In our “Money Mic” series, we hand over the podium to someone with a strong opinion on a financial topic. These are their views, not ours, but we look forward to opening up the floor to conversation.
Today, author Rob Dietz shares why he thinks the economy can’t grow forever.
Politicians, newscasters and pundits are united around an idea I find wacky: that we can grow the economy forever on our finite planet.
We would need one and a half Earths to keep producing, consuming and wasting at the rate we do now. Instead of a pursuing an economy chasing after more, why not pursue an economy asking for enough? That’s what I describe in the book I co-wrote with Dan O’Neill, “Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.”
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The economy of “enough” is called a steady-state economy: A steady number of people consume a stable amount of energy and materials, all within ecological bounds. The goal of this kind of economy, rather than increasing consumption, is to improve quality of life.
Do you want more stuff or a better life? Our current economy aims for the first. A steady-state economy aims for the second.
Why the Current System Is Broken
The strategy of perpetual growth is failing on both environmental and social grounds.
Our ecological footprint (the area of land and water we need to operate our economy) shows we’re consuming resources 50% faster than they can be regenerated. If we continue, we’ll diminish reserves of our natural capital like food and water and set ourselves up for collapse.
Socially, economic output per person has more than tripled in countries like the U.S. and U.K. since 1950, but people are no happier. And despite impressive global economic growth over the last several decades, nations continue to struggle with unemployment, poverty and income inequality.
How to Fix It and Reach a Steady-State Economy
Here are four proposals for achieving a steady-state economy: