Shrink the economy, save the world?

The philosopher and champion of degrowth Kohei Saito at a farm where he volunteers in Kanagawa, Japan, March 15, 2023. Economic growth has been ecologically costly — and so a movement in favor of 'degrowth' is growing. [Shiho Fukada/The New York Times]

A rising tide and a bigger pie: Economic growth has long been considered such an obvious boon that it's pursued by governments across the world as a matter of course. But in 2016, when a London professor warned an audience in Newcastle that Brexit would lead to a precipitous drop in Britain's gross domestic product, that well-worn measure of economic activity, one woman's heckling caught him by surprise. "That's your bloody GDP," she shouted, "not ours!"

The eruption tapped into a suspicion supported by reality: Gains in economic growth have too often buoyed the fortunes of the richest instead of lifting all boats. Prosperity even in the most prosperous countries hasn't been shared. But all the attention to inequality is just a crack in the edifice of economic orthodoxy. Now, a much more radical proposition has emerged, looming like a wrecking ball: Is economic growth...

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