The Growth Dilemma

The Growth Dilemma, by Joel Kotkin.

Until just a few years ago, the need for economic growth to sustain societies was almost universally acknowledged. This was not just gospel on the free-market Right. Whatever its failings, 20th century socialism was growth-oriented and espoused the notion, however poorly realized, that greater material progress was critical to expanding working-class wealth.

Now political leaders in France, Iceland, as well as the European Commission increasingly believe, along with influential economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, that growing the economic pie should be supplanted by such goals as better health care, less inequality, and fighting climate change.

Roll back the enlightenment and the miracle of the industrial revolution, in the name of progress:

Many, particularly on the environmental Left, go even further and advocate “de-growth,” essentially urging societies to consciously reduce their economic wealth. This agenda requires that energy, housing, food, and other consumption costs steadily increase, or be legally prohibited, so that ordinary people will be unable to eat meat regularly, use more energy, live in larger spaces, and travel freely. There’s even a quaint notion that we need to return to a more primitive state of existence, essentially cancelling out the progress of the last few centuries. America’s Green Party, for example, would seek to limit long-distance trade entirely in favor of a feudal economy that is “largely self-sufficient in the production of its necessities.” …

Now, rather than seek to outperform the somewhat more robust economy and modest uptick in blue collar jobs under President Trump, progressives focus mostly on identity issues, environmental piety, and income redistribution. …

Some zealots on the Left, such as the Guardian’s George Monbiot, openly welcome economic decline and believe that recessions will reduce carbon emissions, even if it causes people to lose their jobs and homes. Monbiot and many other climatistas offer only a degraded quality of life, including rationing of virtually everything and calls for restrictions on having children due to their “carbon legacy.” …

Some scientists suggest the world must eliminate hot dogs in favor of “maggot sausages” and even recommend that we consider recycling ourselves by embracing the finer points of cannibalism. Since such measures may prove unpopular, environmentalists increasingly seek to construct a global “technocracy” to preempt popular control and ensure that only experts will design and implement policies for hoi polloi.

They used to do this in the middle ages too

Support for draconian anti-growth policies remains remarkably strong at the top of the global elite. Non-profit foundations — depositories for the wealth of old money, including the fossil fueled fortunes of the Fords and Rockefellers — have become leading advocates for radical climate policies. The biggest backers of California’s draconian climate change laws include not just ragged tree-huggers, but many of the state’s biggest hedge funds, venture capitalists, tech firm CEOs, and their fortunate heirs. The marriage of old capitalist money with Left green policies has been called “the new face of the environmental movement.” …

The elois and the morlocks emerge:

The abandonment of growth as a goal reflects progressives’ increasing lack of interest in, if not disdain for, the aspirations of the working- or middle-classes. Obama’s Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has admitted that Democrats have little interest in the middle echelons, preferring to serve a “coalition of cosmopolitan elite and diversity.” Under Obama, Summers’s “elite” did well even with painfully slow income growth, as assets like urban real estate and tech stocks rose, sometimes dramatically, while share of the country’s wealth going to workers continued to decline. …

Without economic growth, and the opportunity for people to rise up the class ladder, we will devolve, as Tocqueville warned, towards a class structure more favorable to “aristocracy” and authoritarian rule. …

No thanks:

As the new green Left pushes policies that can only harm, not improve standards of living for all but the wealthy, climate change advocacy has emerged as a flashpoint for political rebellion. In the 2019 elections held in Australia, a country dependent on fossil fuel and mineral exports, the sometimes-over-the-top antics of the environmentalist Get Up group was widely credited with moving voters away from the progressive party and towards the conservatives. Middle- and working-class revolt against green zealotry has helped to spur political change in the U.S., Britain, and Germany.

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