“I Don’t Believe in Growth”

Yves here. I suspect many readers will want to weigh in on this topic. There are a host of questions related to the ones Richard Murphy raises, as in do we really need population growth if we can be more clever about managing the dependency of the young and old? Pre-Industrial Era societies did not have nuclear families as their foundation and syndicated this burden across extended families and sometimes local churches. How much of the perceived need for growth comes out of status and resource competition, particularly young men seeking to bed and wed women? If those young men are competing over a perceived-to-be-static or even shrinking pie, is that destabilizing? Can increases in quality of life (which should be attainable, that does not mean they will be attained) substitute for more consumption? In other words, how can we move away from allowing ourselves to be victimized by marketing?

By Richard Murphy, part-time Professor of Accounting Practice at Sheffield University Management School, director of the Corporate Accountability Network, member of Finance for the Future LLP, and director of Tax Research LLP. Originally published at Fund the Future

I don’t believe in growth as an economic panacea. There, I’ve said it, and most economists will be horrified.

Why say so now? Because Rachael Reeves, referred to growth 58 times in her Mais lecture this week.

She, admittedly, said it was not the solution to all problems. But, you could be mistaken in thinking that she did not really believe that, given how often she referred to it, and how everything that she offered was premised upon the possibility of its delivery.

So why don’t I believe in growth?

Firstly, that is because the way we record growth does not in any way indicate the value of economic activity . As I used to say to students when I was talking about this subject, one of the easiest ways to deliver growth would be for everyone in a society to get divorced. The expenditure on legal fees and splitting up of households would significantly boost GDP, but the sum of human happiness would undoubtedly reduce.

Then there is the matter of distribution . Most measures of growth are not even related to GDP per head. Worse still, very few provide any indication as to who has enjoyed the benefits of that growth. The best example of the resulting nonsense is found in Ireland. Approximately one quarter of its GDP is made up of the profits of multinational corporations recorded in that country, none of which are attributable to any person living there. In that case, GDP growth in Ireland might bring no benefit whatsoever to its population as a whole, let alone any one Irish person in particular. More commonly, elsewhere, when we know that most GDP growth goes to those already wealthy, it is a particularly poor target for any society.

Then there is the sustainability issue. As a simple matter of fact, we cannot consume ever more physical resources on a finite planet without destroying its capacity to sustain us.

But most of all, I do not believe in growth, because I do not think that it is nearly as important as the goal of meeting needs.

We all know what needs are. We require clean air and water. Good food is essential for a good life. So too is warm shelter. And we need education so that we can integrate in our communities, and help advance their understanding.

Much of healthcare is about community provision, by necessity. And when the events that require a personal healthcare intervention also very largely arise as a result of randomised risk, it is always the case that the community as a whole is the agency best able to carry that risk, and so meet it. The same is true for so many other needs that have to be addressed if we are all to have access to a reasonable quality of life.

Nothing about this denies the existence of wants. Meeting needs does not say that wants should not be fulfilled. But there is an order of priority here. The meeting of wants is not nearly as important as the meeting of needs.

Implicitly, GDP does not recognise that fact. The pursuit of growth does not, therefore, do so either. For that precise reason, I think that both are morally suspect, at best, and profoundly ethically biased at worst.

Nor do, I think that either can be amended to address those deficiencies. Growth is the wrong goal. Meeting need is what we must do, for everyone. Only then  can we consider meeting wants, and then only within sustainable limits.

For those who think that this suggests that we will have a miserable existence, think about what it is that have created all the most valuable memories and experiences in your life. I can almost guarantee that none of them related to material consumption that satisfied a want. Almost all of them will relate to an occasion when you shared an experience with others, whether that was an intimate moment, or a family event, or a concert, or some similar experience, such as the celebration of an achievement. What all these things have in common is that each also relates to the meeting of the need, whether that be be for emotional, intellectual, or spiritual well-being.

