Good Economic Growth vs. No Economic Growth

So, most people have noticed that the “recession,” is not so fickle.  As we clumsily and painfully coast through year four of this economic debacle, some are claiming that we are in a depression, while others are simply stating that this is the double dipper.  The reality is, times are tough. I haven’t done any tests  in accordance with the scientific process, but lots of people are feeling uncertain about their future in this country. And the two main elements of the American dream, our populist identity–owning a house and having a stable job–seem like a distant and unattainable reality for many people.  And yet, we still track economic progress through these very indicators: housing starts and unemployment.

What prompted me to write this post was some reading I was doing on Colorado’s impressive growth in the renewable energy sector. The cleantech industry has grown by 32.7% in 2010, which was three times the national average. Nearly 20,000 people are employed by 1,600 companies. So, clearly the outlook in Colorado is pretty good for those in this budding industry.  But as I read this article, I got pulled into another post about the slight shift to mainstreaming the concept of a no-growth economy. It would in effect, be a stable, stagnant economy; concepts which are currently anathema to free market capitalism as we know it.  Without going too deep into this new macro-economic model (which is outlined in Prosperity Without Growth), George Monbiot’s explains in his article, that its not too much different than our current system, “people will still spend and save, companies will still produce goods and services, governments will still raise taxes and spend money.” But he also does mention restrictions on advertising and more government intervention, two ideas that might not float that well in this here democracy.

But back to what prompted me to write this blog entry: I couldn’t help but think about how these two ideas relate to each other. In a no-growth economy, is there still room for growth in the renewable energy sector? Would it just take the place of the existing carbon-based energy economy? Or does the growth in the renewables sector simply enable continuous, conspicuous, consumption? And how does any of this alleviate the growing (or non-growing) pains we may experience as the eternal promise of the free market dissipates?

I have a lot of questions. Maybe you do too?  Clearly I am not a trained economist. Just an eternal optimist. Curious as to how we are going to recreate something out of the bubble that finally burst.

(image above: word cloud from Obama’s recovery and reinvestment speech in 2009. Courtesy of McNitt)




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