Posted by: Mike Grenville | 29 April 2009

Jumpstarting the Transition to a Better Economy

In the quest for economic growth, the nations of the world are locked in a tragic competition for the planet’s remaining natural capital. Rob Dietz from the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy proposes the steady state economy as a desirable alternative to continued growth.

The evidence continues to mount. The way we run the economy around the world is damaging the life-support systems of the planet. We are treading water in a sea of profound environmental problems (like climate disruption, species extinctions, and deforestation to name a few). At the same time, our financial systems have entered a crisis mode in the midst of increasing unemployment and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots. In the quest for economic growth, the nations of the world are locked in a tragic competition for the planet’s remaining natural capital. If economic growth is the best way to manage our affairs, then why should I be worried about global warming and losing my job at the same time?

The grow-at-all-costs mindset is at fault. It is time to examine the irrational assumptions behind this mindset and get busy changing it to fit the realities of the natural world. The modifier “grow-at-all-costs” is perfectly applicable. Nations have an acute unwillingness to explore the costs of growth. Economic growth is simply an increase in the production and consumption of goods and services, and is indicated by increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP). GDP, therefore, has become the standard measure of economic progress, even though it was only intended as an accounting tool. Prompted by banks, governmental organizations, and the media, citizens generally applaud increases in GDP. The problem with GDP is that it doesn’t separate costs from benefits. It simply adds them together under the heading of economic activity. Even if the costs of growth outweigh the benefits, as the evidence suggests, we still pursue it.

The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) takes a different position. The CASSE position, a document that can be signed by individuals and endorsed by organizations, recognizes the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. It proposes the steady state economy, characterized by stable population and per capita consumption, as a desirable alternative to continued growth.

Many leading sustainability thinkers have signed this position, including David Suzuki, Vandana Shiva, David Orr, Bill McKibben, Herman Daly, Caroline Lucas, Gus Speth, and Wendell Berry. Dozens of organizations have endorsed the position, and it has been used as a model for professional scientific societies to adopt their own positions on economic growth. The point is to develop a critical mass of support behind the idea of prosperous, yet non-growing economy – a truly sustainable and green economy. Without this critical mass, politicians will remain stuck in the old paradigm of growth that continues to erode the foundation of life-support systems on the planet.

To find evidence that our leaders are mired in the old paradigm, we need look no further than the bank bailouts. Stimulus spending to get the economy growing is not the change we need. We can certainly strive for growth in some industries, such as solar energy, but it must be accompanied by declines in others, such as fossil fuel energy. As we sift through the rubble of our collapsed financial institutions, we shouldn’t be looking at how to rebuild them into the same old apparatus of growth. It’s the incessant growth, mostly in the form of speculative bubbles, that caused the collapse in the first place.

Many policy changes can help us establish financial systems and an economy that are sustainable. But the chances of enacting them are miniscule until we can demonstrate that a broad base of the electorate recognizes that perpetual exponential economic growth is not the path to prosperity. Simply put, society has to demand the change before it can occur. We need to take a position on economic growth and promote the concept of the steady state economy on the streets of our communities, in the halls of our governments, and in the corridors of our businesses. With enough voices, we can jumpstart the transition to a better economy.

Please sign the CASSE position on economic growth to voice support for a prosperous, yet non-growing economy.

Robert Dietz,

Executive Director

Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy

The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) is a U.S. nonprofit organization, and our mission is to advance the steady state economy, with stabilized population and consumption, as a policy goal with widespread public support.



  1. ..’. With enough voices, we can jumpstart the transition to a better economy.” I am agreement with the position of CASSE, as one of managed consumption and an environmentally sound government. President Obama is taking a step in the right direction, by his proposal of turning former “blue collar” jobs into “green jobs” but there is still much work to be done. Major social change may come from the ground up, but still requires some support from within the current system itself.

    The environmental movements efforts to have a broad reach have clearly not been pervasive enough. How can we reach beyond the “green bubble?” One solution is to engender change using the power of workplace communities. When we have business leaders changing the way our economy runs, this will lead to a much wider impact. One attempt I’ve involved in trying to reach out to this audience is the University of Vermont’s Institute for Global Sustainabily (

  2. The biggest obstacle we face in changing attitudes toward overpopulation is economists. Since the field of economics was branded “the dismal science” after Malthus’ theory, economists have been adamant that they would never again consider the subject of overpopulation and continue to insist that man is ingenious enough to overcome any obstacle to further growth. This is why world leaders continue to ignore population growth in the face of mounting challenges like peak oil, global warming and a whole host of other environmental and resource issues. They believe we’ll always find technological solutions that allow more growth.

    But because they are blind to population growth, there’s one obstacle they haven’t considered: the finiteness of space available on earth. The very act of using space more efficiently creates a problem for which there is no solution: it inevitably begins to drive down per capita consumption and, consequently, per capita employment, leading to rising unemployment and poverty.

    If you‘re interested in learning more about this important new economic theory, then I invite you to visit either of my web sites at or where you can read the preface, join in the blog discussion and, of course, buy the book if you like.

    Please forgive the somewhat spammish nature of the previous paragraph, but I don’t know how else to inject this new theory into the debate about overpopulation without drawing attention to the book that explains the theory.

    Pete Murphy
    Author, “Five Short Blasts”

  3. While a steady-state economy is a pleasing aspiration, and may in some distant generation even become an option, surely it is patently impractical at present ?

    We face intensifying climate destabilization (even with promt & severe mitigation measures) for several decades to come as pollution-to-date gradually impacts the ecosphere.
    That destabilization means that we shall face novel scales of famine, and also of loss of investor confidence – meaning that we shall struggle just to survive, as the economy declines from its current unsustainable rate of thruput.

    If we don’t wish to be blamed for that decline by our opposion to economic growth, hadn’t we better be honest about where society stands ?



  4. The Australian government is currently undertaking a “root and branch” review of its taxation system, and has invited public submissions.

    Unfortunately, I am unfamiliar with Steady State economics, so I call on those in the know to prepare a submission to help get us out of this mess.

  5. The Government’s independent watchdog on sustainable development has just published:
    ‘Prosperity without Growth? – The transition to a sustainable economy’

    You can read a review here:

    and download a PDF copy here:

  6. […] Jumpstarting the Transition to a Better Economy « Transition Network News a few seconds ago from seesmic […]

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