Meeting those higher order needs is harder, however, if our material needs are not met . It is very hard to be joyful when you are hungry, cold, destitute, or are living in fear. Meeting need is, then, the precondition of happiness. Supplying the wants of some, at cost to meeting the needs of others must always, in that case, be a sub-optimal objective. GDP growth is, in that case, always the wrong goal in economics.

That economics has moved far from its roots in moral philosophy is evident from its focus on growth . It needs to go back to its roots and talk about what is right. Meeting everyone’s needs is the right goal for economics. It is what any government should do. And that is why I will criticise any government that fails to achieve that, most especially if it does not even try to do so.

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  1. Carla

    Thank you, Richard Murphy, and to Yves for bringing it to us. Best thing I’ve read this month, and probably this year.

    1. William Beyer

      Economist Herman Daly figured this out years ago with his “Steady State Economics.”

    2. Susan the pther

      Yes, thank you for this post. Richard Murphy at his best. The rationalization, actually delusion, that guides free market, unfocused growth is that people, collectively, will make the best choices to satisfy their needs and those choices will be the guiding light for capital investments. I think that experiment has proven the premise wrong. In a world full of displaced, homeless and desperate people it’s pretty obvious that we actually need a plan to mitigate all the misery in a timely manner. We have all been seeing this happen, society falling apart, for a century, imo. Because our thinking has been vested and invested in a growth paradigm we just didn’t believe our eyes. Nothing to see here – until growth itself, growth for profit, became impossible, for mostly environmental reasons, evidenced by our present reality which could qualify as WW3 – a veritable showdown for limited resources – which in itself is wasting vast amounts of those resources. Time to get real.

    3. Poggio

      Yes by all means Thank You Yves!
      Like many I have been involved in drawing attention to limits to growth. Much can be found on the web using those terms.
      Limits to Growth +50 is a 50-year update of the original Limits to Growth Study in response to the Club of Rome RFP that attracted worldwide attention and denial. See also Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World about the intersection of energy and economics. I believe it helps to know more about how to get essential concepts included in the Overton Window. Strategies for doing that are at that site.

  2. The Rev Kev

    I find myself in agreement with John Michael Greer in saying that the days of endless economic growth are coming to an end and lucky us, we get to see it live and in colour. We have had more than a few centuries of economic growth which was fueled by the resources of the new continents being explored and then exploited. For endless decades we kept on finding new supplies of oil, copper, iron, bauxite as well as a wealth of other resources. Well those days are over as we have run out of planet which is why all this talk of mining the asteroids. Anybody think that they will find oilfields in some of those asteroid? If you look at a diagram of a bell curve, right now we are at the very top as we have been using up all the planet’s resources as fast as possible. But pretty soon we will start to go over the other side of that bell curve. It is inevitable, it is unstoppable and there is no avoiding it. We cannot stop it. What can you say? It’s been a wild ride. I hope that we all enjoyed it. We are now moving from a very long era of endless growth to one of gradual contraction.

    1. dave -- just dave

      the days of endless economic growth are coming to an end and lucky us, we get to see it live and in colour

      Sid Smith has a series of short (half hour or less) videos about How to Enjoy the End of the World – the prologue is “Why You Shouldn’t Let Collapse Get You Down”:


      There is a sort of gallows humor here, clearly. We each have to carry on, until our own alotted time is up, and while it’s true that “all things must pass”, it is hard to follow Buddha’s advice, said to sum up all his teachings – “Nothing is to be clung to as I, me, and mine.”

    2. notabanker


      This was posted a couple of days ago by a commenter in the WC for those unaware. Very interesting theory. Of course TPTB will never explicitly acknowledge this as then the house of cards comes tumbling down. However, we could be in the midst of testing Mr Murphy’s supposition as we speak.

      1. Morincotto

        Which is why the AI from the other post is quite likely a “selfsolving” problem as well.

