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The End of Economic Growth

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'The End of Growth' is a book by Richard Heinberg that is set for publication by New Society Publishers in July 2011.   What follows below is a synopsis and abridgment of Heinberg's introduction  to the book.   (If you want a PDF copy of the entire unedited introduction, click here.


The central assertion of this important book is both simple and startling:   Economic growth as we have known it is essentially over and done with.


The economic "growth" of the past consisted of the expansion of the overall size of the economy (with ever more people being served and ever more money changing hands).   It also had to do with the quantities of energy and material goods flowing through it.


The economic crisis that began in 2007-2008 was both foreseeable and inevitable, and it marks a permanent, fundamental break from past decades--a period during which most economists adopted the unrealistic view that perpetual economic growth is necessary and also possible to achieve.   But there are now fundamental barriers to ongoing economic expansion, and the modern world is increasingly colliding with those barriers.


This is not to say the U.S. or the world as a whole will never see another quarter or year of growth relative to the previous quarter or year.   However, when the bumps are averaged out, the general trend-line of the economy (measured in terms of production and consumption of real goods) will be level or downward rather than upward, from now on.


It will simply not be possible for any region, nation, or business to continue growing in any sustained way.   Whatever growth does take place, temporarily, will be achieved at the expense of other regions, nations, or businesses.   Another way to say this is that the global economy is now playing a zero-sum game with Mother Nature, in which an ever-shrinking pot will be divided up among the winners.


Why is economic growth ending?


Financial pundits point to profound problems internal to the economy--including overwhelming, un-repayable levels of public and private debt, and the bursting of the real estate bubble--as immediate threats to the resumption of economic growth.   Their assumption, however, is that eventually, once these problems are properly dealt with, growth can and will pick up again.   But the pundits fail to see factors external to the financial economy that make a resumption of conventional economic growth an impossibility.   In other words, this is not a temporary condition, it is permanent.


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Several years after receiving my M.A. in social science (interdisciplinary studies) I was an instructor at S.F. State University for a year, but then went back to designing automated machinery, and then tech writing, in Silicon Valley. I've (more...)

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