Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

A growing alternative to neo-liberal obsessions with matters economic?

By Natasha Cica - posted Tuesday, 6 May 2003

Economist and public intellectual Clive Hamilton's latest offering, Growth Fetish, is a provocative, perhaps revolutionary, and certainly very timely book.

Hamilton argues that Australia, and the wider world, is the grip of an unsustainable and unhealthy obsession with economic growth and material consumption, driven by the ascendant orthodoxy of neo-liberal ideology that began to gain a serious hold in the West in the 1980s and 1990s. All this, he claims, comes at the expense of more generous and civilising values and processes. It is these values and processes we urgently need to revive, says Hamilton, in order to ensure the survival - and indeed the creative blossoming - of society, community, family and wider humanity.

Hamilton argues that real fulfillment and contentment depends on casting aside the whips and chains of the huge mortgages, platinum mastercards, Telstra share portfolios and designer gym shoes that enslave us. In its place he urges more restraint, more reflection, a more holistic approach to everything from international trade to child-rearing to cleaning the toilet bowl.


Growth Fetish will inspire, annoy and intrigue its readers and critics. Neo-cons will either dismiss it out of hand as green-lefty piffle or, Windschuttle-like, pick through Hamilton's footnotes for typos in support of their continuing assertion that Greed is Go(o)d for all of us.

A more interesting place to watch, however, might be the domestic Labor camp, should current powerbrokers take some time out from strategising the best route for Crean's Anti-Tax Bus. Hamilton pulls no punches in dismembering the economic, social and philosophical credibility of the Blair/Giddens Third Way and its variants as, in turn, mere tweaked variants of the neo-liberal agenda of the Thatcherite First Way:

The Third Way is a victim of the great contradiction of the modern world - that, despite several decades of sustained economic growth, our societies are no happier than they were. Growth not only fails to make people contented; it destroys many of the things that do. Growth fosters empty consumerism, degrades the natural environment, weakens social cohesion and corrodes character. Yet we are told, ad nauseum, that there is no alternative.

Hamilton argues that Western social democratic and labour parties have emptied themselves of purpose and real pulling-power by jumping on the Third Way bandwagon. He pointedly claims:

The capitulation of social democratic and labour parties to neoliberalism has left them soulless and they are now staffed, for the most part, by people who have cashed in their youthful enthusiasm for the perquisites of office and traded their policies of radical social change for a media strategy. If these parties were to play a role in bringing about the post-growth society they would need to extricate themselves from their Faustian bargain and undergo a process of wholesale renewal.

For Hamilton, the growth fetish can and must be attacked. The paradigm must be shifted. But it will not be budged, it seems, by the parties of labour, New or Old:


Bypassing the politics of the entrenched parties, now characterised by instinctive conservatism, personal opportunism, executive control and the power of lobbyists to overturn repeatedly popular preference, the new politics is the politics of direct participation pioneered by the environment movement and inherited by the 'anti-globalisation' protest movement and the No Logo generation. Indeed, the vision of a post-growth society may become the focus of social change around which the modern protest movements coalesce and recapture the democratic electoral process. The two-party system of parliamentary elections suited post-war social democracy well, but the era of neoliberalism has left only the illusion of choice between two parties both in the grip of the growth fetish. The roots of the established political parties are sunk too deeply in the old politics and new parties must emerge.

I can already hear Mark Latham and fellow Third-Way Warriors within the ALP darkly muttering 'green-lefty piffle' in response. But is that really what this is? Hamilton's treatise is undeniably green-lefty. That makes sense, given that today the only people, policy agendas and dissent events openly taking on the fundamentals of neo-liberal incumbents would happily describe themselves as either green or left, and many as both.

It also follows from Hamilton's strong professional track record on the economics of Kyoto and the not inconsiderable political success of the environmental movement, locally and globally. Then there's the hole Bob Brown's Greens have made in the side of Labor's sadly listing craft. Carr may have creamed Brogden in the recent NSW election but the constituency that called for something different in Newtown, Port Jackson, Hornsby, Vaucluse, Ballina, Lismore and of course Cunningham will not be easily conned, spun or bullied back into old party lines.

In terms of cold hard numbers, that constituency undoubtedly remains a small minority in Australia. Both major parties know it and will use that fact to their greatest short-term pragmatic advantage. But these citizens just might be the forward guard of Hamilton's political vision of the post-growth society. It's a very large and largely appealing vision and, crucially, one that allocates considerable space and resources to nurturing hope and justice, without apology. I for one have sorely missed that kind of aspirational humanity in Australian public life in recent years.

I did find parts of Hamilton's argument a bit lacking, especially his accounts of the impact of feminism inside and outside the private sphere (a bit less Germaine Greer might have gone a longer way, as might have a more muscular critique of marriage) and of the meaning and implications of the rising incidence of voluntary and part-time work (what kind of "control" over working time is really available to those unsupported by safety nets held by their parents, partners or the increasingly shabby welfare state?). I also remain not entirely convinced that the bulk of the citizenry is as overwhelmingly comfortably situated in material terms - as "prisoners of plenty" - as Hamilton asserts. And I would like to have seen more breakdown and analysis of differences between differently situated "rational economic men", especially according to geography, income bracket, gender, age and race, which may have muddied some of his crystal-clear waters.

But sometimes the whole is very much greater than the sum of its parts. Hamilton is no piffler, and this book is a must-read.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Dr Natasha Cica is the director of Periwinkle Projects, a Hobart-based management, strategy and communications consultancy.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Natasha Cica
Related Links
Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics
Clive Hamilton argues his case
Other articles by Natasha Cica
The Australia Institute
University of Canberra
Photo of Natasha Cica
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy