Steady-State Economics Second Edition With New Essays On The Psychology

CASSE’s chapters (see directory below) provide opportunities to collaborate on activities to advance the steady state economy. A chapter can cover one of a variety of geographic scales:

  • College or university campus;
  • City or county;
  • State or province;
  • Nation;
  • Watershed, ecoregion, or other geographic region.

Chapter directors, in consultation with CASSE staff, determine the activities undertaken by the chapter. Chapters can work on projects such as gaining support for the CASSE position on economic growth, developing outreach materials, and arranging speaking engagements.

If you want to get involved with a chapter, please use the contact information provided in the directory below. If you are interested in starting a new chapter, please download the chapter guidelines and contact us. Also see our Staff page, if you do not see a chapter director in your area.

Directory of CASSE Chapters

Albany Chapter

Location:  Albany, New York, USA

Director:  Ted Lawrence

Ted is an Energy and Environmental Policy Analyst for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). His primary responsibilities involve energy modeling, forecasting, policy and economic analysis in support of statewide energy planning and climate action planning. He is also co-chair of the Education and Outreach sub-committee of NYSERDA’s Sustainability Committee. Outside of NYSERDA, Ted is President and Executive Director of the Foundation for Developing Sustainable Societies, a nonprofit organization committed to environmental conservation and sustainable development in Mesoamerica. He has also served as a full-time visiting instructor in Siena College’s Economics Department. Ted’s interdisciplinary education includes public policy, system dynamics, sustainability, ecological economics, biodiversity conservation, and anthropology.

Contact:Ted’s email

Australian Capital Territory Chapter

Location: Canberra, Australia

Director: Jonathan Miller

Jonathan works to raise awareness of global limits to growth and advocates the need to move to a steady-state economy. He has been involved most of his adult life in nature conservation, mainly working with the Australian Government, but also as a volunteer, committee member or employee of conservation non-government organisations.  Jonathan moved his focus to his current work when he realised that Earth’s biodiversity would never be secured long-term without addressing the underlying drivers of environmental damage. Jonathan has degrees in forest science and mathematics/statistics, has researched economics extensively, and advised the ACT Government and an Australian Senator on economic policy.

Contact: Jonathan’s email

Boston Chapter

Location:  Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Director:  Eric Verploegen

Eric is a materials scientist with a Ph.D. in Polymer Science and Technology from MIT who works on developing chemical treatment processes to reduce the environmental impact of oil and gas extraction.  He a member of the Echoing Green Social Investment Council and enthusiastically supports the social enterprises movement.  Eric believes that the proliferation of organizations that operate to maximize social and environmental well being while being financially sustainable is a critical component of the path toward a steady state economy.

Contact:Eric’s email

Cádiz Chapter

Location: Cádiz, Spain

Director: Andrew Fanning

Andrew is a PhD candidate at the University of Cádiz in Spain that is applying the concept of a steady state economy to his studies and personal life. He became convinced of the urgent need to speak out about the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental sustainability while completing his Master’s in Development Economics at Dalhousie University in Halifax (Canada). Andrew is perplexed by the difficulties he faces when trying to lead a sustainable lifestyle and deeply disturbed by the ‘growth imperative’ built into our socio-economic institutions. He strives to enjoy life while providing the necessary resources for his family to live a comfortable lifestyle within the limits of a finite planet.

Contact:Andrew’s Email

Colombia Chapter

Location: Santiago de Cali, Colombia

Director: Fabio Arias

Fabio Arias is Professor of Economics at the Universidad del Valle, Colombia. He has been responsible for several courses on sustainability where the Steady State Economy is a subject of constant analysis. His research has focused on collective choice and sustainability, particularly, how the policy of municipal territorial ordering promotes actions for sustainability. In Colombia, all municipalities must develop a land use plan that is participatory and fully considers the economic and environmental aspects. The results of his research confirms that cities are machines of growth, in the sense that local actors promote economic growth, while alternative movements towards sustainability are derived from synergies with strong community leaders in association with state sections that promote social welfare and environmental policy.

Contact:Fabio’s email

Hong Kong Chapter

Location:  Hong Kong, China

Director:  Claudio Delang

Claudio is a geographer working at the Hong Kong Baptist University. He has a background in economics, geography, and environmental studies, and has been working for the last 15 years in rural areas in Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, Vietnam) and China. He is interested in particular in people’s livelihoods, and the conflicts that emerge around the resources people depend on, and are denied by more powerful groups (for example through land grabbing for plantations or mining, or zoning for national park) and how this is presented as ‘economic development’. Through his work, he has become interested in the economics, social, and environmental failures of the growth economy. He is very keen in organizing activities in Hong Kong to contribute to the debate as to whether further economic growth is desirable, and the costs that accompany it. He welcomes your E-mails.

