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Is perpetual economic growth desirable, or even possible?
Emilija Markovic's profile photoRyan White's profile photoDennis Mix's profile photoMuhammad Usman's profile photo
Not until we lick the issue of having finite 1-planet resources.
Desirable? Absolutely. Possible? Yes. Most growth comes at the expense of contraction elsewhere unless it is a new market and/or industry.
This really oversimplifies what we mean by "economic growth." Economic growth is merely producing more with the same inputs or producing the same with lower inputs - in either case the pie is "grown" and goods, services, etc. become cheaper. If I could run a car 1 mile on a drop of gasoline, this would be both good for economic growth (getting massively more output from the same level of input) while also being good for the environment, etc. These things don't have to be mutually exclusive. The green revolution of the 70's - fundamentally making more out of the same or lower inputs - quite literally saved billions of people from starvation (Google "Norman Borlaug"). Today growth is pulling 2B people out of poverty in Asia. It's only the comfort of the west that people (most of whom seem to be in the so-called knowledge class) seem able to imagine that we've grown "enough".
It is both desirable and possible. Definitely not easy and you must change and adapt well over time (humans not huge fans of this). It takes significant effort in order to move the baseline from what it was to where you want it to go. Best example is the "Moore's Law" and its affect on the perpetual growth of the Computing industry (and supporting ecosystems). Obviously there needs to be a greater focus on correcting the negative aspects of something like this (pollution, recycling, better design on the front end to support these things)- Big fan of Twit.TV empire BTW!
Nothing is perpetual, I would also say that we need to stop thinking that not having enough economic growth is somehow the thing that ails us.
Everything cycles. The idea of a steady state is just as absurd as the idea of perpetual growth.
The human population is now north of 7 billion. Until we quit boinking ourselves out of a place at the table a steady state is impossible.
I have to read more on this Center. At first glance it seems to be advocating that we somehow have to accept and expect less from ourselves...seems to be a bit of a negative view against people in general and capitalism as a whole
Wow. Either I'm getting wiser with age or the idea of converging ideas is something to consider. It had occured to me on several occasions that growth is only possible as long as the supporting ressource base was plentiful. It has become clear that we have already mortgaged our planet's ressources so yeah, growth has to stop.
Unlimited Economic Growth. This is the pet idea of the Party of Hardheaded Realists. That unlimited economic growth can be accomplished within limited space, with limited materials and limited intelligence, only shows the unlimited courage and self-confidence of these Great Minds. That unlimited economic growth implies unlimited consumption, which in turn implies unlimited pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth, only makes the prospect even more unlimited. -- Wendell Berry
Yes and yes (so far). We're still experiencing rapid global growth, and that is making life better for billions of our fellow human beings. I think it's selfish to arbitrarily decide that we've grown enough, at least if you're going to try to impose the consequences of that view on others. Feel free to make no changes or process improvements to your business, but don't mess around with mine.

See here:
Didn't any of you people read "The Singularity is Now"? Isn't G+ supposed to be full of techno-fabulists and not neo-Malthusians?
Didn't realize there was a Luddite wing in the TWiT studios. Well, I'm always open to learning new things. Finite resources? Over population? Perhaps I could believe such if I had just received my education in the last 10 years or if "Mother Jones" was my primary source on Science and Technology.
Leo you should look into a resource based economic model, far more conducive to human/planetary health.
I'll go with "w'ell see when we get there" side. Since it's only there the word progress has meaning through value.
Junk science diatribe is still worthless.
Possible, no. Exponential growth requires magic to sustain over the long term. But it doesn't matter that we know, humans are evolved to be vastly acquisitive and will never voluntarily agree to live with less then they feel they could have. So we will go as all species have before, boom-bust. The question is how much of life on earth will survive our boom.
+David Johnston pretty impressive display of misleading data. First of all, GDP doesn't factor in depletion of nonrenewable resources, ecological degradation or any of the host of pricing failures we are party to.

