THE NEXT TIME I HEAR a politico or banker or Detroit executive talk about institutions “too big to fail,” I’ll direct them to the 34 percent of Americans who are obese. Last I heard, these big Americans, themselves a kind of cultural institution, were failing en masse, racked by diabetes, asthma, heart trouble, and bound for early death. The human form can only grow so big. Or I could point them to Pig #6707. Conceived in the laboratories of the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the 1990s, Pig #6707’s embryo was genetically altered with a human growth gene to develop a super-pig, bigger and faster-growing and more productive of meat. But the genetic alterations produced a monster, impotent and nearly blind, its legs arthritic, its body crippled, the creature able to stand up and be photographed only with the support of a plywood board. When asked by a reporter why he created the sick pig, the lead researcher said his intent was to make livestock more efficient.
On April 3 in the Guardian there was an article about Christine Lagarde of the IMF concerned that the growth of productivity in many “developed countries” has been falling. There is a problem for the finance sector if growth falls away since additional income is needed for people to be able to service and repay their debts. Without growth the finance sector is destabilised and, indeed, it has been necessary to bring down interest rates to manage the situation.
But the problem is not only a practical one. Growth of production is central to the core ideology of the current economic system, to the idea of “development” and “progress”. It is central to the legitimacy of the people who run the global economy. Without it there is a legitimacy crisis.