        Contrary to all the talk about the AI Genie being out of the bottle for good, AI is FAR more likely to have no future at all and quickly disappear like a f*** in the wind together with all the rest of our technology.

        Someone talked about regulating or policing AI being probably impossible unless we shut down most of the public internet, implying the utter unthinkability of such a thing ever happening.

        But guess what, chances are indeed high that there won’t be an internet for much longer, public or otherwise, regardless of our consciously, voluntarily deciding to make it so or not.

        With all the many things to worry about in the coming post industrial world it’s probably a safe assumption that at least Skynet and Roko’s Basilisk won’t be amongst them.

        The likely only way it could possibly be otherwise would be if selfimproving General Artificial Intelligence and superintelligence arose and became able to perpetuate itself completely without any need for human input and indeed autonomously spread beyond the planet with the ability to to turn the rest of the universe into computronium or whatever really, really fast.

        So, the most extreme and far out scific scenario would probably constitute the only timeline in which ai doesn’t go down the drain with carbon fueled hightech civilisation.

        But the jury’s very much out on many of those things being possible even in principle and there are plenty of reasons to doubt we are anywhere near close to it even if it was, so if had to bet I’d bet that entropy will get to our overengineered society much faster than that society can spawn an ai able to go it alone.

        Which in turn entails not only that us biological intelligences will keep the planet for ourselves for as long as it remains inhabitable but also that there’ll very likely be never a dearth of “jobs” in that future, including every conceivable form of manual labour in dire need of being done.

    3. furnace

      I’ve come to agree with Greer as well. He says the quiet parts out loud, and that makes all the difference. Economists may or may not want to defend endless growth, but that’s of little consequence; the availability of resources doesn’t depend on what they believe. So now should be the time to start thinking of alternatives which make sense for a future of painful and long contraction… but of course this won’t happen. Morris Berman remarked in his book The Reenchantment of the World (p. 22) that when value systems collapse (such as, say, growth economics…) those people who psychologically depend on them collapse as well. We may well see a string of economists going insane as things unravel, which would be a sight to behold.

  3. JOC

    If the economic pie is not growing, the only way to improve one’s position is to take from others. Men are not angels. Economic growth reduces strife in society.

    1. Vicky Cookies

      Measures like GDP, as the author points out, cannot really be thought of accurately as the whole of a country’s wealth, nor any measure of the well-being of its residents. While a surplus of young men can often foreshadow war and civil strife, and so it could be said that their productive occupation is essential peace-keeping, first, the underlying problem here is that, economically, we have a surplus population relative to the means of employing them; that, systemically, we consider them surplus; second, when I say ‘productive’, I would refer to firefighting, or nursing, or engineering, and not roles which are productive of only wealth. We don’t do a very good job in the U.S. of incentivizing pro-social behavior; quite the opposite, in fact.

      While men are certainly not angels, I happen to think that neither are they essentially devils: I’ve seen too much generosity and gentility.

      1. juno mas

        Agreed. And women are not Angels either: M. Albright, V. Nuland, H. Cinton, M. Thatcher, C. Rice, et al.

    2. vao

      Your reasoning requires an important assumption: what satisfies people is their absolute share of the pie. Unfortunately, there is enough of evidence that people are motivated by the size of their pie share relative to those of other people.

      In other words: even with a growing pie, strife perpetuates because people want to get more than the others — not just keep their share, even if it is more than enough for their needs, and covers most of the wants they may fancy.

      1. Carla

        “strife perpetuates because people want to get more than the others”

        I would say “some” people, or even “many” people. But I don’t think this greediness is universal, and it certainly can be very substantially reduced with sane, equitable social policies.

        American “culture” worships greed. Not all cultures do.

      2. Carolinian

        Right. The impulse toward hierarchy is baked in the cake and to pretend otherwise is simply denying who we are. That’s why some of us see

        It needs to go back to its roots and talk about what is right.

        as the wrong premise. Nature isn’t “moral” and neither are we. And as in nature the real priority should be survival which is a question of practical and necessary rather than moral and spiritual. By this view the latter a metaphorical proxy for what we do to ensure the former.