Second of all, you are showing GDP in US Dollars not adjusted for inflation (LoL) if you really wanted to demonstrate rapid global growth then perhaps you should have used:!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_mktp_kd_zg&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&ifdim=region&tdim=true&hl=en_US&dl=en

Furthermore, since you bring up in the context of billions of our fellow human beings perhaps you should have used:!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_kd_zg&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&ifdim=region&tdim=true&hl=en_US&dl=en

Consider that 3% in the face of rather obvious market failures that serve to inflate it.
+J A Showalter Just what is your primary source on science and technology? Don't hold back, tell us why unlimited growth is not a problem ( and preferably at a rate that exceeds that of population growth ).
+Joachim Larsen no, see here:!ctype=l&strail=false&bcs=d&nselm=h&met_y=ny_gdp_pcap_cd&scale_y=lin&ind_y=false&rdim=region&ifdim=region&tdim=true&hl=en_US&dl=en

What you've linked to is the growth rate. It seems to be jumping around, but averaging maybe 2%, which makes sense. It's just the first derivative of the graph I linked changes nothing and tells the same story.

Finite resources are fine, but we don't always use the same resources. We used to use whale oil. That's a finite resource, but we don't even use it anymore. We get a nearly limitless supply of energy from the sun, so I'm not terribly worried about finite resources right now given that we can recycle the materials/matter that exist on earth into more efficient systems and use the infinite energy output by the Sun (either directly or indirectly) to power it.
Unless we're living in the world of Star Trek with a galactic federation providing for the needs of all it's citizens there's no possibility of anything even resembling a "steady state" economy. At this point more conservative voices would likely call that scenario communism anyway.
Commerce and compensation remain central to the human psyche which begets a drive toward economic expansion (on a micro or macro scale) even if it's unsustainable. The unfortunate reality is that mankind still exists in the lowest levels of Maslow's pyramid in spite of our belief to the contrary.
David, no one is willing to do that on the scale necessary to save the environment because it isn't profitable and would displace hundreds of thousands of jobs across the U.S. in non-renewable energy production. Their lobbyists are going to force a slow transition and the damage will be too deep. Our life sustaining systems don't work because they have fallen into a steady state inside the cyclical consumption cycle that makes our economy function. We need a real change, now. Not watered down in 10 years from now because of bad legislature and political posturing. We change the economic model and these problems start fixing themselves.
+David Johnston Personally I would have thought the actual growth rate would be more appropriate for substantiating rapid global growth but nevermind.

Yes, the sun does serve as a ray of hope, but we are still a fair ways from having invested the resources it will take to make an impact on non-renewable resource use.

There doesn't seem to be much appetite for pursuing it in a serious fashion just yet.
And then James walker found and learned how to ruin conversations using logic or reason on the internet. "I can't fathom people not using money...derp" Most of the several hundred thousand years humans have been around we didn't use money. We have technology that provides so much abundance literally mountains of trash are local to any place humans live. We can certainly make better use of the resources we've already extracted from the earth and provide access to that abundance to everyone.
Short answer: no. I hope sustainable growth becomes the objective.
In a world of finite resources, I don't see how perpetual economic growth is possible in any way shape or form.
Great to see more well-known people start to give this some thought too. Money itself is highly undesirable as a function for allocating resources... it comes with a gargantuan dark side, and enables incredible evil. Easily and anonymously "portable value" is one of the cornerstones of making crime work, and that's just one minor negative aspect of it. We absolutely need a society that's in dynamic balance, that's the only thing that can possibly get us to the point where we also have a sustainable world where pollution and resource use is kept within such limits that they won't destroy the planet/run out.

