Why do we want economic growth? If the material implications of continually expanding our economic base present so many environmental problems, why can we not simply stop the industrial train and get off? Surely, we in the developed nations have enough material wealth now? What is to be gained from pursuing economic growth any further?
There are really two main arguments for economic growth. First, the economic system that has been developed needs growth in order to ensure its own economic stability. Second, economic growth in the country is associated (in principle at least) with increased welfare in the population.
Each of these reasons would (if valid) be sufficient to ensure that the paradigm of economic growth were highly regarded—by economists, by politicians and by the nation at large. Together they have made that paradigm more or less unassailable. Despite a vast wealth of critical literature dating back to the industrial revolution itself,1 the doctrine of economic growth is really one of the mainstays of the industrial economy. One need only pick up a newspaper, turn on the television or listen to the radio to witness the continuous preoccupation of industry, commerce and government with trends in the level of economic output. For these reasons, if for no other, it is important to understand the arguments for economic growth. By understanding them, perhaps we can get beyond them.
The second of these arguments is examined in more detail in the final chapter of the book. In this chapter, my primary concern is to address the first argument, the argument from stability. I have already remarked briefly on the relationship between employment and economic growth. Let us now pursue that relationship a little further.
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