Contact:Claudio’s email

London, Ontario Chapter

Location: London, Ontario, Canada

Director: Juan Cardona

Juan has plans to start a Master’s Degree in Public Administration at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He works for the local government in the Community Services Division as a financial analyst. He also holds a postgraduate degree in Management & Quality and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at EAFIT University Medellin, Colombia. Juan is making efforts to apply the ideas of Steady State Economics to himself first. He feels strongly about how the philosophy of the Steady State Economy is a good response to the current problems facing the world and how it can achieve effective improvements in the levels of consciousness and well being for all humanity. He also wants to help influence public policy and educate society about the need of building sustainability in a world of limited resources.

Contact:Juan’s Email

London Chapter

Location: London, UK

Director: Desmond Kilroy

Desmond developed an interest in sustainable economics while doing an Msc Sustainable Development at the onset of the current financial crisis. His main professional interest is in the aspirational values of the sustainability agenda, i.e., ecological stability, social equity and economic efficiency. For six years he worked at the UK Empty Homes Agency as a consultant to the UK local authority sector on regeneration issues. Other experience includes managing NGO projects to create sustainable development benefits and some international development experience. In 2010 Desmond started a new organisation for sustainable development advocacy, Democratic Planet Capital (DPC) specifically focused on the systemic barriers that hinder sustainability and innovative financial mechanisms.

Contact:Desmond’s email

Los Angeles Chapter

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Director: Forrest Woolman

Forrest Woolman became an advocate for the steady state economy after reading Supply Shock in 2014. Coming from a background of working on sustainable solutions, as a volunteer for the organization Common Cause, Forrest recognizes the need for increasing awareness of limits to growth and the steady state solution in local communities. Engaging in discussions with groups and individuals, Forrest encourages people to re-evaluate their beliefs about living in an economic system focused on increasing consumption. Forrest teaches accounting and business management through MBO Partners, Inc., and infuses these courses with big-picture thinking about sustainability, including the need for a steady state economy. Forrest was the controller for 9 years, from 2006 – 2015, working with the Independent Living Center of Southern California and with the Los Angeles Urban League. He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science from UCLA and a graduate CPA certificate at Santa Monica College. He will complete his Master’s Degree in Sustainability, through the University of Saint Francis, in June 2016. Forrest likes to travel and camp with his wife, hike with his dog, and play drums, bass, piano and flute.

Contact: Forrest’s Email

Maine Chapter

Location: Argyle, Maine, United States

Director: Steve Coghlan

Steve earned a Ph.D. in Environmental and Forest Biology from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, where he studied fisheries ecology and management. Currently, he is Associate Professor of Freshwater Fisheries Ecology in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology at the University of Maine. He teaches courses in General Ecology, Ecological Statistics, Freshwater Fisheries Ecology and Management, and Biophysical and Ecological Economics; his current research focuses on ecological consequences of dam removal and restoration of native fishes. He lives in rural Argyle Township, Maine with his wife Jen and their four dogs and four cats, where he enjoys trying to live gently on the land and reducing his fossil-fuel consumption and ecological footprint by organic gardening, raising livestock, hunting, fishing, foraging, and harvesting firewood.

Contact: Steve’s Email

Milwaukee Chapter

Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin, United States

Director: Jim Carpenter

Jim teaches Ecological Economics at Milwaukee Area Technical College and has a M.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Engineering. He has integrated the principles of the CASSE Position Statement into his economic courses. He teaches that full employment can be achieved without real GDP growth if the population stops growing. Jim lives simply, uses public transit, vacations locally, and lives in a small condo with his wife.

Contact: Jim’s Email

New South Wales Chapter

Location: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Co-Directors: Anna Schlunke and Haydn Washington

Anna is a chemical engineer with a PhD in reaction kinetics (from Sydney University) who works in the area of sustainable buildings, primarily creating algorithms to model building water use, greenhouse gas emissions and thermal comfort.  Anna grew up in country NSW, where she lived in an off-the-grid mudbrick house (built by her father). It was a frugal but magical childhood. She is saddened by the comparative emptiness of affluent modern lifestyles (particularly in the city) and frustrated to find herself in a system that is destroying the planet. Anna co-runs a blog as an outlet for her ideas, worries and questions about sustainability and politics.

Haydn is an environmental scientist, writer, and activist with a 38 year history in environmental science. He is a Visiting Fellow and Sessional Lecturer in the Institute of Environmental Science at the University of  NSW, and has worked in CSIRO, environmental NGOs (e.g. Director of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW), and as Director of Sustainability Projects at Willoughby City council from 2007-2009. His interests are sustainability (in all its forms) and solving the environmental crisis, and his books include Climate Change Denial: Heads in the Sand (2011) and Human Dependence on Nature (2013).

Contact:Anna’s email and Haydn’s email

Nicaragua Chapter

Location: Managua, Nicaragua

Director:  Claudia Múnera Roldán

As a biologist, Claudia’s main interest is conservation of biodiversity. With working experience in Colombia, Nicaragua, and Guatemala, she has been involved in many conservation related projects, including endangered species, protected areas, bird watching tourism, invasive species, and recently climate change adaptation. This was how she became interested in the economic, social, and cultural issues behind the traditional economic growth model that is happening worldwide. She has a Master’s in World Heritage and Cultural Projects for Development from ITCILO and University of Turin, and her current research is related with the social aspects of conservation, looking for a way to reconcile nature conservation with society through a biocultural heritage approach. At this moment, Claudia is based in Managua, where she works as an independent consultant. She will be gathering more people and organizations in Nicaragua that are concerned about the problems of economic growth regarding the reality of our environment.

