A scholarly analysis contends that indefinite economic growth is unlikely, suggesting morally responsible ways to prepare for a future without it.
At the close of the 18th century, Thomas Robert Malthus declared a limit to global economic growth, but the inadequacies of his theory—the agrarian model he adopted did not anticipate the Industrial Revolution—led to its widespread repudiation. Debut author Currie offers an updated version of Malthusianism and argues that technological innovation and economies of scale—the engines of progress for new growth—are insufficient to get the job done. In fact, there exists an “undefined” limit to the continued growth of global real gross domestic product per capita, and that ceiling is preceded by a period of increasingly slowed growth and diminishing returns. The author focuses on the U.S. economy—it has the highest GDP per capita of the higher-populated countries and a surfeit of available data—but also instructively contrasts developing and industrialized nations. Currie also documents the history of limits-to-growth theories and suggests that they have failed to pass analytical muster because they are so often promulgated by ecologists and not trained economists. This is not merely the diagnosis of an ailment, but also a prescription. Because part of the problem is political dysfunction that encourages bad economic policy, the author recommends a federal initiative that empowers majorities to more easily pass constitutional amendments. This study is impressively rigorous and analytically restrained; Currie acknowledges that his aim is not to completely defeat new growth theory but only its most extreme strains. In fact, he offers a refreshingly humble point of self-criticism: “As this work’s thesis is diametrically opposed to the views taken by extreme new growth theorists, its presentation of new growth theory is probably unduly critical.” And while it’s probably unfair to label conventional economics “amoral,” Currie is still to be commended for emphasizing aspects of economic theory often unduly neglected, like ecological responsibility and the social health of communities.
A sharply articulated and ideology-free assessment of the world’s economic future.