Imagining a World Without Growth

In the new documentary Two Raging Grannies, the elderly protagonists seek an answer to the question of why politicians always say we have to have economic growth. It’s a question that frustrates all manner of experts, but Eduardo Porter, writing at the New York Times, thinks he has the answer:

Could the world order survive without growing?

Hinda and Shirley, the Two Raging Grannies.

Hinda and Shirley, the Two Raging Grannies.


It’s hard to imagine now, but humanity made do with little or no economic growth for thousands of years. In Byzantium and Egypt, income per capita at the end of the first millennium was lower than at the dawn of the Christian Era. Much of Europe experienced no growth at all in the 500 years that preceded the Industrial Revolution. In India, real incomes per person shrank continuously from the early 17th through the late 19th century.

As world leaders gather in Paris to hash out an agreement to hold down and ultimately stop the emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases that threaten to make Earth increasingly inhospitable for humanity, there is a question that is unlikely to be openly discussed at the two-week conclave convened by the United Nations. But it is nonetheless hanging in the air: Could civilization, as we know it, survive such an experience again?

The answer, simply, is no.

Economic growth took off consistently around the world only some 200 years ago. Two things powered it: innovation and lots and lots of carbon-based energy, most of it derived from fossil fuels like coal and petroleum. Staring at climactic upheaval approaching down the decades, environmental advocates, scientists and even some political leaders have put the proposal on the table: World consumption must stop growing…

[continues at the New York Times]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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