I recently read a post on a very well respected website that said that “Growth is dead.” I disagree, but rather than look at the economy as a spiderweb, or an infection, I’d like to propose that we look at it as a tree or a bush, or for those of us who love animals, a horse or a dog. 

If you provide lots of fertilizer to a plant, to encourage growth, you may get a tall tree, but the branches will be thin and prone to breakage.  In the animal world breeders who stress height over general health have found animals with limbs prone to breakage, heart damage and other things that will affect the quality of an animal’s life.  In the plant world, that limb breakage is usually a bad thing, unless we do it intentionally, which we call “pruning,” not breakage.

But if an orchardist prunes the correct branches to concentrate the weight close to the trunk, he or she gets a tree with a stronger brace against the wind, less breakage in snowfall and a crop that’s easier to pick. Growers have also learned that encouraging root growth, which happens with adequate balanced feeding, and appropriate pruning, leads to a more stable plant, less likely to blow over in the wind.  In the dog or horse breeders world, feeding a balanced, lower protein diet gives you an animal with denser bones, stronger muscles and joints, and a higher quality of life, leading to hopefully a longer life.

Both are approaches to growth, one leads to a lot of “show” and a long term support issue. The other leads to easier to maintain a productive crop that is easier to maintain for both the living thing and its caretaker.  Everyone who deals with the economy, or agriculture, has to decide if rapid growth with a quick return on investment is preferable to one that is slower to grow, but will have a more long lasting production life with lower overhead.

I see a great correlation between the economy and agriculture and not just in the commodities market.  There are many people who are calling for a “return to normal,” but that “normal” was a reckless approach to harvesting a crop and leaving others behind. This lead to the problems that we currently have – much like the approach that Haitians took years ago when they harvested all their trees for wood and charcoal, only to leave a mud slide waiting to happen in the long haul.   Our new economic growth needs to be more like a sustainable farmer that addresses the needs of the soil, or worker/consumer, than the farmer who pushes fast yield and has created “sterile soil,” for anything else to grow.  If we recreate the “sustainable economy” that existed prior to World War II, where localities addressed their needs, and individuals made their own choices with community in mind, we will have more “sustainable growth,” with a stronger set of roots to work with, and a healthier future.