From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy

From Uneconomic Growth to a Steady-State Economy

Advances in Ecological Economics series

Herman E. Daly

In this important book, Herman E. Daly lays bare the weaknesses of growth economics and explains why, in contrast, a steady-state economy is both necessary and desirable. Through the course of the book, Daly develops the basic concept and theory of a steady-state economy from the 1970s limits to growth debates. In doing so, he draws on work from the classical economists, through both conflicts and agreements with neo-classical and Keynesian economists, as well as recent debates on uneconomic growth.

Chapter 3: In defense of a steady-state economy

Herman E. Daly

Subjects: development studies, agricultural economics, development economics, economics and finance, development economics, environmental economics, environment, ecological economics


The case against continuous exponential growth in the physical coordinates of our economy has already been made (Mill, 1961; Mishan, 1967; Boulding, 1970; Daly, 1971, 1973; Georgescu-Roegen, 1971; Weisskopf, 1971; Barclay and Seclar, 1972; The Ecologist, 1972; Ehrlich et al., 1972; Meadows et al., 1972), but has not yet won majority acceptance. Rather than repeat the arguments establishing the necessity and desirability of a steady-state economy, I will confine myself to a critique of a number of counter-arguments and objections that have been raised against the steady-state view by those who remain committed to the orthodox growth paradigm. What follows then is a kind of catechism of pro-growth fallacies, sophistries, casuistries, obfuscations, nonsequiturs, question-beggings, and misunderstandings, which, if properly refuted, should indirectly make the case for a steady-state economy. These misunderstandings are too numerous to catalog and arise mainly from the unhappy term ‘zero growth’, which many people interpret as implying an end to all technical and moral progress, an absolute, relative, and eternal static freeze. The verb ‘to grow’ has become so over-laden with positive value connotations that we have forgotten its first literal dictionary denotation, ‘to spring up and develop to maturity’. Thus, the very notion of growth includes some concept of maturity at which point physical accumulation gives way to a steady state. Thus, ‘steady state’ is a more descriptive term than ‘zero growth’, although both imply the essential cessation of gross physical accumulation.

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