Contact:Claudia’s email

Northern Rivers Chapter

Location: Northern Rivers, New South Wales, Australia

Director: Peter Brennan

Peter Brennan is an academic with a PhD in ecology and natural resource management from the University of Hawaii.  He has been an Academic Director with SIT Study Abroad for 20 years, and currently directs an undergraduate program focused on Sustainability and Environmental Action. The program is cross-disciplinary and includes eco-psychology, environmental philosophy, ecology, ecological economics, and sustainability science.  Previously, Peter taught at the University of Auckland, New Zealand; Queensland University of Technology; and the University of Hawaii. He has also worked as a consultant ecologist and environmental planner in both Hawaii and Australia.

Contact:Peter’s email

Norway Chapter (click here to visit the Norway webpage)

Location: Oslo, Norway

Director:  Tormod Burkey
Tormod is a conservation biologist with a Ph.D. from Princeton University

on how to protect biodiversity and endangered species. He spent three years in Papua New Guinea as the Environment Programme Manager for the UN. He has served on the boards of the Rainforest Foundation and the Norwegian Carnivore and Raptor Foundation, advised parliamentarians on environmental policy, co-founded a wolf advocacy group, and is active with the Norwegian Green Party. He believes that political will is the limiting factor in bringing about meaningful change, not necessarily a lack of knowledge. Therefore he is drawn toward activism more than research.

Contact:Tormod’s email

Ottawa Chapter

Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Director:  Joanne Waisglass

Joanne works in the field of public relations and communications in Ottawa, Ontario. She holds a graduate diploma in public relations from Algonquin College, as well as an Hons B.A. in political science with a specialization in international relations from Carleton University. Her career focus is on corporate social responsibility and sustainability programming. Joanne believes in the principles of the CASSE position statement and is a firm believer in the potential for citizen civic engagement to help drive the shift toward a steady state economic model. She contributes to her community by volunteering with nonprofits focused on social justice issues.

Contact: Joanne’s email

Queensland Chapter

Location:  Queensland, Australia

Director:  Richard Sanders

Richard is an ecological economist, futurist, environmental scientist and change agent who has delved deeply into the concept of sustainability for over 20 years and been a steady stater for over 40 years. He is employed as a principal policy officer within the Queensland government dealing with sustainability and resource management. He is executive officer and founder of Quest 2025, a not-for-profit community organisation which aims to: “help facilitate the transformation of society through informed people power and the democratic process from its current state of social, spiritual and ecological crisis into an enlightened civilisation that is ecologically sustainable and socially just by the year 2025”.

Contact:Richard’s email

Risaralda Chapter

Location:  Risaralda, Colombia

Director:  Paola Arias

Paola Arias is an economist with graduate studies in the management of protected areas. She has worked on interdisciplinary projects in the environmental sector, such as environmental goods and services, economic valuation, watershed management and planning, and payments for environmental services. She currently lives in the state of Risaralda where she works mainly in the Otun Watershed. She is very happy to live there, since it is an excellent place to explore local development experiences toward a steady state economy. For example, the Otun Watershed encompasses ecovillages; commitments to conserve seeds, medicinal plants and traditional knowledge; community-based ecotourism in protected areas; children involved in environmental groups; and agro-ecological schools. She believes these activities stem from the high levels of social capital in the communities of the watershed. Besides her work as a consultant, Paola is excited to be working with other steady staters to create sustainable habitats and communities, based on the experience of 11 years of the Ecovillage El Prado.

Contact:Paola’s email

San Francisco Bay Area Chapter

Location:  San Francisco, California, USA

Director:  Erik Alm

Erik is a researcher and consultant providing services to companies in the clean fuels sector. He has studied sustainability formally having earned a B.S. in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont, and an MPA in Environmental Science and Policy at Columbia University. His strong passion for the preservation of biodiversity was his motivating factor for getting involved with CASSE. Through his work with the Center, he hopes to build a collaborative environment in the Bay Area where the local effects of uneconomic growth can be documented, and ways of moving toward a steady-state economy can be devised.

Contact:Erik’s email

Schenectady Chapter

Location: Schenectady, New York, USA

Director:  L. Michael Tracy­-Ireland

Michael is an IT project manager with the New York State Office of Information Technology Services. Among his primary responsibilities he manages complex information technology projects for several New York State agencies including the Department of Environmental Conservation, Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and previously for the State Education Department. Michael is a member of the NYS Sustainability Coordinators group that works to promote sustainability practices in New York State agencies and in the community. He has worked on several sustainability initiatives as a labor leader for the Public Employees Federation and presented Steady State Economics workshops at state agency and community group forums in upstate New York. Recently, he served as an economic advisor to the Warrensburg “Adirondack Bucks” alternative currency campaign. He is currently working to promote awareness and adoption of steady state principles throughout the capital region.

