The Garrulous Jay – Growth Growth Growth

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Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things
Words from My Favourite Things, The Sound of Music, Hammerstein & Rogers

“A strong national economy needs everyone making the best contribution they can. Whatever their circumstances, wherever they live. But in exchange, we must make sure the contribution working people make to that national effort is fairly rewarded. That hard work does pay. That their effort is respected. That they enjoy the security they need to get on. To do all that we need three things: Growth. Growth. And growth.” Keir Starmer, Labour Party leader, 25th July 2022

“We need to step up. As the last few weeks have shown, it will be difficult. Whenever there is change, there is disruption. And not everyone will be in favour of change. But everyone will benefit from the result – a growing economy and a better future. That is what we have a clear plan to deliver. I have three priorities for our economy: growth, growth and growth.” Liz Truss, Prime Minister, 5th October 2022

We live in strange times when it can sometimes seem as though the only “favourite thing” politicians have is “growth”. And yet I wonder…

It could be argued that growth is so obviously a good thing it shouldn’t even need to be articulated once, let alone repeated thrice, by our political leaders. We might not all agree with Baronin Maria von Trapp’s list of favourite things, although it’s hard to hate any of them, but surely we must all be in favour of growth?

Consider, though, the infamous words of Gordon Gecko in Wall Street: words that have come to represent all that was wrong with the swashbuckling, unfettered, money-grabbing boom of the nineteen eighties: “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

Now substitute the word “greed” with the word “growth” and tell me you don’t have the speech of a 21st century politician!

But what if growth is not so good, or only good for some people in a country but not everyone, or only good for some nations but not others, or only good in the short-term but not the long-term, or only good for humanity but not the rest of the planet? What then?

I don’t pretend to have the answers… My point today is simply that in business and in the world of investing, we should always seek to question the “favourite things” on which decisions and plans are being made, not just the decisions themselves.