I will review “Red Sky at Morning” in an upcoming issue of C&EN. Here, I want to take up one issue that Speth returns to repeatedly in his book: For our global economy to become a sustainable economy will require a fundamental shift in the economic paradigm that governs human activity today. Specifically, Speth argues, sustainability requires that we abandon the notion of endless economic expansion as the sine qua non of a successful society.
In the final chapter of “Red Sky at Morning,” Speth writes: “Imagine a group of countries where citizens rank at the top among today’s countries in terms of purchasing power, health, longevity, and educational attainment; where income inequality between the top and the bottom of society is low and poverty virtually eliminated; and where fertility rates are at replacement levels or below, and the challenge is not unemployment but deploying innovative technologies to remain competitive and increase the productivity of a shrinking labor force. Should these countries not declare victory on the economic growth front and concentrate on protecting current standards of living ... and on enjoying the nonmaterial things that peace, economic security, freedom, and environmental quality make possible? Can a country make a decision that enough is enough?”I'm no economist, but it seems to me that we've just lived through a period of non-"endless economic expansion" and it wasn't very pleasant at all, especially for most non-wealthy folks. If there is a society (Japan?) that has experienced flat growth for many decades, I assert that they are different enough from America (from top to bottom) that a viable comparison is more-or-less meaningless.
Readers, what do you think? Is there a better measurement of "how things are going" than GDP growth?
*Seems to me that maybe there are voices in the ACS that could have competed for this space, but hey, I'm talking about the subject, so maybe not.