And doing that in a money- and profit-motive based society is never going to happen, it is literally impossible. So since we know we must achieve a dynamic balance (by definition, you cannot "deficit spend" the real world for long until things get very very bad) we also know we must change our society from what we have now to something sane. My personal favorite is the resource-based economy concept put forth by the Venus Project.
Perpetual economic growth is possible (and desirable) if it's not treated as the sole objective but rather as the side-effect of improving people's lives.
Adam Z.
Is it a "steady state" economy or steady "state economy" they give as an alternative?
I'd say that perpetual growth is impossible, we only have finite resources
Thirty thousand years ago mankind had yet to discover agriculture and animal husbandry. One thousand years ago mankind used wood as the primary source of energy. Two centuries ago mankind had yet to understand the causes of common diseases and infections. Within the last century, mankind has begun to harness the power of the atom, so far only by fission, but perhaps soon also by fusion. Only 51 years ago did Man first venture beyond Earth's atmosphere. During the past half-century, mankind has started to explore the nature of the gene and DNA. Today, mankind is growing ever more able to harness the power of wind, wave and sunlight. Soon, perhaps, hydroponic meat will no longer be a prohibitively expensive experimental technique, but will be the cornerstone of a nutritional revolution unheard of since the discovery of agriculture. As we venture deeper into the nature of the universe, we will discover even greater sources of power, and in turn devise manners to harness them to our advantage. Growth is desireable, and the limits we believe it might have today are nothing more than the limits of our knowledge.
you want constant very slow economic growth. Which is currently possible and currently what you want. However, if you take anything to the nth degree, ir will be bad. Imagine cavemen sitting together saying "we should really invest in the study of fire" "do we even want fire? Do you realize how many people die to fire related death? and is it sustainable? If we keep investing constantly in fire. There will be no tree's and the world will be turned to ash. No sir, I think we are doing fine just as we are"
+Zachary Bittner Logic fail 101. Sustainable is not the same as stagnant or reactionary. If anything, a sustainable world would by necessity be one where people were no longer wage slaves forced to flip burgers for a full day just to have food and a place to stay, so we'd have more people working with the things they love to do. That would automatically lead to progress.

It would also be a world where priorities were set sensibly instead of, well, like now. Antibiotics research would be a crash priority in such a world... in our world, even though a world without functional antibiotics is an unbelievably scary concept where small scratches could kill us again like before penicillin, antibiotics research is done sort of on the side with a minor amount of money given... because you can never get rich off antibiotics.

Our priorities as a species are absolutely, utterly bonkers and insane. We pump the equivalent amount of money into the world's militaries every 8 days or so that would feed the entire planet - for a year. So we need to rethink and re-prioritize pretty darn quickly if we don't want to head straight into a dystopian nightmare.
+Alexander Lyon Growth of our knowledge - unquestionably something we should finally begin to prioritize, no matter how quick it seems to be we're hampered by our social organization considerably right now. Growth of our spending of irreplaceable resources and growth of our polluting our world - absolutely unequivocally not.
As Sir David Attenborough put it on a RSA Lecture: "Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physical finite planet is either mad or an economist..." :)
+Kimmo Jaskari first, you said i was wrong for saying anything I never said. In fact, I'm not sure what the hell your talking about within your first two paragraphs but it seems to be unrelated to anything I said.

Your last paragraph has something to do with the military and apparently that we should disban them all and feed the world like a hippie commune. Which either credits you to being completely and incredibly naive.

I always feel people who have impractical attitudes like this should play a sim game sometime and test their theories
The consumer market needs to evolve from relying on a greater quantity of ever cheaper consumer goods to finding growth in higher quality and higher prices.
+Luis Leandro That's a great quote so I had to track it down. Apparently Attenborough was quoting one Kenneth Boulding, who was an environmental advisor to President Kennedy. Thanks, saving that one. Though it should read "or both" on the end. :-D
Uh, anyone else find the irony of this? Do we honestly believe that the innovations of our time could be possible with a static world economy? The ability to create an organization like Casse wouldn't even be possible without the consistent growth and innovation that led to the internet, computers, social networking, etc.

There is a tendency to look at the imbalance of wealth and say that there is a fundamental problem. But the balance shifts all the time. At one time Greece and Rome (Italy) ruled the world... now where are they? At the bottom of European economies looking for handouts from their neighbours like beggars on the street. We look at the relatively short reign of the US (<100 years) and think that "what you see is all there is" and believe that reign will last forever if we don't change our behavior. It won't. Whether it is China, India, Russia, or some other country the world will change and we will be on the other end of this bargain.