        And survival of our species and all the others is very much in danger at the moment because so many refuse to accept the above reality. Our current society is worse than a crime, a mistake.

        1. Societal Illusions

          agree nature isn’t moral – but nature is nothing if not efficient. the economic status quo now exemplifies inefficiency by perpetuating monopoly. walled gardens and planned obsolescence proliferate and the distribution of wealth demonstrates another imbalance not found in nature. When such imbalances occur, nature provides a correction.

          Much of our currently social construct has been gamed by the few to prey on the many. Current societal outcomes exacerbate this imbalance, which leads to further imbalance.

          Eventually these tensions are likely – or must – lead to a breakdown and rebalancing. As we seek to see continued doubling down in industry after industry, by government after government, all seemingly against the natural order, certain outcomes are inevitable, because…. nature.

          kudos to those in control for perpetuating this lack of equilibrium via financial, regulatory, military, and social capture. they keep the plates spinning far longer than many have predicted.

          1. witters

            Nature not moral? Not what Darwin thought. Altruism, he noted, was, for many species, us included, a good group selector.

    3. jefemt

      Depends on which measuring stick we use, adhere to, adore, revere, cherish. Paradigm shifts are difficult, or not.

      Not many leaders in the world- if any, exclaiming:
      “Lookout! there is the cliff!! We are all running headlong to jump or fall or be pushed over it !!
      STOP. Everyone take a breath, lets take a 90 degree turn, and walk parallel to the brink and sort through
      this. All of us, together. ”

      Ironically, covid and the shutdown got us close, but the leadership said,
      We Must Return to Normal! And many folks also seemed to want to Return to Normal.

      After covid and a thorough navel lint exam and clean-out, I do not hold out much hope.

      Murphy gets to what I believe is the crux… (again, try to find buy in- good luck!) UTILITIES–
      Define what qualifies, regulate the mandated universal goods and services. The NEEDS.
      Most everything ESSENTIAL, our NEEDS, could and should be communally paid for and shared, as cost-controled and efficiently as possible. Mr. Market, Executive pay, expected quarterly returns, clever legal contrivances and system ‘rigging’ distort and disallow such efficiencies- the goal is NOT society and every human.
      Seeking the highest quality at the lowest cost, provided by us all pitching in and- in the case of de-growth, hopefully population decline, and AI— job sharing. Many hands could make light work.

      I’m game, tell me where to sign up!

    4. Henry Moon Pie

      “If the economic pie is not growing, the only way to improve one’s position is to take from others. Men are not angels. Economic growth reduces strife in society.”

      You’re right. It’s the glue that’s been relied upon as all the other glues that held our society together have been dissolved by neoliberalism. But it’s turned out that nearly all the growth goes to the top anyway, so that glue has not been working for a long time.

      The key is that “improve one’s position.” Does that mean “buy more Stuff?” If so, then I’ll guess we’ll keep buying Stuff until planetary perturbations bring down our complex civilization.

      This is quite a challenging project. We have to lower living standards in the wealthy countries after they’ve been steadily deteriorating for a generation in a time of high levels of social dissolution. The answer from Jason Hickel is to end private splendor/public squalor. Tax the billionaires and their corporations to build excellent public facilities available to all.

      But the billionaires want to spend all our money and what infinitesimal amount of our carbon budget is left on bombs and AI, their replacement for the irritating-to-all PMCs.

      I saw some asshole CEO getting interviewed about Exxon’s quarterlies. I wanted him to be asked just what planet he was planning on having his grandchildren inhabit.

    5. ISL

      Not true.

      Thanks to original sin (or at least the reality of death), there are always economic “openings” for personal growth, not to mention from business fails (for an infinite number of reasons). If one looks at population dynamics, a lot of economic space will be created as populations shrink.