Contact: Michael’s email

Serbia Chapter

Location:  Novi Sad, Serbia

Director:  Ante Vujić

Ante Vujić is a biologist with a Ph.D. in diversity of Diptera (Syrphidae). He is a full professor at the Department of Biology and Ecology, Faculty of Sciences (University of Novi Sad, Serbia), whose main interest is biodiversity conservation, entomology, and the protection of endangered species. He intends to implement ecological economics into university curriculum in Serbia, and point out the importance of biodiversity through economic valorizations. He believes that biodiversity conservation through a steady state economy can provide potential solutions for many problems. He wants to help spread CASSE’s concept in Serbia and welcomes your emails.

Contact:Ante’s email

South Africa Chapter

Location:  KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Co-Director:  Gertrud Lomas-Walker

Gertrud Lomas-Walker has for the past 20 years worked in the field of sustainability, in local economic development, for a large South African financial services organisation, and latterly as an advisor to companies for an international assurance and advisory firm. Her areas of speciality are sustainability strategy, integrated reporting and governance. She is pursuing a non-consumption driven ecological economic agenda and helping organisations and communities prepare for the transition. She is political science major and has an honours degree in organisational development.

Contact:Gertrud’s email

South Africa Chapter

Location:  KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Co-Director:  Jean Senogles

Jean Senogles is a veteran environmental activist and conservationist. Her primary concerns are around biodiversity and education especially with reference to the 9 Planetary Boundaries. She has served on various boards including the Fish Quota Board, Natal Parks Board, is chairman of the local Palmiet Nature Reserve management committee and the Westville Conservancy, and serves on the Board of the South African Association for Marine Biological Research. She is a geographer and teacher of environmental sciences in underprivileged schools in KwaZulu Natal, founding member of Primates Africa and PLANT (Plant a National Tree), and has propagated and planted thousands of trees over 40 years in gardens, parks, schools and hospitals.  With her husband Ron, she sailed extensively in the Indian Ocean, and together served on the Executive of the Save St Lucia Campaign. St Lucia is now a World Heritage Site.

Contact:Jean’s email

St. Louis Chapter

Location:  St. Louis, Missouri, United States

Director:  Eric Zencey

Eric is the author of Virgin Forest: Meditations on History, Ecology, and Culture and the forthcoming The Other Road to Serfdom: Essays in Sustainable Democracy. An internationally published (and nationally best-selling) novelist, Eric has been teaching ecological and steady state economics since the 1980s. He holds a Ph.D. in political philosophy, and currently is a visiting professor of historical and political studies for Empire State College. He is also an affiliate of the Gund Institute of Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont.

Contact: Eric’s email

Tolima Chapter

Location:  Tolima, Colombia

Director:  Sandra Marcela Cely Santos

Marcela works at a Regional Innovation Institute which educates people living in rural landscapes and supports them in the establishment of cooperatives and associations. The purpose is to improve livelihoods, build equitable communities, and re-empower communities to build a better future. Marcela is a biologist with a passion for wildlife conservation and a deep interest in biodiversity conservation in productive landscapes. She believes that agroecology and sustainable food systems are critical to achieving healthy landscapes and a sustainable economy.

Contact:Marcela’s email

Toronto Chapter

Location:  Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Director:  Ryan Dyment

Ryan is a Chartered Accountant and the Executive Director of IRBE, a non-profit organization that connects economic and environmental issues and implements shared-resource projects in Toronto. Ryan started his career working at KPMG, an international accounting firm, and moved to the health care industry for several years before founding IRBE. In his day-to-day life, Ryan aims to limit his participation in the growth economy, build community and advocate for a sustainable economic model. Ryan is a graduate of McGill University and serves on the Board of Wildlife Preservation Canada, a registered charity that addresses biodiversity issues.

Contact: Ryan’s email

Upstate South Carolina Chapter

Location: Simpsonville, South Carolina, United States

Director: Gerry Greaves

Gerry is a retired engineer with a BS in Civil Engineering from the University of Rhode Island who worked at Owens Corning, most recently in the Sustainability organization on building science. He focused on improving the energy efficiency of homes including zero-energy homes. This led to evaluations of the effects of efficiency improvements on climate change and the conclusion that while efficiency improvements can help significantly, they are not enough. A switch to renewable energy will be required. However, that’s not going to help fresh water or food issues, or other pollution and resource issues.  A steady state economy is required for that. In retirement, Gerry is working on the economics of low or no growth and is particularly concerned with unemployment, inequality, our ability to manage the stability of the economic/financial system in no growth scenarios. For more information see Gerry’s Website.

