Is balance a smarter goal than growth?

Vigorous growth is today considered synonymous with economic health but ecological economist Richard Norgaard of UC Berkeley say a life-work balance may be a better goal. Crazy? Perhaps. But so is the fact that Communist China is the world’s most successful capitalist country.

In a 2009 profile Norgaard makes the case that the growth mantra taken for granted today is a fixation that arose as a consequence of U.S.-Soviet competition during the Cold War. He cited former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s infamous boast, “We will bury you.”

Events proved the Soviet’s wrong but today what we once called Red China is growing at such a phenomenal rate that some projections suggest it could surpass the U.S. economy in just a few years. And if it does, China will have “buried us” with a planned economic strategy — a notion that should rattle the cages of U.S. free market fundamentalists.

As Norgaard said in the profile: “We’ve been getting more for decades, and it doesn’t make us any happier.”

That resonates with me but who knows. Perhaps we just haven’t reached the tipping point at which we will experience the consumer equivalent nirvana  derived from our growth-driven economics.



About Tom Abate

Tom Abate is a former small-press publisher, businessman and newspaper reporter who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Brooklyn native and U.S. Navy veteran, Tom is a UC Berkeley graduate who earned his master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. During his career he has worked in public relations, graphic design, typography and business journalism. As a journalist he specialized in science, technology, biotechnology, economics and the business culture of Silicon Valley. He has taught writing through UC Extension and was briefly a junior college instructor. He can work with spreadsheets, presentation software and some multimedia tools. In addition to his paid work, he wrote a blog (, 2005-2010) that explored the business models, techniques and practical concerns of new and independent media. He is on the advisory board of the Society for New Communications Research ( The father of three children, Tom loves to garden and build things. His intellectual passions include political theory, globalism and the struggle of the individual against bureaucracy.
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