I believe that holding world economies fixed means prolonging the time that it takes for this change to take place. Poor countries will stay poor. Rich countries will stay rich without pushing innovation and growth that will tip the balance the other way. Competition is scary and hard, but it is the nature of human society. We consume, we build, we conquer, we destroy and then start all over again.
Growth as measured by what?
I don't think you guys understand how exponential growth works. If the US energy consumption continues on the ~2% growth we have been on since 1650 we will be using more energy than the entire output of the sun in 1400 years. The entire galaxy in 2000. Technological advancement brings efficiency yes, but every time we get more efficient we do not save that extra energy we spend it on new consumption, new population, new luxury. 
+Andrew Jones wow - plot the current curve into infinity and "my god" the end of the world is coming. That just isn't realistic. I am sure someone was warning of the dangers about the growth of horse crap filling up all of long island before the invention of the car. The great impact of law and demand and economics is that physical growth will continue to get more expensive, which will force cheaper/alternative growth ideas and opportunities.
+Mike Elgan looking for a greater quantity of cheaper goods is what makes an economy with scarce resources work. Prices aren't just some arbitrary number assigned to a product, but rather a representation of the allocation of resources used to produce it. The price mechanism is what drives inefficient producers out of business, freeing up their resources to be used by the producers who will be able to make more goods available to more people.

The idea that economic growth is bad shows a very narrow view of the world. It seems similar to the false assumption that trade is a zero-sum game. When our demand for cell phones grows, the demand for factories in China grows. When the demand for factories in China grows, the demand for workers in China grows. As the availability of labor in China dwindles, wages and conditions will improve as employers compete for a finite labor pool. At the end of this process we'll have cell phones, and more of China will have better jobs. +Aaron Berlin makes some great points about how growth pulls people out of poverty. If all economic growth were to cease today there would still be billions in poverty. Even if a global government were somehow able to evenly divide up every bit of the economy among the world's population we would be worse off due to the absence of specialization and price signals to direct the flow of resources.

You're only able to ask for higher quality at a higher price because your contribution to the economy has been valued enough to place you in a position to make that decision. The reality is that not everyone's contributions are equal, so most of the world doesn't have this luxury.

I assume that most people genuinely want the best for other people, so the challenge is finding the most effective path to global prosperity. Milton Friedman emphasized that nothing has improved the well-being of the common man like the free market system. The definition of economics is the study of choice under scarcity, so the idea of a finite planet isn't anything new. Resources need to be allocated and used efficiently, and markets tend to grow as they meet these goals.

Recommended reading: "Economics in One Lesson" by Henry Hazlitt
Recommended viewing: anything from Milton Friedman on YouTube
I swear, I'm going to start using common logical falacies as arguments and make a million dollars.
By definition, perpetual growth is an impossibility with limited resources. Economic growth in the US currently depends on "creating money from debt," which means in order for one person to prosper, another one has to go into debt. So, no it is not sustainable.
Population, population, population... The idea of a "Steady State" Economy is great, but only with a steady or (better yet) shrinking population. Efficiency increases every year, unfortunately, so does population. If you could halt population growth, gains in efficiency would ensure an ever increasing amount of usable resources, goods, and services with zero growth to the amount of resources actually expended to do so. In other words, without need to "grow the economy". 
In the late 18th century Thomas Malthus told us that starvation and mass poverty were inevitable because population was growing faster than the food supply. Then agricultural and industrial technology leaped forward and now we can sustain billions more people on the same amount of land.

Yes, growth probably has a limit. But that limit is as much based on our technology as it is on our natural resources. Claiming we can predict where growth will end is absurd, and doubly so when we're in an era where the rate of innovation continues to accelerate.
The fact that AS A SPECIES we have always managed to find some innovation to temporarily forestall the natural die off that comes when a population enevitably outgrows it's food supply is hardly reassuring. There are endless examples throughout human history of entire societies who ceased to exist because they outgrew thier food supply.