      The growth myth underlies Reaganomics (trickle down economics), where all the growth goes to the 0.00001% in the hope that lumpen masses stagnation at least prevents the pitchforks. Neo liberalism is less charitable and, in my opinion, depends on a personal jet to New Zealand before the collapse and pitchforks arrive at the gate.

  4. YuShan

    Most so called “growth” is simply an error, caused by understating inflation and not taking debt into account.

  5. Gregory Etchason

    Unfortunately after almost 300 years of proclamations by the Enlightenment project
    “The Strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must” is still the order of the day.
    Preaching to the choir is not a plan.

    1. Cassandra

      Preaching to the choir is not a plan

      This is true. However, preaching to the choir may not result in Yves and Lambert being demonetized. Whereas, using their platform to develop detailed plans…

      1. DW Bartoo

        Too precisely, Cassandra.

        Nor will there be any such discussion at U$ institutions of Higher Learning.

        To be fair, such institutions have had fifty years (a half century) and more to learn to ignore.

        Such institutions have, somehow, not cared to notice homelessness, hunger, hopelessness, and deaths of despair, here in the Homeyland.

        Even genocide engenders nary a peep.

        For any site to encourage serious discussion about what “we” might do to alter the course of elite programs would be deadly.

        Frankly, tweaking the curricula of the Ivvies and Oxbridge, with the assumption that the meritocratic elite just might, as a consequence, become more kindly and gentle is, apparently the epitome, the very embodiment, of mendacious mediocrity.

        Already well represented on this thread by the “greed is good and distribution just” contingent.

        During Occupy, Hillary Cackle admonished those who had the sheer temerity to question the Divine Right of Money, with these words” You -should all – get down on your knees –
        and thank Gawd – for the rich!”

        Well, that might be more effective than curricula tweaking.

        If we were to add, “… and please, Gawd, could you make them a teenie weenie bit nicer.”

        Dare we consider that as human beings we have the inherent right, and,as members of society (yes, Maggot, there is such a thing), the obligation of protecting ourselves and our society from those whose behavior is pathologically destructive of the rest of us.

        “Pathologically” is thrown in as a suggestion that the level of crisis could well be pushed, intentionally, into the destruction of most life on this planet as the result of a mere hissy fit by those who imagine themselves worthy of deciding everyone’s fate.

        Now, “naturally”, the End Gaming might be chosen to be drawn out and nasty, simply as an “object” lesson for any who dare resist,out loud.

        Is there any reason that the elite, rather than being gently “tweaked”,
        really ought be brought to account?

        1. Gregory Etchason

          The 1% is an abscess of the political economy. No amount of antibiotics can resolve it.
          It must be surgically drained. Given the Fed Reserve has lost its scalpel the abscess is a preterminal event. The current market melt up is simply tension within the abscess.

          1. DW Bartoo

            Much appreciate your proper use of the term, “political economy”, Gregory Etchason.

            “Melt up” well describes the frenzied buy back of “defense” sector stocks.

  6. KD

    If we make certain assumptions, specifically:
    i.) hard power/potential for projection of force is correlated to population size and industrial capacity, as well as technology.

    ii.) Nation-states are involved in security competition with each other (e.g. international system is anarchic, states focus on capabilities not intentions because intentions are subjective, states attempt to maximize power out of fear of security)-tragic realism.

    Looking at these assumptions, then states pursuing de-population and de-industrialization are making a choice to reduce their hard power, and will increase the relative power of states that do not embrace these goals. At some point, the de-growth states will face a security threat from the growth states, and will either change course or end up dominated by the growth states.

    If internationally, all states chose to disarm via de-growth, you still have problems because you are starting from different levels of relative power and you will have disputes about who goes first and to what extent. Assuming you have some international agreement (enforceability?) you still have to deal with free-riders. You don’t have international institutions in place to call to task the free riders, assuming you could reach an agreement.

