Growth, GDP, and Faith

This Pioneering Economist Says Our Obsession With Growth Must End,” NYT. Portions are (or much) taken from David Marchese’s interview with Herman Daly in 2022. Economist Herman Daly passed on, October 28 in Richmond, Virginia. at the age of 84.

What made Herman Daly unique was his embracing of “the counterintuitive possibility our current pursuit of growth, rabid as it is causing such great ecological harm. In turn, the pursuit might be incurring more costs than gains. ” 

AB: I altered the Daly statement slightly to impose a statement rather than the question Economist Daly poses. Other’s opinion may differ.

Daly posits the prioritization of growth ultimately being a losing game. A position the economist Herman Daly has been exploring for more than 50 years. In so doing, he develops the countering arguments in support of a steady-state economy. An economy forgoing the insatiable and environmentally destructive hunger for growth and recognizes the physical limitations of our planet. Instead, Daly promoted and sought a sustainable economic and ecological equilibrium. Economist emeritus Daly:

“Growth is an idol of our present system.”

This may sound familiar to readers. It should be even if one reads the snippets of information posed by commercial newscasting which would include the NYT. The statement parallels what one would hear from such advocates as Greta Thunberg and Edward Snowden. The statement comes well before such became popular.

“Every politician is in favor of growth, and no one speaks against growth or in favor of steady state or leveling off. But I think it’s an elementary question to ask: Does growth ever become uneconomic?”


There’s an obvious logic to your fundamental argument in favor of a steady-state economy.

One in which the population and the stock of capital no longer grow but, as John Stuart Mill has put it, “the art of living would continue to improve.” which is that the economy, like everything else on the planet, is subject to physical limitations and the laws of thermodynamics and as such can’t be expected to grow forever. What’s less obvious is how our society would function in a world where the economic pie stops growing. 

I’ve (Daly) seen people like Peter Thiel, for example, say that without growth we would ultimately descend into violence. Speaking on the Portal podcast in 2019, the billionaire tech investor and libertarian-leaning conservative power broker said,

“But I think a world without growth is either going to be a much more violent or a much more deformed world. . . . Without growth, I think it’s very hard to see how you have a good future.” 

To me (Daly) that suggests a fairly limited and grim view of human possibility. Is your view of human nature and our willingness to peacefully share the pie just more hopeful than his? 

First, I’m not against growth of wealth. I think it’s better to be richer than to be poorer. The question is, Does growth, as currently practiced and measured, really increase wealth? Is it making us richer in any aggregate sense, or might it be increasing costs faster than benefits and making us poorer? Mainstream economists don’t have any answer to that.

The reason they don’t have any answer to that is that they don’t measure costs. They only measure benefits. That’s what G.D.P. is.

This Pioneering Economist Says Our Obsession With Growth Must End,” The New York Times, (, David Marchese