The World

Growth is a problem�that doesn’t sound right, especially to free market economists who say economic growth lifts the poor out of poverty, improving life expectancy, and improving retirement funds. But there’s a group of economists who disagree. This economist says the economy is a subsystem of a larger ecosystem. He says the larger system is not growing and therefore there’s a limit to how much the economy can grow without incapacitating its life support services, such as the provision of clean air and water. Most economic growth these days comes at the cost of ecosystems. At the same time, there are more and more of us that the earth has to support. As the economist says, there’s only so much growing we can do before the growth is too hard to support. This economist says that doesn’t make much sense though. He takes the standard view that economic growth is not fundamentally limited. He says that’s because human ingenuity is not expendable. For the sake of argument, let’s say we are getting close to the limit of growth. What would a stop in economic growth look like? The first economist says attention moves to qualitative improvement�doing the same things with better functions. This economist says we haven’t woken up to the idea of an end-to-growth because we’re measuring economic growth in the wrong way, and GDP doesn’t measure damage to the environment for example. He says looking at alternative measures of growth, the U.S. hasn’t had appreciable growth since the 1990s. but not everyone agrees on the economic value of a rainforest and also, large parts of the world do need to grow their economies, with more housing and sewage for example. So rich countries might have to consume less to allow those economies to grow, and that’s a tough thought for many. The first economist says all this may come fro rethinking after a crisis, but it’d have to be a bigger crisis than the current one to force such dramatic change.

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