Economists don’t know what they’re talking about needing growth but they won’t admit it.

July 6, 2023 by Joshua
in Leadership, Nature

Bill McKibben wrote about economic growth yesterday in the New Yorker, asking “To Save the Planet, Should We Really Be Moving Slower? The degrowth movement makes a comeback.” He referred to a 2020 New Yorker piece “Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth?.” The latter piece nearly exclusively looked at how economists looked at growth.

Why should we listen to economists? Is it a science? Consider physics. In 1896, the renowned physicist William Thomson said about controlled heavier-than-air flight:

I have not the smallest molecule of faith in aerial navigation other than ballooning or of expectation of good results from any of the trials we hear of.

Thomson is better known today as Lord Kelvin for the title he held. If you’ve heard of the temperature unit the kelvin, it was named after him. To have a fundamental physical unit named after you is huge. He knew thermodynamics, physics, and math at the time better than anyone.

Less than ten years later, in 1903, the Wright Brothers flew a controlled heavier-than-air machine. Kelvin was wrong.

No physicist today will claim controlled heavier-than-air flight is impossible. Why not? Because it happened! Kelvin was wrong. All physicists admit it. Observation of something actually happening trumps opinion.

When scientists are wrong, they acknowledge it. Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman said it clearly:

What do economists do when faced with evidence contradicting their theories?

Many economists believe we need growth for a healthy economy. Among countless cultures, let’s consider Hawaii after the Polynesians that discovered the islands stopped trading with them and before Captain Cook found them, about 500 years later, in 1778. The population is estimated to have been about 150,000 then. 500 years is plenty of time to have grown beyond that number, hence they stopped growing their population and economy.

Countless other cultures stabilized their populations and economies. The San in southern Africa may date back hundreds of thousands of years.

Neither economic nor population growth is necessary, nor is pollution. Beyond what I’ve written here, we don’t need them for innovation, longevity, health, security, freedom, democracy, culture, or human thriving.

Economists claiming growth is necessary is like a physicist looking at an airplane flying claiming controlled heavier-than-air flight is impossible.

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