    Not put this forward because it is good in my mind. I think humans live within an order of nature with cycles, you have periods of centralization and enhanced living standards, then collapse often precipitated by ecological limits. This is similar to yeast populations. Humans may be smart but I don’t see any way to create some kind of statis or avoid the cycles. It just is.

    Also, fertility is associated with genetic characteristics (like practically every other behavior), so giving people choice on reproduction means that you are increasing the proportion of the population inclined toward breeding in each generation. I would expect efforts to control population will eventually reverse themselves. I guess I’m in the bummer tent on this one–my assessment is based on assumptions that can be questioned, but I’m pretty confident in those assumptions providing a valid model.

    1. Grebo

      States that do not choose voluntary de-growth will have chosen collapse. They may think they will survive through piracy but that just means they will take us all down with them.

      As for fertility, I think genetic determinism is pretty low down on the list of drivers.

      1. steppenwolf fetchit

        As long as de-growth states ban immigration from pro-growth states and also ban trade with pro-growth states, then the pro-growth states can be forced to eat their own collapse by themselves.

  7. zagonostra

    How much of the perceived need for growth comes out of status and resource competition, particularly young men seeking to bed and wed women?

    Whereas the need to “bed” women is natural, to most men, the need to “wed” is culturally and ethically formed. However, this need/instinct is certainly tied to economics be it in a tenuous way in some cultures, Max Weber in his book Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions , examined how different cultures control/shape and incorporate the need to procreate into the overall economic structure/imperative…been a long time since I read that book (my graduate professor, Stanford M. Lyman, wrote a book The Wordly Rejection of Religion and Its Direction, inverting and riffing off of Weber’s work)

  8. eg

    As someone smarter than me has observed in the NC comments somewhere, “growth for its own sake is the ethos of a cancer cell.”

    It seems to me that “events, dear boy, events” are increasingly giving the lie to the supposed “meaning” of GDP as an indicator of economic activity — it says precisely nothing about the quality nor the distribution of the fruits of said activity. The relative armaments production of Russia vis a vis Europe being perhaps Exhibit A.

    It further seems to me that an ever increasing proportion of GDP in the West is just rents, and therefore empty where citizen well-being is concerned.

    1. jefemt

      Growth/ cancer cell— that was Ed Abbey, who passed when the global population was closer to
      5 billion, not 8.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      Thank you. Instead of the old “assume a can opener” joke, these ‘growth’ economists should start with “Assume the laws of physics no longer apply to reality” in advance of their ridiculous arguments.

    3. Samuel Conner

      > The relative armaments production of Russia vis a vis Europe being perhaps Exhibit A.

      The West has large economic “organs”, but limited hard power; its projectile dysfunction is an illustrative example.

  9. jefemt

    Thanks for the Essay. I really think the solution is a bottom-up collective effort of communalism, with maximum effort into
    -defining NEEDS (utilities)
    -defining processes and activities that are ‘off menu’, and to cease
    -recognizing and respecting the dignity of all life- beyond humans 9first- do no harm)
    -an intolerance of any ‘leader’ or fellow citizen who starts to ‘Lord’

    I’m thinking it is beyond human nature, certainly beyond the accepted societal constructs we have created and tolerate.
    We have the capacity, we have the potential. It is so vexing!

    Epitaph: Homo (in)sapiens: Too much head, not enough heart.

    I think one of the other more disturbing tells is that some of our best and brightest are trying their hardest to blast off and leave…. whether it is a bunker, a yacht, or a spaceship.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Reading a rather dry but fascinating book called The Art of Not Being Governed which talks about the various societies that developed in the Asian highlands over the course of centuries, populated by people trying to escape state repression.

      There are a few of them who were extremely egalitarian and if any person started getting notions of being a “leader”, that person’s life expectancy dropped dramatically if you get the drift.

