Saturday, November 30, 2013

The End of Endless Growth?

In my assigned role as the (anti) Thomas Robert Bannister (Malthus), I thought I would return to the blog after a far-too-long hiatus with this post to share recent work. Note that this work is the other main area of research beyond my dissertation interest of the role of energy revolutions in economic history. I'll return to that one given recent posts here, but for now:

This work asks many questions, the fundamental one being do we really need to radically change behaviours to attain zero growth, or, what do we really mean by zero growth?

The conditional answer is that our world can achieve zero total growth (in the expected lifetimes of some of us) while still having per-capita GDP growth. The key, wearing my anti-Malthus hat, is population-conditional. To introduce the topic, here is a figure from my model that shows GDP levels peak at about 2080. I think that is a very radical outcome, with many implications. It is based on several forecasts, including the current UN low population forecast.

The only other forecast I'll mention for now is that the per-capita real GDP increases through the forecast period. The second-largest caveat is the large forecast error bands; I'll simply note that at least I show them. Most climate models (of which this is a member) eschew error estimates. I can do so because I use empirical forecasting methods.

So, peak GDP levels in 2080 with continuing real per-capita output growth (forever). A surprising result certainly to me. The largest caveat in this method is the population curve you believe we are on. I'll discuss that in a future post. For now, just enjoy that a (credible?) model exists that allows the zero-gowth crowd and the lift-the-poor crowd to coexist on the same model path.

I will monitor questions. This will be my EEA talk; just a heads-up for those who wish to stockpile (potatoes and other) ammunition.


  1. Thanks for the post. It's been a while. I'm a bit against the zero growth argument as you know. Thought it might be good to link to my post on that here

  2. As I am, Matias, which is why the model, in this parameterization, is so radical! Other parameterizations are less sanguine, and I'll continue to post on those. This method should keep us intensely focused on our policy choices range and leverage.

    1. I really like this model Steve. I am still struck by the fact that we will still have to make some hard choices regarding climate change long before we get a zero growth rate to avoid tipping points. But at least if this model is correct those hard choices might be somewhat 'temporary'.

    2. An article worth taking a look at is "The Limits to Entropy: Continuing Misuse
      of Thermodynamics in Environmental and Marxist Theory" by David Schwartzman

  3. Zero-growth fanatics conflate the genus and species of capitalism, fetishize the dynamics resource extraction, and distortedly interpret the second law of thermodynamics within a closed-system physical framework. In addition, their persistent reference to Jevon's paradox is nonsensical as they ignore the fact that the model has to do with effects of INCOME, NOT SUBSTITUTION. Yes, there is a relationship between economic growth, population growth, and growth in surplus value, however, the penetrating research question has more to do with matters of conscious collective planning with respect to the organization of production, with specific attention to ecological constraints and macroeconomic implications. Until this is considerably accomplished with the provision of real-world solutions, those in the no-growth camp are going to plagued by the same problems that encumbered the former New Left, that is, alienation from working-class people, & material detachment stemming from the foolishness of Kantian idealism.

  4. The primary method of research by no-growth folks is the so-called STIRPAT -; mind you, their estimates of population size and degree of affluence are limiting from both a theoretical and empirical sense - the reasons I will leave Mr. Bannister to elucidate in his next post.


IMF Programs: Past and Present

A roundtable with Daniela Gabor, Roberto Lampa and Pablo Bortz, on the IMF and its Programs this Thursday in Buenos Aires, organized by ...