I’ve recently published the second in my series of working papers with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. This new paper is called, ‘Post-Growth Economics: A Paradigm Shift in Progress’. I’ve posted the the introduction below and the full paper is available here.
Post-Growth Economics: A Paradigm Shift in Progress
‘Going for growth is the government’s number one priority’, declared Gordon Brown in 2010, then Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, neatly capturing the spirit of our times (Settle, 2010). It is a worldview that shapes the global economy more so today than ever before (Purdey, 2010), at least as a reflection of economic desire, if not as a description of recent or anticipated economic reality. As the global economy slowly emerges, at least superficially, from the global financial crisis — a crisis in which many economies around the world suffered recession — the imperative of all governments around the world to maximise growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has never seemed stronger. The underlying economic assumption is that growth in GDP is the most direct path to national prosperity, and this vision of progress is widely embraced across the political spectrum, where growth is used as the touchstone of policy and institutional success (Hamilton, 2003).
Despite the dominance of this growth model of progress around the world, it has never been without its critics, and as this paper will outline, there are reasons to think that grounds for opposition are growing in number, strength, and sophistication. It was the philosopher of science, Thomas Kuhn (1962), who argued that paradigm shifts in the natural sciences occur when the existing paradigm finds itself increasingly unable to solve the critical problems it sets for itself. As anomalies increase in number and severity, the need for an alternative paradigm becomes clearer, and eventually a new paradigm is developed that can solve more problems than the old one. At that stage a paradigm shift is set in motion, and over time the new paradigm becomes accepted and the old one loses its influence, sometimes quite abruptly. In much the same way, this paper proposes that a paradigm shift in macroeconomics is underway, with a post-growth economic framework threatening to resolve critical anomalies that seem irresolvable from within the existing growth paradigm. We will see that a growing array of theorists, from various disciplinary backgrounds, are questioning the feasibility and even the desirability of continuous growth, especially with respect to the most highly developed regions of the world. Increasingly there is a call to look ‘beyond growth’ (see, e.g., Costanza et al, 2014; Kubiszewski et al, 2013; Stiglitz, Sen, and Fitoussi, 2010), on the grounds that growth may now be causing the problems it was traditionally hoped to solve. Not only can it be argued that a post-growth paradigm shift is in progress, it seems the fundamental importance of this shift lies in the fact that it is in relation to progress. That is, it is changing the very nature of what ‘progress’ means.
In this paper the key thinkers and movements in this emerging paradigm of ‘post-growth’ economics will be reviewed. By way of introduction, a brief overview of the growth paradigm is presented, in order to later highlight, by way of contrast, some of the most prominent features of the alternative paradigm. A substantial literature review of post-growth economics is then provided, after which some of the outstanding issues in this emerging movement are outlined. This paper intends to raise questions about what prospects this movement has for dislodging the growth paradigm from the dominant position it currently holds in popular consciousness; what significance it may have if it were ever to succeed; and what the implications could be if it were to remain marginalised. The paper concludes by outlining a research agenda of critical issues.
The full paper is available here.