Monday, January 07, 2008

Are there limits to growth?

An article by Doug Saunders in this weekend's Globe and Mail touches on something I have always wondered about, and now has me wondering all over again: Do we always have to relentlessly pursue economic growth? Will the world necessarily grind to a halt without it?
The conventional wisdom has always been that constant economic growth, as opposed to economic stasis, is necessary, and that without it endemic poverty and mass unemployment would result.
The article mentions the Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" report back in the 70's and Herman Daly's theory of steady-state economics. In the current climate of increased environmental awareness and increased worldwide democracy and health improvements, is it time to re-visit these concepts?
I am no economist, but I have always, since back in the 80's, questioned the assumption that economic growth (and as much of it as possible) is a given, mainly with the intention of encouraging equality in an ever-polarizing world, and to alleviate the environmental pressures which growth inevitably brings.
I know it is all tied up with increasing and ageing populations, free trade vs. managed economies, etc, etc, and I don't profess to have all the solutions. And neither do The Club of Rome or Herman Daly for that matter.
But I can't help but wonder if, in a changing world, we shouldn't be letting go of some of these perennial underlying assumptions, in much the same way as the once sacrosanct theory of monetarism had it's day and then was all but abandoned when it's drastic side-effects became too severe and untenable.
I will do some homework on steady-state and zero-gowth economics, for my own edification, but unfortunately I am not the one running the world.

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