Home > Uncategorized > The nature of growth: three visions

The nature of growth: three visions

Do we need growth? Do we need technology? Is technology ‘neutral’ in the sense that its appearance and use can be understood without historical context? The Journal of Industrial Ecology has a special issue about such ideas. I love the kind of calculations they do about flows of stuff. But Vincent Moreau, Marlyne Sahakian, Pascal van Griethuysen and Francois Vuille have an apt observation.

In light of the environmental consequences of linear production and consumption processes, the circular economy (CE) is gaining momentum … promoting closed material cycles by focusing on multiple strategies from material recycling to product reuse, as well as rethinking production and consumption chains toward increased resource efficiency. Yet, by considering mainly cost-effective opportunities within the realm of economic competitiveness, it stops short of grappling with the institutional and social predispositions necessary for societal transitions to a CE. The distinction of noncompetitive and not-for-profit activities remains to be addressed, along with other societal questions relating to labor conditions, wealth distribution, and governance systems. … We examine the CE from a biophysical and social perspective to show that the concept lacks the social and institutional dimensions to address the current material and energy throughput in the economy. We show that reconsidering labor is essential .

See also Branko Milanovic about the”Need and inevitability of growth”:

If one really believed in, and wanted to argue for the incidental nature of economic growth (“whether or not the economies grow”), then he or she should start by trying to change the bases on which our (global capitalist) civilization has been built, namely insatiability of needs and commodification. But these features have become so strongly ingrained that I cannot see how they can be changed in any foreseeable future. All the rest is romanticism.

Which reminds one of Leigh Phillips  and his battle against cosy localism and low-technology and in favor of the high technology solutions we need in a world which will soon be inhabited by over 10 billion people, many of these billions needing more and better houses, food, healthcare and education

 “The campaign against economic growth and overconsumption should have no place on the left. While its current austerity-ecology incarnation appears to many progressives as a fresh, new argument fit for the Anthropocene, it is in fact the descendent of a very old, dark and Malthusian set of ideas that the left historically did battle with.”


  1. July 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    “he or she should start by trying to change the bases on which our (global capitalist) civilization has been built, namely insatiability of needs and commodification … All the rest is romanticism.”

    I cannot avoid the compelling sense of Milanovic’s statement, although I would prefer to focus on “insatiable wants”. Phillips’ faith in technology is an abstract ideology, a quasi-religion that I call “technologism”. And there certainly is nothing to be gained by examining a circular economy that contains no people.

    Paul Erlich is back in the news this week discussing that monster of the 60s, “the green revolution”, suggesting that overconsumption is what will kill us all.

  2. July 12, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    I’d look at the reviews of Leigh Phillips book on amazon. Some say he has a bit of a rosy view of the possibilities for humans to use technology wisely. As Ghandi may have put it, ‘western civilization is a good idea, but maybe they should try it’.

    the world may be bifurcating into 2 things (to make it easy—a bimodal distribution is the next step after the gaussian, but you need multimodal). Some people are going to be driving flying cars, while some people will be living on organic farms and growing their own food. Some people will work in automated factories making mass produced beers; other will use old methods to make microbrews.

    The ‘left’ should not be conscerned with ‘overconsumption’ nor overproduction nor say excessive compusation (eg executive pay). Alot of people in my area believe that-everyone should have a Mansion on 5 acres, 5 cars, and 5 new highways and shopping malls nearby. Everyone should own a hedge fund. If they like nature (no longer near by since its buried under roads and mcmansions) they fly to another country and visit places not yet covered with palm oil plantations which they own.

  3. Craig
    July 12, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    It’s necessary to free ourselves from the paradigms of Debt and Loan Only first, and then we will be mentally and physically free enough to be willing and capable of resolving the ecological consequences of economics. Stable temporal satisfactory economic and monetary freedom leads to the willingness and ability to think and act rationally while austerity inevitably results in only frustration, irrationality and eventually chaos. Take a look around at recent political events for instance.

  4. July 14, 2017 at 5:09 am

    The point is unrestrained capitalist humans imagine more commerce than Earth can support.

    Yes, over consuming capitalists seek to assuage the pains of insatiable want and fear of being passed up.

    Growth of the spirit, fun, and quality of life is possible. Quantitative material growth is impossible at a time when survival demands the global economy use less than one Earth.

  5. July 15, 2017 at 2:58 am

    All around people want to be better-off. If this happens exclusively on material terms -as it is- people will be increasingly eroding their territories -as we see these last decades- and finally material affluence would imply contaminated water, contaminated soil and contaminated air.

    Capitalism doesn’t stop, even registering anthropic climate change. Technology will solve every problem, is the assumption. But this doesn’t actually happen, so it’s like the night of the Titanic. Who knows when will start sinking? Though, the cultural change needed for another way is so huge that it seems quite impossible.

  6. July 15, 2017 at 10:47 am

    How refreshing these comments are after lawyer Ken’s miles of evasion on “10whatever”.

    Let me agree with Iconoclast against Milanovic (the problem lies in wants rather than needs), but disagree with both him and Phillips: Malthus had a point which is not to be solved just by “small is beautiful” but requires learning (not finding out how) to understand ourselves and control information, so as to make possible self-control of local populations.

    I love Mart’s iconoclasm and totally agree with Craig and Garrett, though surely we need to free ourselves, not just talk about the need to? (As I argue, Craig, by talking honestly about money as credit, not as a form of already existing wealth). As food for thought, Garrett, I’ve been arguing that the need for fun, art (quality of performance as well as product) and invention (spiritual development) are priorities in different phases of life, so that the task of economics is complex: not only to supply the different means but to harmonise their provision.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.