Food and society

The Dilemma of Economic Growth - Necessity vs. Feasibility

This article is a contribution by Japan for Sustainability (JFS), a non-profit group that provides information from Japan to add to momentum toward a truly happy and sustainable future. A survey conducted in Japan offers interesting insights into people’s perception of economic growth from a social, economical and personal perspective.

The crisis of climate change and the loss of biodiversity are symptoms of larger problems. On our finite planet, we have created structures that assume there will be infinite economic growth. People are now becoming aware that our appetite for economic growth is one of the root causes of many of these problems.

As long as the current structures of society and economy depend on "growth," however, some people fear that a slowdown of economic growth could lead to social instability. Thus, at present almost all governments base their national policies on "economic growth" and "GDP growth."

We are now at a point where humanity cannot avoid facing the "dilemma of economic growth." If we do not continue to pursue economic growth in our current economic and social systems, we will have instability of employment and livelihoods. On the other hand, if we consider the real limits to the Earth's energy and other resources, ability to absorb carbon, and so on, we know that we cannot continue forever with economic growth. In recent years, researchers, politicians, and others have been taking up these topics in a big way.

Here we introduce the summary of survey responses on attitudes towards the economy. This survey was conducted in October 2014 by the Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society.

What do people think about the necessity and feasibility of continued GDP growth?
The survey asked people whether they think continued GDP growth is necessary or not, in four different contexts; that is, "for Japanese society," "for the community you live in," "for Japanese businesses," and "for your own life." To all of these questions, about 80% of respondents replied that it was "necessary" or "somewhat necessary."
Specifically, the largest number of people (85.2%) said that continued GDP growth was necessary or somewhat necessary "for Japanese businesses." Those who said "for their own life" were the fewest (70.0%). It is interesting to note that the number of people who said "for Japanese businesses" was larger than those who said "for their own life." If there is a difference in people's perception of the need for economic growth between themselves as individuals and for businesses, what does it mean?

Next, the survey asked about the feasibility of continued GDP growth. In response to the question "Do you think that it will be possible for GDP to keep growing?" about 40% said "possible" or "somewhat possible." The percentage of those who replied "impossible" or "somewhat impossible" was also about 40%. About 17% said "not sure."
Thus, about 80% of people replied that continued GDP growth was "necessary" or "somewhat necessary." However, only about 40% thought that it was "possible" or "somewhat possible." These results are quite interesting as they show that there are people who think that continued GDP growth is necessary but impossible.

To be more specific about these conflicting sentiments, of the total of 500 respondents, 158 people replied that continued GDP growth is "necessary" or "somewhat necessary" but also replied that it is "impossible" or "somewhat impossible." In other words, nearly a third of respondents thought that continued GDP growth is necessary but not possible.
The survey asked people to give reasons for their answers in an open-ended question. "Declining population," "limits to the Earth," and "impacts of globalization" were the most common reasons given by respondents who thought that continued GDP growth is necessary but "impossible" or "somewhat impossible."
On the other hand, many of those who replied that continued GDP growth is "possible" or "somewhat possible" expressed their expectation for future policies, technologies and efforts by people.

Junko Edahiro e Naoko Niitsu

About this survey
The Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy and Society conducted this online survey on October 25 and 26, 2014. Macromill Inc., the Japanese online research company helped collecting answers from 500 citizens in their twenties through seventies registered with the company as monitors. The percentages of the sample population selected for the survey -- in terms of age, sex, and residence in metropolitan areas, mid-to-small size local cities, and rural areas -- were made proportionate to demographics identified by Japan's national census.

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