Contact:Gerry’s Email

 Vermont State Chapter

Location:  Burlington, Vermont, United States

Director:  Aaron Witham

Aaron is the sustainability coordinator of Green Mountain College in  Vermont. He holds an M.S. in Natural Resources from the University of  Vermont and a Graduate Certificate in Ecological Economics from the  Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. He was also a former research  scholar at the Transportation Research Center at UVM and the Managing  Director of the Center for Environmental Education in Maine. His  research interests include reforming the fractional reserve banking  system, promoting alternative economic indicators, and mitigating  climate change. As an avid hunter and fisherman, Aaron is also  interested in steady-state outreach among outdoor enthusiasts.

Contact:Aaron’s email

Vienna Chapter

Location:  Vienna, Austria

Director:  Graziano Ceddia

Graziano is an economist with a PhD in Environmental Economics and Management (Ebor, UK). He is Associate Professor in Sustainable Development at MODUL University (MU) Vienna, where he teaches ecological economics and where he also serves as president of the MU Sustainability Committee. He has worked on interdisciplinary topics looking at the interactions between environmental and socio-economic systems, including the management of invasive alien species and infectious diseases. More recently he has been working on the relationship between agricultural intensification and deforestation in tropical regions and looking into the existence of Jevons paradoxes in land use changes. His interest in ecological economics has come from his dissatisfaction with the way in which standard neoclassical theory deals with environmental issues. He firmly believes in the role of education and in the necessity of providing new generations with an alternative paradigm capable of explaining the current energetic, environmental and economic crisis.

Contact:Graziano’s email

Yorkshire Chapter

Location:  Leeds, UK

The Yorkshire Chapter of CASSE holds meetings and events on the third Wednesday of each month at the University of Leeds. All are welcome to attend. The chapter also has a Facebook page.

Co-Directors: Brian Flynn and Owen Brear

Brian Flynn is a retired teacher concerned about the inexorable and widespread desire “to have more”. This dichotomy between having and being has been a matter of personal interest and struggle over the long term. Attending the Steady State Economy Conference held at Leeds University was a revelation to him, in that there appeared to be a real alternative to the current unsustainable system. With this in mind, he agreed to co-direct the Yorkshire chapter.

Owen Brear is a graduate in Environment, Economics and Ecology from the University of York and is currently studying a PhD with Bangor University in the area of ‘well-being’ and investigating the multi-faceted nature of the Ancient Greek word “eudaimonia”. Owen is interested in the intersection of economic thought and eudaimonic well-being as presented within the field of positive psychology. He is also a keen birdwatcher.

Contact:Brian and Owen’s email

Zürich Chapter

Location:  Zürich, Switzerland

Director:  Michael Curran

Michael Curran is a part-time postgraduate researcher at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zürich. His research focuses on assessing the impact of agricultural production on biodiversity, specifically how the overconsumption of imported products in developed economies is driving biodiversity loss in the developing world. His research applies steady state and ecological economic principals to both characterize the problem, and propose solutions (e.g. a “conservation tax” on imported products). Since 2014, Michael has a position as project manager in a small Environmental Consultant in Trubschachen, in the Emmental (yes, where the cheese comes from!). His work there focuses on promoting regional sustainability and self-sufficiency, and in advocating postgrowth economics. He is involved in grass roots sustainability projects that engage individuals in community initiatives (e.g. a vibrant community garden at the ETH Zurich: Michael completed a PhD in environmental engineering at the ETH Zürich in 2013, a Master’s degree in spatial ecology at the University of Basel in 2009, and a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from University College Dublin in 2005.

Contact:Michael’s email

From a Failed Growth Economy to a Steady-State Economy

USSEE lecture, June 1, 2009
Herman E. Daly
School of Public Policy
University of Maryland

A steady-state economy is incompatible with continuous growth—either positive or negative growth. The goal of a steady state is to sustain a constant, sufficient stock of real wealth and people for a long time. A downward spiral of negative growth, a depression such as we are entering now, is a failed growth economy, not a steady-state economy. Halting an accelerating downward spiral is necessary, but is not the same thing as resuming continuous positive growth. The growth economy now fails in two ways: (1) positive growth becomes uneconomic in our full-world economy; (2) negative growth, resulting from the bursting of financial bubbles inflated beyond physical limits, though temporarily necessary, soon becomes self-destructive. That leaves a non-growing or steady-state economy as the only long run alternative. The level of physical wealth that the biosphere can sustain in a steady state may well be below the present level. The fact that recent efforts at growth have resulted mainly in bubbles suggests that this is so. Nevertheless, current policies all aim for the full re-establishment of the growth economy. No one denies that our problems would be easier to solve if we were richer. The question is, does growth any longer make us richer, or is it now making us poorer?

I will spend a few more minutes cursing the darkness of growth, but will then try to light ten little candles along the path to a steady state. Some advise me to forget the darkness and focus on the policy candles. But I find that without a dark background the light of my little candles is not visible in the false dawn projected by the economists, whose campaigning optimism never gives hope a chance to emerge from the shadows.

We have many problems (poverty, unemployment, environmental destruction, budget deficit, trade deficit, bailouts, bankruptcy, foreclosures, etc.), but apparently only one solution: economic growth, or as the pundits now like to say, “to grow the economy”-- as if it were a potted plant with healing leaves, like aloe vera or marijuana.

