Until just a few years ago, the need for economic growth to sustain societies was almost universally acknowledged. This was not just gospel on the free-market Right. Whatever its failings, 20th century socialism was growth-oriented and espoused the notion, however poorly realized, that greater material progress was critical to expanding working-class wealth.
Now political leaders in France, Iceland, as well as the European Commission increasingly believe, along with influential economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, that growing the economic pie should be supplanted by such goals as better health care, less inequality, and fighting climate change.
Many, particularly on the environmental Left, go even further and advocate “de-growth,” essentially urging societies to consciously reduce their economic wealth. This agenda requires that energy, housing, food, and other consumption costs steadily increase, or be legally prohibited, so that ordinary people will be unable to eat meat regularly, use more energy, live in larger spaces, and travel freely. There’s even a quaint notion that we need to return to a more primitive state of existence, essentially cancelling out the progress of the last few centuries. America’s Green Party, for example, would seek to limit long-distance trade entirely in favor of a feudal economy that is “largely self-sufficient in the production of its necessities.”
Even in the United States, where growth has long been an unquestioned priority, virtually none of the leading Democratic candidates for President even mentions the word.