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since 1997 | by maryann johanson

question of the weekend: How do we redefine our economy away from growth?

the American dream is over

It mystifies me to hear the “experts” talking about our ongoing economic crisis always using “growth” as a measure of progress, prosperity, or economic wellbeing. If the economy doesn’t expand fast enough, that’s bad, in this measure. But surely it must be obvious to these folks that endless growth simply isn’t possible. Unless energy becomes too cheap to meter — which would probably require that everyone have a Mr. Fusion in the kitchen, and another in their car, and cheap cold fusion doesn’t seem to be on the horizon — we’re going to run out of the natural resources that a growing economy eats up at an ever increasing pace. Surely it must be obvious to these folks that, whether we like it or not, whether we plan for it or not, eventually economic growth will no longer be possible.

Given that, wouldn’t it be better to manage the move away from growth rather than having it thrust upon us? So:

How do we redefine our economy away from growth? What would a zero-growth economy look like? What would it be like to live in a zero-growth world?
This is an enormous topic, one that smart people have been discussing for a long time — see: The Club of Rome — if only in the same way that smart people discuss all sorts of pie-in-the-sky matters: that is, as thought exercises, not with any hope of their ideas actually coming to fruition. Because there’s no serious discussion of zero-growth in mainstream politics or media — there doesn’t even seem to be any serious appreciation for the question. I don’t expect us to have all the answers… maybe not even any of the answers. But we’re smart people, too, coming from lots of different disciplines, so I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this, whether they’re economic, technological, social, cultural, environmental, whatever.

Oh, and one more related question: If so many people, both laypersons and experts, take the necessity of growth for granted, what would it take to change that paradigm? Ecological disaster? $100-a-gallon gasoline? Anything? How do we begin to even redefine our thinking about these things?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD/QOTW, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTW sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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