Time Essay: Can the World Survive Economic Growth?

IN biology, growth is a distinguishing mark of life; in economics it has long seemed the sine qua non of the good life. Adam Smith argued in 1776 that "it is not the actual greatness of national wealth, but its continual increase, which occasions a rise in the wages of labor." Economists ever since have insisted that only a rapid increase in output could lift mankind out of poverty. Politicians of every ideology have dedicated themselves to raising production, to the applause of their constituents.

Now, however, many scientists and social reformers have begun to regard perpetual economic growth as malignant. Their...

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