      Just goes to show that another way is possible – we’ve done it before.

  10. TimD

    What has bothered me about the focus on economic growth, is its use by Neoliberals as a propaganda tool. During the 70s stagflation they offered a way out of the problem by freeing free enterprise so that growth could grow. There was also that snide saying, “A rising tide floats all boats.” Well actually economic growth has been decelerating even with all of the union-busting, deregulating, pro-businessing, tax-cutting, inequality-growing and free trading by governments. From the end of WWII to the late 60s real GDP growth was over 4%, in the 70s-90s it slowed to 3.2% and since 2000 it has only been 2.1%. So the tide, hasn’t been rising like it used to and with inequality growing a number of the boats have been scuttled. In addition, the amount of money pumped into the economy through deficit spending has grown to where it is regularly double, or more, the dollar value of economic growth. Meaning when a $25 trillion economy grows by 2%, or $500 billion, the growth is the deficit is often $1 trillion or more. To me, it looks like the economy;s liabilities are growing faster than its growth.

    When we look at the numbers the Neoliberal economy has benefited the few but not necessarily the many and it hasn’t delivered its promise of growth. We still have hungry people in the world and we still need to make massive investments in reducing global warming. When a country invests in green technology it creates economic growth and it can also reduce greenhouse gasses. We desperately need growth in certain areas.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The term ‘growth’ as used by the Neoliberal economic propaganda driving Humankind toward the brink of a terrible Collapse means the relative increase in the Wealth, in the share of the products of Human Labor and invention, the increase in the Power and control a very small number of beneficiaries can wrest from the Populace in their domain. ‘Growth’ in the Imperial heartlands accrues from increases in the working population, consolidations of enterprise, increasing repression through force, co-option, and undermining the will, confidence, organization, and aggression of the growing number of Imperial minions. ‘Growth means the increasing the rate of extracting resources from Nature and liquidating assets built by previous generations of Humankind.

      I am old enough when the word ‘growth’ had a very different meaning in economic dogma. Growth had meant increases in production due to investment in new productive capital, increases in the skill and Knowledge of Humankind, increases in the quality of management and organization of activities producing tangible physical goods.

      These kinds of ‘growth’ are limited and limited by more than the simple mechanisms of the “Limits to Growth” model. The word ‘growth’ has other meanings, many of which tend to give an unhappy and undeserved glow to Neoliberal ‘growth’. The word ‘growth’ can be used to describe increases in Humankind’s Knowledge, Creativity, and Wisdom — qualities Neoliberalism disdains and works to subjugate and quash. There are of course many other uses for the word ‘growth’ that apply to kinds of ‘growth’ only limited by the capacities of Humankind.

      What travesty that such a beautiful word as ‘growth’ should be so defiled by the Imperial Elites.

  11. digi_owl

    I find myself thinking about Hugo Weaving’s glorious delivery as Agent Smith in Matrix, about how the only thing in nature that grows into infinity is a disease.

    Yet the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist message of the Matrix and the Animatrix has since been buried as the “brothers” embraced the Hollywood zeitgeist.

  12. Eclair

    Regarding population ‘degrowth’ as a means of making the pie slices larger for the remaining population. One might surmise that the US is already implementing that strategy. Regard the recent decline in US life expectancy in the past decade, with shorter life spans, resulting from substance abuse and suicide, hitting the least educated and poor. Has anyone seen headlines or discussions on nightly news screaming about how Russia or China is making us die sooner? No? That’s a tell.

    And, a commenter on Thomas Neuburger’s post mentioned the shutdown in carbon-producing air travel imagined by Kim Stanley Robinson in The Ministry for the Future. But, no violence is required: just a few hackers to disable the airline computer systems. Of course, the business jets will probably survive.

  13. ian

    I have always wondered how much of the GDP is actual useful activity. If I pay my neighbor $100 to dig a hole, then he turns around and pays me $100 to fill it in, haven’t we technically increased the GDP by $200?

