Limits to Growth
A team of researchers from MIT released The Limits to Growth, a book based on their computer modeling of the interactions between economic growth and resource limits, forty years ago to a swell of controversy and conversation. In the years since, much of their modeling has held up, but somehow the issues they raised have disappeared from policy debates. Italian film-maker Enrico Cerasuolo is now working on a film titled Last Call that attempts to show bring The Limits to Growth back into our global discussions about the ecological crises happening around us and how to address them.
Twitter went aflutter this week with late-breaking (two years late) news in Smithsonian Magazine that Australian physicist Graham Turner had compared the findings of the landmark Limits to Growth report to actual recorded data from 1972-2000 and the Limits to Growth model held up remarkably well. Turner’s report, titled “A Comparison of the Limits to Growth with Thirty Years of Reality,” finds that in all five of the key global economic subsystems - population, food production, industrial production, pollution, and consumption of non-renewable natural resources - the Limits to Growth standard run scenario (essentially business as usual) looks uncannily similar to the actual data, whereas the other two scenarios - stablizing behavior and policies, and comprehensive use of technology - do not.
There are two dogmas that neoclassical economists must never publicly doubt lest they be defrocked by their professional priesthood: first, that growth in GDP is always good and is the solution to most problems; second, that free international trade is mutually beneficial thanks to the growth-promoting principle of comparative advantage. These two cracked pillars “support” nearly all the policy advice given by mainstream economists to governments.
“We simply can't continue as if business as usual was the cheapest solution. It is not."
—European Union Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard
Last week, Capital Institute network organization Demos released a striking report and series of graphics on the myth that economic growth equals progress. The report lays out the argument for rethinking our national accounts while the graphics visually detail the failures of GDP as a measurement of progress.