Working group on growth imperatives

The scientific debate about sustainability is still controversial regarding the existence of so called “growth imperatives”. While many authors argue that the fixation on growth is mainly a question of mentality, others suspect that a structural growth imperative exist. They describe its causes with different approaches, disputed for their plausibility. The goal of this working group is to provide a complete and detailed overview of the current state of research, and to categorize and to evaluate the explanations.

Contact persons: Oliver Richters and Andreas Siemoneit.

 

Results

Oliver Richters, Andreas Siemoneit: Growth imperatives: Substantiating a contested concept (Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, 2019):
Economic growth remains a prominent political goal, despite its conflicts with ecological sustainability. Are growth policies only a question of political or individual will, or do ‘growth imperatives’ make them inescapable? We structure the debate along two dimensions: (a) degree of coerciveness between free will and coercion, and (b) agents affected. With carefully derived micro level definitions of ‘social coercion’ and ‘growth imperative’, we discuss several mechanisms suspected to make growth necessary for firms, households, and nation states. We identify technological innovations as a systematic necessity to net invest, trapping firms and households in a positive feedback loop to increase efficiency. Resource-intensive technology is economically attractive because of a subtle violation of the meritocratic principle of justice. The resulting dilemma between ‘technological unemployment’ and the social necessity of high employment explains why states ‘must’ foster economic growth. Politically, we suggest to institutionally limit resource consumption and redistribute economic rents.
Andreas Siemoneit: An offer you can’t refuse – Enhancing personal productivity through ‘efficiency consumption’ (Technology in Society, 59, 101181, 2019; ZOE Discussion Paper 2):
Worldwide, economic growth is a prominent political goal, despite its severe conflicts with ecological sustainability. Contributing to the debate on economic ‘growth imperatives’, this article explores the thesis that both firms and consumers frequently acquire goods that increase their efficiency (productivity). For firms, efficiency is accepted as a main investment motive, but for consumers it is usually framed as convenience, ease, or comfort. Via social diffusion processes consumer goods that can save time and costs are transformed from a welcome expansion of possibilities into a social imperative whose noncompliance over time also has economic drawbacks. Positive feedback mechanisms not only lead to an acceleration of private life but favor ever more efficient industry and trade structures on the supply side, contributing to a redistribution of incomes and revenues. Eventually, a comprehensive consumption pattern leads to a new ‘normality’ and makes the renunciation of consumer goods like cars, computers or smartphones virtually impossible. Both microeconomics and consumption sociology generally assume fundamental differences in the motivations, goals and overall structural conditions of firms and consumers. Some reasons for this scholarly asymmetry are discussed and a more symmetrical consumption model is proposed.
Oliver Richters, Andreas Siemoneit: Consistency and Stability Analysis of Models of a Monetary Growth Imperative (Ecological Economics 126, June 2017, p. 114–125; Preprint as VÖÖ Discussion Paper 1):
Economic growth remains a prominent political goal, despite its conflicts with ecological sustainability. Are growth policies only a question of political or individual will, or do ‘growth imperatives’ make them inescapable? We structure the debate along two dimensions: (a) degree of coerciveness between free will and coercion, and (b) agents affected. With carefully derived micro level definitions of ‘social coercion’ and ‘growth imperative’, we discuss several mechanisms suspected to make growth necessary for firms, households, and nation states. We identify technological innovations as a systematic necessity to net invest, trapping firms and households in a positive feedback loop to increase efficiency. Resource-intensive technology is economically attractive because of a subtle violation of the meritocratic principle of justice. The resulting dilemma between ‘technological unemployment’ and the social necessity of high employment explains why states ‘must’ foster economic growth. Politically, we suggest to institutionally limit resource consumption and redistribute economic rents.

Workshops:

English publications