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The real issue is what we mean by growth 

from Gerald Holtham (originally a comment)

People have come to expect and hope that life will be better for their children than it was for them. That can be true of some people in upwardly mobile families in societies with social mobility. If material welfare is stable in such a society, however, upward mobility must be matched by downward mobility. Therein lies a difficulty; the rich and powerful will not readily accept such an outcome for their offspring. Economic growth is the solvent that dissolves this incipient social conflict. Everyone can share in increasing material affluence. It is common to blame capitalism and the system does exemplify the problem but it goes deeper. It will occur in any society, however organised, where people’s expectations are for improvements in life and where they do not accept their lot or social position passively. Religion used to preach acceptance: “the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate; God made them high and lowly and ordered their estate.” With the decline of religious faith that no longer washes.
Of course one theoretical solution is the reign of perfect fairness and a high degree of equality where people accept a stable no-growth economy. Good luck in turning that into a successful political programme.

So the real issue is what we mean by growth. Evidently a waste-based, consumer society with built in obsolescence of products cannot continue indefinitely if extended to the whole population of the planet. But are we saying that human ingenuity cannot find ways to make life better with a constant budget for carbon emissions and a limit to destructive intrusion on the ecology? Our energy use may be constrained, though we are nowhere near exhausting the sun’s bounty, but the more efficient use of energy is an open frontier. The task is not to tell people improvement is impossible but to argue and demonstrate that welfare can go on improving with less extravagant exploitation of the earth’s resources. The force behind this argument is that there isn’t really an alternative in the long run. What can’t go on won’t go on so adjusting our aspirations for an improving quality of life is the only alternative to climate catastrophe, mass migration and global social conflict.

Was Malthus right? There’s an old saying on Wall Street: “what do you call someone who is right too soon? Answer: wrong.” 200 years of growth later we are now testing certain global limits. It is pointless to point fingers at economists for not registering as a problem something that wasn’t a problem in their day. It is our problem now and it is we who have to deal with it.

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