Limits to growth

by Mary Ann McGivern

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There are limits to growth. The asceticism of religion is an effort to teach ourselves to live within limits. But for all of America's self-proclamation as a nation under God, we are unwilling to accept the notion that there are limits, much less set them and strive to live within them.

There are global limits as well as national ones. But the U.S. is the richest, the most extravagant, always claiming to be No. 1. If only we could be No. 1 in living simply.

Take the current economic crisis. It's a bad situation and may get worse. A temporary fix is to grow ourselves out of it, either the Republican way by letting private enterprise loose to grow business and gain profits, or the Democratic way through a massive infrastructure jobs program and payroll tax cuts, putting money in people's pockets so that they will buy more, grow business and create profits.

It's the wrong answer to the wrong question. Neither greed nor consumer confidence is a virtue. What the political parties don't recognize is that there is plenty of work that needs to be done; but no one is willing to pay for it.

We need nursing home aides and teachers in the public sector and farm laborers and customer service workers in the private sector. We need infrastructure repair. And we need industrial innovation to reduce waste and draw on renewable energy sources. We need better health care and mass transit.

These are real needs. They will improve the quality of our lives without putting ever greater burdens on our earth.

The first question is not, in my opinion, whether government should be providing more services. The question is: what do we need? Then, what are some efficient ways to meet those needs?

I don't object to bigger government nearly as much as I fear the power of multinational corporations. But the bottom line is meeting the people's needs. But let's meet our needs, not all the casual wants of an overfed society.

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