But let us stop right there and ask two questions that all students should put to their economics professors.

First, there is a deep theorem in mathematics that says when something grows it gets bigger! So, when the economy grows it too gets bigger. How big can the economy be, Professor? How big is it now? How big should it be? Have economists ever considered these questions? And most pointedly, what makes them think that growth (i.e., physical expansion of the economic subsystem into the finite containing biosphere), is not already increasing environmental and social costs faster than production benefits, thereby becoming uneconomic growth, making us poorer, not richer? After all, real GDP, the measure of “economic” growth so-called, does not separate costs from benefits, but conflates them as “economic” activity. How would we know when growth became uneconomic? Remedial and defensive activity becomes ever greater as we grow from an “empty-world” to a “full-world” economy, characterized by congestion, interference, displacement, depletion and pollution. The defensive expenditures induced by these negatives are all added to GDP, not subtracted. Be prepared, students, for some hand waving, throat clearing, and subject changing. But don’t be bluffed.

Second question; do you then, Professor, see growth as a continuing process, desirable in itself-- or as a temporary process required to reach a sufficient level of wealth which would thereafter be maintained more or less in a steady state? At least 99% of modern neoclassical economists hold the growth forever view. We have to go back to John Stuart Mill and the earlier Classical Economists to find serious treatment of the idea of a non-growing economy, the Stationary State. What makes modern economists so sure that the Classical Economists were wrong? Just dropping history of economic thought from the curriculum is not a refutation!

Here are some reasons to think that the Classical Economists are right.

A long run norm of continuous growth could make sense, only if one of the three following conditions were true:
(a) if the economy were not an open subsystem of a finite and non-growing biophysical system,
(b) if the economy were growing in a non physical dimension, or
(c) if the laws of thermodynamics did not hold.

Let us consider each of these three logical alternatives. (If you can think of a fourth one let me know.)

(a) Some economists in fact think of nature as the set of extractive subsectors of the economy (forests, fisheries, mines, wells, pastures, and even agriculture….). The economy, not the ecosystem or biosphere, is seen as the whole; nature is a collection of parts. If the economy is the whole then it is not a part of any larger thing or system that might restrain its expansion. If some extractive natural subsector gets scarce we will just substitute other sectors for it and growth of the whole economy will continue, not into any restraining biospheric envelope, but into sidereal space presumably full of resource-bearing asteroids and friendly highly-evolved aliens eager to teach us how to grow forever into their territory. Sources and sinks are considered infinite.

(b) Some economists say that what is growing in economic growth is value, and value is not reducible to physical units. The latter is true of course, but that does not mean that value is independent of physics! After all, value is price times quantity, and quantity is always basically physical. Even services are always the service of something or somebody for some time period, and people who render services have to eat. The value unit of GDP is not dollars, but dollar’s worth. A dollar’s worth of gasoline is a physical amount, currently about half a gallon. The aggregation of the dollar’s worth amounts of many different physical commodities (GDP) does not abolish the physicality of the measure even though the aggregate can no longer be expressed in physical units. True, $/q x q = $. But the fact that q cancels out mathematically does not mean that the aggregate measure, “dollars’ worth”, is just a pile of dollars. And it doesn’t help to speak instead of “value added” (by labor and capital) because we must ask, to what is the value added? And the answer is natural resources, low-entropy matter/energy—not fairy dust or frog’s hair! Development (squeezing more welfare from the same throughput of resources) is a good thing. Growth (pushing more resources through a physically larger economy) is the problem. Limiting quantitative growth is the way to force qualitative development.

(c) If resources could be created out of nothing, and wastes could be annihilated into nothing, then we could have an ever-growing resource throughput by which to fuel the continuous growth of the economy. But the first law of thermodynamics says NO. Or if we could just recycle the same matter and energy through the economy faster and faster we could keep growth going. The circular flow diagram of all economics principles texts unfortunately comes very close to affirming this. But the second law of thermodynamics says NO.

So—if we can’t grow our way out of all problems, then maybe we should reconsider the logic and virtues of non-growth, the steady-state economy. Why this refusal by neoclassical economists both to face common sense, and to reconsider the ideas of the early Classical Economists?

I think the answer is distressingly simple. Without growth the only way to cure poverty is by sharing. But redistribution is anathema. Without growth to push the hoped for demographic transition, the only way to cure overpopulation is by population control. A second anathema. Without growth the only way to increase funds to invest in environmental repair is by reducing current consumption. Anathema number three. Three anathemas and you are damned—go to hell!

