Dick Smith attacks "Growth Madness"
Thursday, August 4, 2011 at 9:48PM
Bill Barclay

The following is an extract from an article in today's crikey.com.au - the original Australian news blog site:

When the Productivity Commission releases its inquiry into the state of Australia's retail industry today, the news is expected to be dire.

Yesterday, horrendous ABS retail figures for June showed a 0.1% slump in shopping for June, despite the usual winter pick-up driven by southern state denizens rushing to buy coats and umbrellas. The year-on-year growth number was just 1.4%, far from the usual 5 or 6%.

The solution to the doom and gloom isn't clear cut. If only consumers could get their mojo back, market economists maintain, Australia would be back on the golden road to prosperity. The lack of spending is equated not to structural factors or the two-speed economy, but a anti-consumption mental illness.

But amid all the renewed talk of shopping strikes, US recession and Australians' eagerness to pay off their credit cards on time, the "prosperity without growth" crowd is beginning to arc up. The usual suspects are urging the nation to step off the fraying GDP conveyor belt championed by every Labor leader since the Accord and reject the growth imperative outright.

Forty years ago the Club of Rome warned that world population, industrialisation, pollution, food production and resource depletion would all rub up against an expanding economy in its Malthusian 'Limits to Growth' tome. Peak Oil has also started to re-emerge as an issue, forty years after it too was identified.

Now, media-savvy ex-electronics retailer turned cream cheese king Dick Smith reckons he has the answer, blasting out a press release this morning telling retailers to "get used to" sagging bottom lines and embrace the gleaming alternative. "We can have a fantastic free enterprise system which is not based on exponential growth in the use of resources and energy, but we have to plan for it", Smith explains.

“What we are doing at the present time is complete madness and our economy will end up hitting a wall or going over a cliff."

Smith reckons there are "still plenty of profits to be made but they won’t come from endless growth in consumption – they will come from smarter management creating efficiencies and saving waste. Yes, this will certainly ‘sort out the men from the boys’, however it’s all possible,” he reckons.

Pressed on his plans, the entrepreneur says he's talking about reducing working hours -- and immigration, which according to the Productivity Commission makes up half of all new growth, to reduce demand. And he says some leading retail figures agree.

"A senior exec at Woolworths told me 'you are absolutely right' this madness of growth from more people and more consumption can't last, we need to become smarter at making more money."

You may ask why I have deviated from local politics? The answer is simple - when I spot items that you may not otherwise have access to, and which are relevant to this district, I will reprint and acknowledge. This item just seems too important to let pass, no matter what you may think of the mercurial retailer. He carries huge weight over the ditch, and his growth message resonates on this Peninsula.

It is time everyone associated with promoting the virtues of this place began to realise that the party is over.  Brian Sharp's response to my criticism in today's Penisula Press is a perfect example of the 'head in the sand' attitude common amongst developers and their cohorts. Never mind Blueprints and other 'Pie in the Sky' documents - growth is and will remain static for a very long time, and anyone who believes otherwise is dreaming. Blaming the Council for this situation borders on the ridiculous.

It may be an appropriate time for our Council and everyone whose existence is tied to growth in this district to take a long hard look at at the likely consequences of a 'non-growth' scenario, and plan accordingly.




Article originally appeared on BillBarcBlog (http://billbarclay.co.nz/).
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