Luckily, none of those societies were drawing on the resources of the entire planet, so there were other groups to take their place. But this time the problem is global in scale. If we outgrow our food supply, we do so as a species, and we risk a die off of GLOBAL proportions. 
Such a push by the globalist Left to get us all to become good little hive-dwellers. But of course, the shining ones who lead us all use resources like they are going out of style (looking at you, Al Gore).
A steady state for resource utilization is not possible with an economic imperative of growth (as a function of debt). They are conflicting. To address one without the other is pointless, as the need for servicing debt will mandate the need to over-consume. See Resource Based Economy for more info
Steady state is the wrong term, anyway. Dynamic equilibrium is more appropriate. As has been said already, steady state isn't possible but a consciously controlled and balanced approach definitely is. Obviously not within our current framework of using money, trade, profit and having a thin sliver of society with "economic lords" who have everything and a massive majority that have anywhere from nothing to a fairly comfortable existence as wage slaves.
Perpetual economic growth is definitely desirable, but not so possible in our current state. The economy grows when government gets out of the way!!! Government has such a stifling effect on business right now that they are all holding on to their money. Who cares who has the money....when the economy grows, all boats rise.
+Brent Green There is no way I can politely express what I really think of that opinion, so I'll just say that demonizing the Government for doing what it's supposed to be doing - protecting the citizens from the sociopathic corporations - is a very right-wing and also very stupid thing to do. The problem isn't that Government protects the citizenry, the problem is that it is now fully bought and sold by the corporations and the wealthy. Regulatory capture is a daily reality, as is the revolving door policy between the private sector and government.

A business is an inherently sociopathic entity.The only goal of any business is to make money, by hook or by crook - and in America at least, by law they have to try to maximize that. If you don't enact strong regulations to prevent how they do that, you'll wind up with rampant pollution, a destroyed society and and a citizenry that suffers. That should ring bells for any American.

The social-democratic nations in Europe are all doing much better than the US in virtually every way, and the reason for that is a focus on equality, fairness and limiting the depredations of the corporations. Meanwhile, America is flushing itself further and further down the proverbial toilet with every lessening of regulation it enacts. It's not hard to see which approach leads to wide-spread and pervasive prosperity. Hint: it's not the one letting the corporations and the wealthy run roughshod over the people.

Indefinite growth of anything is an impossibility, as is ever getting our world functional as long as we run it using money and profit.
MJ, banks don't like when people talk like that.
my fave thing of the last 10 years was the IPHONE
Interesting! It can be thought of as 'Why the Moon, Mars?' Mankind, maybe Womankind too, have this need to know and progress is one result of this. Though I think we need to expand this to NOT include abstract progress or growth, that is growing our minds, since we have nowhere left to grow on this earth. But as a person born in Detroit, we can't keep thinking a new model car every year, perhaps Volkswagon had it right with the 'Beetle' in the 60s and 70s, one size fits all!
happy sun good seeing u live 2 day
Lots of Flat Earth thinking here for a group of folks that follow the Tech Guy, we have only begun to expand our Technology and thus our Economy.
Space alone as some have mentioned has unlimited resources. Perhaps if we start again putting money into things like NASA again we can head toward being the people in control of ourselves and our lives in the ways that we dream of in shows like Star Trek and other visions of the future. Time to wake up our dreams again, less than 80 years after we 1st flew we got to the moon.
When did people become so negative, what happened to the dreamers?
Space...The Final Frontier...
And then we have idiots like Obama that want to cut funding for NASA and censor the internet... wtf? Innovation will drive growth as long as politicians can stay out of the way...
If that was the case MJ we would have the same Economy as we did in 1790.
Once again think beyond Earth, what would happen if we had access to all that raw materials and potential space to expand into?
Shall we be Bugs in a Jar, trapped on Earth, if so we are already doomed but I think we have just begun to show what a real Economy can be. The trick is to not screw it up with government interference.
Root of all the problems we facing now is unarguable tenet of the culture of the Capitalism
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