Post-Growth Economics: A Paradigm Shift in Progress

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

Samuel Alexander


‘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.

3 Responses to “Post-Growth Economics: A Paradigm Shift in Progress”

  1. Meri says:

    Ever so grateful for your interesting and succinct description of the historical attempts to unshackle society’s addiction to growth and focusing further research on framing the post growth scenario. Awareness of impacts western gluttony is slowly increasing but with no positive vision of alternative options to growth, many people are fearful, revert to survivalist tendencies or wallow in gloom. If we can all sell and demonstrate that a post growth lifestyle is not only needed but is “preferable” perhaps the main stream can shift the transition for us. After all who wouldn’t want more time to do the things they love?

  2. Alan Oak says:

    Samuel, you wrote: “Though not widely appreciated, ‘rebound effects’ are highly significant, for they mean that techno-efficiency improvements, rather than reducing material and energy use, often function merely to create revenue which is then spent on producing or consuming more of the same commodity (a primary rebound) or other commodities (a secondary rebound).”

    Why isn’t that obvious to growth-oriented economists? Isn’t there a neoclassical assumption that wants are limitless?

    As I recall, Westerners spent 90% of income on food a few centuries ago, but in now it’s about 10%. We just keep finding other things we “need.”

    Of course, you can keep the infinite desires without having them be stuff or services. For example, a degrowth economy can be fueled by the desire for more naps, more days off, more time to read, and more time to spend with friends. If these things were accounted for and socially valued, then you can see progress in your degrowth balance sheet.

    But then, all that doesn’t give other people jobs …

  3. theyenguy says:

    Economics is the ordained life experience of humanity, and is a paradigm presenting the experience of money in an age.

    As communicated by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 1:10, economics is the paradigm and stewardship of all things by Jesus Christ in every epoch, bringing them to maturity and perfection, much like a ship’s captain completes the manifest before setting sail.

    Economics is defined as the life experience between a person and another, a corporation, and the state, that is government; either it be ethical or pathological; economics is the trust and flow that comes from sovereignty, and the model that best presents economics is the Dispensation Economics Manifest.

    An economy is defined as the life experience that comes from the administration of the credit and trade that comes from a household or stronghold. An economy exists for life and death experience, and is determined by the prevailing interest rate of the monetary regime and its monetary policies and schemes.

    All be economists, as the field of economics is not restricted to NYT pundit Paul Krugman, or to ivory tower academicians, such as Oxford’s Simon Wren-Lewis.

    Economics is money based; money is defined as the credit and trade that comes from the administration of a household or stronghold; debt based money bears interest, which is defined as the cost of money.

    The banker regime established the freest of all economies in the history of mankind; beginning in 1999 with the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act and the provision of the Euro, it birthed and established the investor as the centerpiece of economic action.

    The beast regime of regional governance and totalitarian collectivism, seen in Revelation 13:1-4, emerged on October 23, 2013, as Jesus Christ opened the first seal of the scroll of end time events, seen in Revelation 6:1-2, to provide the experience of diktat money replacing the democratic nation state and banker regime, which provided fiat money, to enable the bond vigilantes to begin calling the Interest Rate on the US Ten Year Note, ^TNX, from 2.48%, and thus pivoted the world from the paradigm of liberalism, meaning freedom from the state, into that of authoritarianism.

    Liberalism featured democratic nation states which provided policies of investment choice and schemes of credit. But now with the failure of credit, seen in China, Russia, and the US Small Caps trading lower, and commodities trading lower being the tipping point, authoritarianism is the new normal, and features regional governance which provides policies of diktat and schemes of debt servitude where the debt serf is the centerpiece of economic activity while the investor is going extinct.

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