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Toward a Post-Growth Society

by , posted on Wednesday, July 13th, 2011 at 1:45 pm

It’s business as usual that’s the utopian fantasy, while creating something very new and different is the pragmatic way forward.

Cross-posted from YES! Magazine, where it was originally posted on July 6, 2011.

Today, the reigning policy orientation holds that the path to greater well-being is to grow and expand the economy. Productivity, profits, the stock market, and consumption: all must go continually up. This growth imperative trumps all else. It is widely believed that growth is always worth the price that must be paid for it—even when it undermines families, jobs, communities, the environment, and our sense of place and continuity.

The Limits of Growth

But an expanding body of evidence is now telling us to think again. Economic growth may be the world’s secular religion, but for much of the world it is a god that is failing—underperforming for billions of the world’s people and, for those in affluent societies, now creating more problems than it is solving. The never-ending drive to grow the overall U.S. economy hollows out communities and the environment; it fuels a ruthless international search for energy and other resources; it fails at generating jobs; and it rests on a manufactured consumerism that is not meeting the deepest human needs. Americans are substituting growth and consumption for dealing with the real issues—for doing things that would truly make us and the country better off. Psychologists have pointed out, for example, that while economic output per person in the United States has risen sharply in recent decades, there has been no increase in life satisfaction and levels of distrust and depression have increased substantially.

We need to reinvent the economy, not merely restore it. The roots of our environmental and social problems are systemic and thus require transformational change. Sustaining people, communities, and nature must henceforth be seen as the core goals of economic activity, not hoped for byproducts of an economy based on market success, growth for its own sake, and modest regulation. That is the paradigm shift we seek.