And without growth how will we build up arsenals to protect democracy (and remaining petroleum reserves)? How will we go to Mars and Saturn and “conquer” space? Where can technical progress come from if not from unintended spin-offs from the military and from space research? Gnostic techno-fantasies of escaping earth to outer space, and of abolishing disease and death itself, feed on the perpetual growth myth of no limits. Digital-brained tekkies, who have never heard of the problem of evil, see heaven on earth (eternal growth) just around the corner. Without growth we must face the difficult religious task of finding a different god to worship. Too scary, we say, let’s try to grow some more instead! Let’s jump-start the GDP and the Dow-Jones! Let’s build another tower of Babel with obfuscating technical terms like sub-prime mortgage, derivative, securitized investment vehicle, collateralized debt obligation, credit default swap, “toxic” assets, and insider slang like the “dead cat bounce”. (If you drop it from a high enough tower of Babel even a dead cat will bounce enough to make some profit.)

Well, let us not do that. Let us ignore the anathemas and instead think about what policies would be required to move to a steady-state economy. They are a bit radical by present standards, but not as insanely unrealistic as any of the three alternatives for validating continuous growth, just discussed.

Let us look briefly at ten specific policy proposals for moving to a steady-state economy, i.e., an economy that maintains a constant metabolic flow of resources from depletion to pollution—a throughput that is within the assimilative and regenerative capacities of the ecosystem.

1. Cap-auction-trade systems for basic resources. Caps limit biophysical scale by quotas on depletion or pollution, whichever is more limiting. Auctioning the quotas captures scarcity rents for equitable redistribution. Trade allows efficient allocation to highest uses. This policy has the advantage of transparency. There is a limit to the amount and rate of depletion and pollution that the economy can be allowed to impose on the ecosystem. Caps are quotas, limits to the throughput of basic resources, especially fossil fuels. The quota usually should be applied at the input end because depletion is more spatially concentrated than pollution and hence easier to monitor. Also the higher price of basic resources will induce their more economical use at each upstream stage of production. It may be that the effective limit in use of a resource comes from the pollution it causes rather than from depletion—no matter, we indirectly limit pollution by restricting depletion of the resource that ultimately is converted into wastes. Limiting barrels, tons, and cubic feet of carbon fuels extracted will limit tons of CO2 emitted. This scale limit serves the goal of biophysical sustainability. Ownership of the quotas is initially public—the government auctions them to the individuals and firms. The revenues go to the treasury and are used to replace regressive taxes, such as the payroll tax, and to reduce income tax on the lowest incomes. Once purchased at auction the quotas can be freely bought and sold by third parties, just as can the resources whose rate of depletion they limit. The trading allows efficient allocation; the auction serves just distribution, and the cap serves the goal of sustainable scale. The same logic can be applied to limiting the off-take from fisheries and forests.

2. Ecological tax reform—shift tax base from value added (labor and capital) and on to “that to which value is added”, namely the entropic throughput of resources extracted from nature (depletion), and returned to nature (pollution). This internalizes external costs as well as raises revenue more equitably. It prices the scarce but previously un-priced contribution of nature. Value added is something we want to encourage, so stop taxing it. Depletion and pollution are things we want to discourage, so tax them. Ecological tax reform can be an alternative or a supplement to cap-auction-trade systems.

3. Limit the range of inequality in income distribution—a minimum income and a maximum income. Without aggregate growth poverty reduction requires redistribution. Complete equality is unfair; unlimited inequality is unfair. Seek fair limits to the range of inequality. The civil service, the military, and the university manage with a range of inequality of a factor of 15 or 20. Corporate America has a range of 500 or more. Many industrial nations are below 25. Could we not limit the range to, say, 100, and see how it works? People who have reached the limit could either work for nothing at the margin if they enjoy their work, or devote their extra time to hobbies or public service. The demand left unmet by those at the top will be filled by those who are below the maximum. A sense of community necessary for democracy is hard to maintain across the vast income differences current in the US. Rich and poor separated by a factor of 500 become almost different species. The main justification for such differences has been that they stimulate growth, which will one day make everyone rich. This may have had superficial plausibility in an empty world, but in our full world it is a fairy tale.

4. Free up the length of the working day, week, and year—allow greater option for part-time or personal work. Full-time external employment for all is hard to provide without growth. Other industrial countries have much longer vacations and maternity leaves than the US. For the Classical Economists the length of the working day was a key variable by which the worker (self-employed yeoman or artisan) balanced the marginal disutility of labor with the marginal utility of income and of leisure so as to maximize enjoyment of life. Under industrialism the length of the working day became a parameter rather than a variable (and for Karl Marx was the key determinant of the rate of exploitation). We need to make it more of a variable subject to choice by the worker. And we should stop biasing the labor–leisure choice by advertising to stimulate more consumption and more labor to pay for it. Advertising should no longer be treated as a tax deductible ordinary expense of production.

5. Re-regulate international commerce—move away from free trade, free capital mobility and globalization, adopt compensating tariffs to protect, not inefficient firms, but efficient national policies of cost internalization from standards-lowering competition. We cannot integrate with the global economy and at the same time have higher wages, environmental standards, and social safety nets than the rest of the world. Trade and capital mobility must be balanced and fair, not deregulated or “free”. Tariffs are also a good source of revenue that could substitute for other taxes.

