The impossibility of perpetual economic growth in four easy steps

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Posted Oct 26 2015 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
extinction-graph

Step 1: perpetual material growth in the economy is impossible on a finite planet.

If you agree with this (and it really isn’t too controversial), go to step 2.

If you disagree, then think of material things that people buy (cars, toothpicks, fridges, second homes, anything), then post a comment below explaining how we can have more of them every year, forever. If you’re going to use words like ‘recycling’ or ‘miniaturisation’, think it through carefully first.

Step 2: economic growth always leads to greater spending power.

If you agree with this, go to step 3.

If you disagree, post a comment below explaining how it doesn’t, bearing in mind that devaluation of the currency isn’t economic growth, and won’t increase spending power.

Step 3: increases in spending power can’t be ring-fenced so that they’re not spent on material things, and therefore will always result in material growth.

If you agree, go to step 4.

If you disagree, post a comment below explaining how they can. Think of anything material, and explain how (in a world where advertising is constantly persuading us to consume) people with extra spending power can be prevented from consuming more of it / them, bearing in mind that a) quotas and bans will only work if they prevent economic growth, and b) economic growth always leads to greater spending power, regardless of price.

Step 4: if economic growth always increases spending power, which always results in material growth, which isn’t possible forever on a finite planet, then perpetual economic growth isn’t possible on a finite planet.

If you agree, congratulations – you’re not insane (or an economist).

If you disagree, post a comment below explaining why, bearing in mind that step 4 is just a logical summary of the other three points.

One further question. Perpetual economic growth isn’t possible on a finite planet, so when should we stop? When the global ecological footprint of humanity is:

a) below one planet?

b) above one planet?