, not even a shrinking of the economy and therefore of material wealth can be excluded. The causes for this are:



Rising costs of resources and waste

The natural capacity of the Earth to provide resources and absorb waste is finite. The human race currently consumes over 40 percent more natural resources every year than the Earth can reproduce. What is more, the per capita consumption in the Western industrialised countries exceeds the globally tolerable amount by nearly three and a half times. In addition, their growing populations and the rise in their standard of living also cause the peoples of the late industrialised countries to claim an increasingly large portion of the natural global resources.1

In the long term, these developments endanger mankind's natural basis of existence. In the short and medium term they raise both the cost of supplying energy, food and raw materials and the cost of disposing the emissions and waste incurred by their consumption. This will further diminish the real purchasing power of the incomes in the Western countries.



Numerical shrinking and ageing of the population

The populations of most of the early industrialised countries are ageing and are shrinking in number. Despite continuous immigration, the present number of 732 million Europeans is expected to drop by a total of 41 million to 691 million by 2050, whereas the number of over 64-year-olds will jump up by 70 million from 119 to 189 million. More than every fourth European will then be over 65 years old. Currently the figure stands at only slightly more than every sixth. Roughly 50 years ago this was only the case for more than every eleventh.2

Declining readiness to work

Not least because of growing older and older, large parts of today's population already prefer a quiet and secure life to one full of opportunities and risks. Although most people still want possessions and a high income, fewer and fewer are prepared to make the necessary efforts which this entails. Whereas for example 69 percent of the Germans would like to live in well-to-do circumstances, only 19 percent of them want to work hard and perform at a high level. The majority aspires after a lighter work burden and more leisure time and still wants to retire at the age of 61 despite increasing life expectancy.3

Increase in the detrimental after-effects of prosperity

The focus on the rise in material wealth fosters an increase in diseases of modern civilisation and in the detrimental after-effects of prosperity. The counteraction required to rectify the damage done to society wipes out a considerable portion of the (imagined) gain in prosperity.

An example for this is the economic cost of obesity in the USA, which amounted to an estimated 147 billion US dollars in 2008.4 At an estimate, diseases, accidents and crime resulting from alcohol and tobacco consumption cost the Europeans more than 250 billion euros. There is no figure concerning the cost of other social developments. Meanwhile, according to the Kinderhilfswerk (children's welfare organisation), nearly one fifth of the 7- to 11-year-olds in Germany suffer from mental or emotional disorders.5 These are clearly manifest with every tenth child. Sixty percent of elementary school children have deportment problems and forty percent complain of back pain.

Dwindling social qualifications for further economic growth

Populations with such shortcomings are decreasingly able to achieve a maximum economic performance. In Germany, one fifth of the 15-year-olds is not able to read more advanced texts or to solve ordinary maths problems.6 In 2009, two-thirds of all educational institutions complained that the lack of maturity in school-leavers had a negative impact on their further training. According to a survey conducted in business and trade by the Deutsche Industrie- und Handelskammer, DIHK, (Chamber of Commerce), 21 percent of apprenticeships could not be filled in 2008 for this reason, although there were more applicants than open places.7

Risks of decreasing material wealth

List of references

1cf. Global Footprint Network (2009)

2Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision, March 8 2010

3cf. Meinhard Miegel / Thomas Petersen (2008), Der programmierte Stillstand, Olzog Verlag, Munich

4cf. Finkelstein, E. A./ Trogdon, J. G./ Cohen, J. W./ Dietz, W. (2009), Annual Medical Spending Attributable To Obesity: Payer-And-Service-Specific Estimates, in: Health Affairs, 28, no. 8

5cf. Robert Koch Institut (2007), Ergebnisse der Kinder- und Jugendgesundheitsstudie KiGGS

6cf. PISA 2006, Volume 2: Data, p. 222/227

7cf. DIHK, Ausbildung 2009 – Ergebnisse einer Online-Unternehmensbefragung, p. 12