6.Downgrade the IMF-WB-WTO to something like Keynes’ original plan for a multilateral payments clearing union, charging penalty rates on surplus as well as deficit balances—seek balance on current account, and thereby avoid large foreign debts and capital account transfers. For example, under Keynes’ plan the US would pay a penalty charge to the clearing union for its large deficit with the rest of the world, and China would also pay a similar penalty for its surplus. Both sides of the imbalance would be pressured to balance their current accounts by financial penalties, and if need be by exchange rate adjustments relative to the clearing account unit, called the bancor by Keynes. The bancor would serve as world reserve currency, a privilege that should not be enjoyed by any national currency. The IMF preaches free trade based on comparative advantage, and has done so for a long time. More recently the IMF-WB-WTO have started preaching the gospel of globalization, which, in addition to free trade, means free capital mobility internationally. The classical comparative advantage argument, however, explicitly assumes international capital immobility! When confronted with this contradiction the IMF waves its hands, suggests that you might be a xenophobe, and changes the subject. The IMF-WB-WTO contradict themselves in service to the interests of transnational corporations. International capital mobility, coupled with free trade, allows corporations to escape from national regulation in the public interest, playing one nation off against another. Since there is no global government they are in effect uncontrolled. The nearest thing we have to a global government (IMF-WB-WTO) has shown no interest in regulating transnational capital for the common good.

7. Move away from fractional reserve banking toward a system of 100% reserve requirements. This would put control of the money supply and seigniorage in hands of the government rather than private banks, which would no longer be able to create money out of nothing and lend it at interest. All quasi-bank financial institutions should be brought under this rule, regulated as commercial banks subject to 100% reserve requirements. Banks would earn their profit by financial intermediation only, lending savers’ money for them (charging a loan rate higher than the rate paid to savings account depositors) and providing checking, safekeeping, and other services. With 100% reserves every dollar loaned would be a dollar previously saved, re-establishing the classical balance between abstinence and investment. The government can pay its expenses by issuing more non interest-bearing fiat money to make up for the eliminated bank-created, interest-bearing money. However, it can only do this up to a strict limit imposed by inflation. If the government issues more money than the public wants to hold, the public will trade it for goods, driving the price level up. As soon as the price index begins to rise the government must print less and tax more. Thus a policy of maintaining a constant price index would govern the internal value of the dollar. The external value of the dollar could be left to freely fluctuating exchange rates (or preferably to the rate against the bancor in Keynes’ clearing union).

8. Stop treating the scarce as if it were non-scarce, but also stop treating the non-scarce as if it were scarce. Enclose the remaining commons of rival natural capital (e.g. atmosphere, electromagnetic spectrum, public lands) in public trusts, and price it by a cap-auction–trade system, or by taxes, while freeing from private enclosure and prices the non-rival commonwealth of knowledge and information. Knowledge, unlike throughput, is not divided in the sharing, but multiplied. Once knowledge exists, the opportunity cost of sharing it is zero and its allocative price should be zero. International development aid should more and more take the form of freely and actively shared knowledge, along with small grants, and less and less the form of large interest-bearing loans. Sharing knowledge costs little, does not create un-repayable debts, and it increases the productivity of the truly rival and scarce factors of production. Existing knowledge is the most important input to the production of new knowledge, and keeping it artificially scarce and expensive is perverse. Patent monopolies (aka “intellectual property rights”) should be given for fewer “inventions”, and for fewer years. Costs of production of new knowledge should, more and more, be publicly financed and then the knowledge freely shared.

9. Stabilize population. Work toward a balance in which births plus in- migrants equals deaths plus out-migrants. This is controversial and difficult, but as a start contraception should be made available for voluntary use everywhere. And while each nation can debate whether it should accept many or few immigrants, such a debate is rendered moot if immigration laws are not enforced. Support voluntary family planning, and enforcement of reasonable immigration laws, democratically enacted in spite of the cheap labor lobby.

10. Reform national accounts—separate GDP into a cost account and a benefits account. Compare them at the margin, stop throughput growth when marginal costs equal marginal benefits. In addition to this objective approach, recognize the importance of the subjective studies that show that, beyond a threshold, further GDP growth does not increase self-evaluated happiness. Beyond a level already reached in many countries GDP growth delivers no more happiness, but continues to generate depletion and pollution. At a minimum we must not just assume that GDP growth is “economic growth”, but prove it. And start by trying to refute the mountain of contrary evidence.

While these policies will appear radical to many, it is worth remembering that they are amenable to gradual application. One hundred percent reserves can be approached gradually, the range of distribution can be restricted gradually, caps can be adjusted gradually, etc. Also these measures are based on the conservative institutions of private property and decentralized market allocation. They simply recognize that private property loses its legitimacy if too unequally distributed, and that markets lose their legitimacy if prices do not tell the whole truth about opportunity costs. In addition, the macro-economy becomes an absurdity if its scale is structurally required to grow beyond the biophysical limits of the Earth. And well before reaching that radical physical limit we are encountering the conservative economic limit in which extra costs of growth become greater than the extra benefits, ushering in the era of uneconomic growth, so far unrecognized.

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