2013, pp 83-161,
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Growth: A Discussion of the Margins of Economic and Ecological Thought

Abstract

In the late 1960s a debate about the long-term feasibility and desirability of economic growth as a one-size-fits-all economic policy emerged. It was argued that economic growth was one of the underlying causes of ecological and social problems faced by humanity. The issue remained strongly disputed until the inception of the Sustainable Development discourse by which the debate was politically settled. Nevertheless, given that many ecological and social problems remain unsolved and some have become even more severe, there are renewed calls for the abandoning of the economic growth commitment, particularly in already affluent countries. This chapter summarises the growth debate hitherto and examines two alternatives, the steady-state economy proposed by Herman Daly and economic de-growth proposed by Serge Latouche. In spite of recent disputes between the Anglo-Saxon steady-state school and the emerging continental de-growth school, it is argued, consistent with recent contributions on the issue, that steady-state and de-growth are not mutually exclusive but inevitably complements. The steady-state has the advantage of comprehensive theoretical elaboration, while de-growth has the advantage of an attractive political slogan which has re-opened the debate on the issue. Latouche is also a social thinker who gives a voice to the critiques of economic growth contained in the notion of development from outside Europe and the United States. The steady-state economy, and de-growth are held by some analysts to be beyond what is politically feasible. Although this argument is valid, it fails to recognise that past desirable societal changes were made possible through reflexive societal processes conducive to collective action and institutional change. It is concluded that the debate must ultimately rest in the physical quantities that a given economy needs for the ‘good life’ in the long run, how to decide on these quantities, how to achieve them, and how to maintain an approximate global steady-state. Finally, some recommendations for further research along with some reflections on the potential role of scholars are provided.