Growth. That sounds good, doesn't it? Income growth, investment growth, personal growth. How about a growth on your big toe? Oh yuck! Maybe growth isn't always a good thing.

My waistline has grown a little this last year, with lots of travel, expensive meals and not enough exercise. Now some of my clothes don't fit like they used to, and I don't like it. I hate shopping, and some of my 20-or-so-year old stuff had plenty of wear left. On the other hand, a lawyer friend of mine outgrew several of his very nice suits and sold them at our church's rummage sale. $10 a suit, and they fit me like they were tailored for me. Growth was good in that case, at least for me.

Cancerous growth is bad. Fungal growth may be necessary in the larger scheme of things, but in the refrigerator? Nobody wants that, even if you like Bleu Cheese. (That's supposed to be done growing, isn't it?)

Boise's grown a lot in the 15 years I've been here, and mostly I think it's a bad thing. More traffic, noise, crime, sprawl. But more jobs, economic activity, families, children, art, music. Ask the people on shady Curtis Road how they feel about growth. The highway district has bought their land, and they can keep their houses if they want. After they move them.

Is economic growth good? Everyone who talks about "the economy" seems to think it is, and if growth even slows down, that's bad. Faster growth is good. Unless it's inflationary, that's too fast. Slower growth is so bad, that when it happens (or is forecast), pundits sometimes forget that things are still growing. They talk about an economic slowdown when they really mean a little bit slower growth. The economy is clipping along faster than ever!

Yahoo has an index for Personal Growth, a metaphoric sort of increase. You're not actually getting bigger, but better, right?. Unless you're weightlifting.

A search for "Growth" on Yahoo one day turned up over 1000 hits, including one for Church Growth Magazine, "founded to share the components of successful church growth, spiritual warfare and prayer." Hmmm. There's hair re-growth, Environmental Growth Chambers, the Growth Stock Gazette, Pacific Center For Human Growth, Center for Creative Growth, Gestalt Growth Center, Ben & Jerry's Thoughts About Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH), Old Growth Forests, Zero Population Growth, and Murray, Ray - looking for a chemist position within an environment which facilitates professional growth.

There are growth charts for 4 iguanas (Guana-Guana, Hopper, Brownie, and Bumpy), a site dedicated to growth of the hemp industry, and Buming City, where you can track the growth and suggest changes to a virtual Japanese city, hoping for proper ecological management. A project of Hiroshima Gas.

The leader of the company I work for is disappointed that our corporation's growth rate seems to be leveling off. (We're not the only ones; it seems that other companys that have topped $40 billion in annual revenue seem to be unable to maintain growth rates of 20% and more.) His message carries through the organization. The subentity I'm in is looking for a return to the high growth rates it once experienced, but something more: its leaders want an accelerating high growth rate.

When would it be enough? 5 years of 20% growth, and a $40 billion company would be a $100 billion company. 5 more, a quarter of a trillion dollars a year. If our employment ratched it up to 200,000, that would be well over a million dollars in revenue per employee, per year. DEC's employment ratcheted up to 200,000, before it (and their stock price) started a long slide into oblivion. Now they're a part of Compaq, who probably wants to maintain a high growth rate, too.

Here's my point: growth is for juveniles. Juveniles of a species, juvenile species, young companies. When things are mature, they should stop growing, or else limits will be reached, and various kinds of pain realized as the imbalance is corrected. Accelerating growth in a mature organism is an alarming, painful, and inevitably fatal occurrence. It's cancer. In a species, it's a prelude to environmental catastrophe as resources are depleted and entropy and other waste products accumulate.

Could human constructs such as corporations somehow be exempt from these facts of life? Sure, it's possible. It just doesn't strike me as the least bit likely. Feel free to make your own list of the pitfalls of corporatism without bound.

Along with the many other disappointments of being human, we don't like being told we can't have or do what we want. Especially in the USA, the frontier is part of what keeps us going, hopeful, optimistic. We don't like being fenced in, and there is no vengeance as sweet as being able to tell someone who suggests a limit of any kind, "See, you were wrong. I told you so."

But just consider an alternate approach: when you reach adulthood, there are still opportunities for growth, but for growth in metaphoric ways. Growing awareness, self-realization, generosity, loving relationships. Similarly, once your material well-being is provided for, more ceases to be better. It's nearly always worse, although we can often push the negative aspects away far enough that it's someone else's problem. (We're running out of away, though, have you noticed?)

Now I think it's time for optimization - a growth in efficiency, appropriateness, satisfaction, acceptance.

What do you think?

Tom von Alten      tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org

Friday, 28-Dec-2001 09:19:46 MST