  14. Piotr Berman

    GDP is a metric, and as such, its value is limited. OTH, the way economy, jobs etc. are structured, it is hard to improve lives with stagnant or decreasing GDP. I may offer two examples.

    A couple with 1.5 earner, full time and part time calculates the benefits and demerits of wife going full time. More cash. Much less time to prepare healthy and tasty food “from ingredients”, two cars may be needed (husband uses bicycle, to be rescued when the weather is bad. Larger nominal income decreases financial aid at an Ivy League university (there is some redistribution spirit there! and rather easy to be relatively poor). Then what other people do with more money?
    Home: as large as you can afford it seems an axiom. It is nice to have one room per person, but why three dining rooms (example I read about earlier this week).
    Vacation: some of best family vacations in my memory were based on camping with tents, moving around in a compact car (once four people, round trip starting in New Mexico going around 4 corners. Why not lumber around in an RV?
    Cars: is a larger car making you happier? Corporations spend billions to convince masses that absolutely yes. Not to mention one car for every person in the family “and the dog”.

    On national level, one peeve I have is that there is humungous implicitly subsidized gasohol program, while healthy plant foods that could be conducive to a non- (or less) fattening diet are relatively expensive, I have in mind vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains. Probably the policy direction is positively reflected in GDP, but surely not in health, and VERY questionably in environment. There is simply no land available in Corn Belt for more labor intensive (and less fertilizer intensive?) uses, corn being artificially lucrative.

  15. Kouros

    We need innovation rather than growth. Technological innovation and social, economic and especially political innovation (or rediscovery, if we are to consider the message from “The Dawn of Everything, a new history of mankind”). Innovation includes developing ships with sails directed by computers, to maximie direction and speed of wind for instance, and replace diesel engine use (except in storms maybe).

  16. Andrew

    I also think that a lot of what we call “growth”, on which this post is excellent, is really what I like to call “overgrowth” (like a garden gone to ruin). I only mean this secondarily as “growth”, as usually thought, that extracts to the point of seriously transgressing all kinds of planetary and indeed social boundaries. Primarily I mean “overgrowth” as managerial-technical-etc-Capitalism as infesting life, operations, process, etc with, to use a series of metaphors, weeds, various kinds of contagious and contaminating diseases, leeches etc. Simply, put, every process not only in the economy per se but in life as lived as this is “financialised” etc, in the most casual, or private or whatever instances, is increasingly disrupted, and corrupted but often useless, counter-productive, dysfuncational add-ons, or add-ins. Nothing happens without another dozen processes being “invoked” (as a friend would say), from multiple companies, and all these in turn the same. Technical, yes (and even technics itself is so infested by this as to be breaking down, and breaking other things down, constantly). But all kinds of things. A gazillion companies all feeding from as many others as they can. This might keep the money flowing I guess. But otherwise, growth as overgrowth has been breaking things/life down for ages. It’s the basic dysfunction, the insistence on this in fact, that needs to be thought alongside the bigger opposition of growth/degrowth. Which is a longwinded way of saying that the simple reality of growth is increasing dysfunction anyway.

  17. Poggio

    YES! Thank you Yves!
    Search “limits to growth” and find abundant ideas, information and insights.
    See also Limits to Growth+50. The 50 year update of the original Limits to Growth study.
    See especially Gail Tverberg’s blog, Our Finite World. The intersection of energy and economies.
    See strategies for getting limits to growth into the Overton Window.

  18. Toby Thaler

    An early comment mentioned Herman Daly, who studied economic growth (and its limits). I would like bring to the attention of readers here a recent book by an economist who has written an excellent analysis and critique of “neoclassical economics.” The New Economics: A Manifesto (2022), Steve Keen. Chapter 4 of this book is one of the best short (23 pages) summary of the “limits to growth” field I have read. It’s easy to find this book and other writings by Keen on line. Study on…

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