The Demand for Growth

Initial Response to the Bay Game

Aside from what I imagine was the intention of the Bay Game – that we begin to have an idea of how complicated the network of systems is that weighs upon the health of the Chesapeake Bay – what was the most striking about the experience was the way in which the Life Balance Score (LBS) seemed to reflect my aggressiveness as a land developer.  The Life Balance Score, as I understand it, is a numeric assessment of how closely one meets their economic, social, and environmental goals (with being as close to zero as the numeric goal).  However, even though I had placed less emphasis on the economic aspects as compared to social and environmental aspects, I have been unable to determine a correlation between the LBS fluctuations and any other decision I made during the course of the game other than the rate at which I purchased and sold land.

My assessment, of course, requires further investigation, but the initial suggestion this relationship makes is simply that it is characteristic of the way in which the economic system presently operates.  As Meadows indicated in Thinking in Systems, a demand for a certain percentage of growth will lead to exponential gains, which at some point will end due to any number of factors that are dependent upon the system under investigation.  What she instead stresses as an alternative to such growth is a rate of harvest or income that can be sustained over the long-term, one which may not return the profits generated by exponential growth but one that will provide continual returns and is less likely to suffer a collapse.

In the Bay Game, I had experimented with finding that sustained growth rate as a land developer, in which my income and assets were generally in equilibrium with my expenditures.  However, if my initial assessments are correct, my Life Balance Score – which I was able to reduce to 15 at one point and which stayed between 24 and 39 for a period of time – gradually raised to over 16,000 by the end of the game, coinciding with the point at which I reduced the number of parcels I purchased and developed.  The point at which my LBS began to increase (get worse, or away from zero) was also the point at which I began to have money on hand and fewer assets; in fact, my best score came when I had the least amount of money on hand and the most invested, and as I invested less and increased the money I had on hand to roughly $200,000, the worse my score became.  The score, it seems, was dependent on increased investment and potential wealth, as opposed to finding a balance that would simply sustain a family in both the short and long-term.

This, I think, is indicative of the demands we as a global nation place upon ourselves – that growth is good and necessary.  In some cases, this is true, as for those who presently live in poverty and cannot provide basic needs for themselves.  However, for parts of the developed world, is this necessary?  Many seem to think it is, and perhaps the equation for the Life Balance Score here is indicative of this – that our assessment of how our lives are is not only dependent upon the finances we have available, but on the understanding that our wealth is growing, as opposed to being at a level that can be sustained throughout a lifetime.  This, I think, should be included in the equation for determining the LBS if it is not presently, simply because it may very well be the paradigm that growth is good and necessary that places such stress on the Bay.  Shifting from this mindset to sustaining lower but decent profits should be rewarded in the game, perhaps, as opposed to rewarding to a greater extent the continual increase of potential wealth.


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