Growth: The Celtic Cancer
Has the growth of the Irish economy improved our lives? Surely the fact that the average Irish income has doubled must be good for our well-being – but is it? Consider these sobering facts:
Only 30% of Irish people report themselves satisfied with their lives.
33% of men surveyed believed they had little control over their lives – and 4% had actually planned their suicides. Between 1990 and 1998, male suicide in Ireland increased from 14 to 23 deaths per 100,000 of population.
Irish mortality rates are now worse than the EU average for almost all diseases – including cancer, heart disease and suicide.
Poverty in old age has increased by 18%.
Although the average income increased by 73% between 1994 and 2002, house prices rose by 250% nationally, and by 300% in the Dublin area.
Between 1989 and 1999, alcohol consumption has increased by 40%.
The percentage of babies born with low birth-weights increased by 20% between 1993 and 1999.
Above information from ‘Unprecedented growth, but for whose benefit’ by Elizabeth Cullen.
‘Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.’ – Edward Abbey, Radical US environmentalist (1927-1989)
Economic growth corrupts a society in the way a cancer destroys the human body on which it feeds. Growth is simply an increase in the size of the monetarized part of the social arrangements by which we live, relate and support each other. All too often, however, this increase is at the expense of our personal relationships or of natural resources.
Elizabeth Cullen’s lead essay in this collection shows that recent rapid economic growth in Ireland has been achieved at a heavy cost. More people have to work, and work harder, than ever before. Some have coped with the stress by drinking to excess while almost everybody finds they have not enough time to maintain their social bonds. The people who have fared worst, however, are those with the smallest share of the increased income. They feel less good about themselves, for example, making them more prone to depression, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis and more liable to die prematurely from heart disease or a stroke.
Economic growth is only one of the topics covered in this book. Others include globalization, fair trade, interest-free baking, genetic modification, the conflict between the dollar and the euro, eco-taxes and finally, how Irish democracy can be reformed so it can respect ecological principles. Taken together, these essays present a convincing picture of how a more humane society might be built.
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