Herman E. Daly: A Steady-State Economy

Regardless of whether it will be hard or easy we have to attempt a SSE because we cannot continue growing, and in fact so-called “economic” growth already has become uneconomic. The growth
economy is failing. In other words, the quantitative expansion of the economic subsystem increases environmental and social costs faster than production benefits, making us poorer not richer, at least in highconsumption countries. And even new technology sometimes makes it worse. For example, tetraethyl lead provided the benefit of reducing engine knock, but at the cost spreading a toxic heavy metal into the biosphere; chlorofluorocarbons gave us the benefit of a nontoxic propellant and refrigerant, but at the cost of creating a hole in the ozone layer that protects us from too much ultraviolet radiation. It is hard to know for sure that growth now increases costs faster than benefits since we do not bother to separate costs from benefits in our national accounts. Instead we lump them together as “activity” in the calculation of GDP.

Ecological economists have offered empirical evidence that growth is already uneconomic in high consumption countries (see ISEW, GPI, Ecological Footprint, Happy Planet Index). Since neoclassical economists are unable to demonstrate that growth, either in throughput or GDP, is currently making us better off rather than worse off, it is blind arrogance on their part to continue preaching aggregate growth as the solution to our problems. Yes, most of our problems (poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation) would be easier to solve if we were richer–that is not the issue. The issue is: Does growth in GDP any longer really make us richer? Or is it now making us poorer?