I read a book a couple of years back called The Post_American Century by Fouad Zakaria. I searched in vain for any indication of the slightest awareness of climate and sustainability issues, and the need for a post-growth economics. Not a peep.
So it’s with some surprise that I read (h/t Luigi) Zakaria’s efforts to investigate post-growth economics here in an interview with Zachary Karabell and Umair Haque.
ZACHARY KARABELL, AUTHOR, “THE LEADING INDICATORS”: And the thing about U.S. growth is, I think, there’s been an uncoupling between what those numbers tell you and what the actual effects are systemically. So, to think about a factory that opens in 1970, it employs 5,000 people, it puts out a certain number of cars or a certain number of stuff and it adds to GDP growth. Today yes, there may be a slight manufacturing revival in the United States. But that same factory is going to have 500 people and it may add more to output, but it will add less to jobs. So, we’ve created this number that optically we think is a proxy for everything and increasingly it’s a proxy for only one particular thing, which is output as defined as stuff that we have produced.
UMAIR HAQUE, AUTHOR, “BETTERMENT: ECONOMICS FOR HUMANS”: Yeah. I think that, you know, GDP does have some value to it. But I also think that it may have – it may be at the point where it’s outliving its usefulness. Because as Zachary points it out, GDP just measures the volume of stuff. It doesn’t look at the quality of our lives, which is presumably what we want from any – to benefit us in real terms, not just to deliver us more stuff. And the real question for us is what do we want out of an economy and how do we begin measuring it? Because when we talk about growth, I think that many people often think that growth is a God-given thing and it refers to some kind of natural phenomena in the world. But it doesn’t. Growth is a manmade creation.
Still nothing about actual limits, but it’s refreshing to see the class of people who are considered “serious” in DC at least reconsidering growth as the metric of success.
I see hints of the questions:
What, in fact, is the thing that is growing?
Do we really want it to grow forever?
But I don’t see them asking if it’s even possible.