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Goodbye 'Shop Til You Drop' Mentality: Renegade Band of Economists Call for 'Degrowth' Economy

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Organic Transitions page.
In this country, shopping is not just a national pastime. Consumer spending, which makes up about 70 percent of the economy, is a sort of patriotic duty -- never more so than in the last four years of economic malaise. 

So news from the National Retail Federation that the country is on track for a record-breaking holiday shopping season -- $469.1 billion in sales, up 3.8 percent from last year -- could only be a good thing, right?

But what if all roads to prosperity don't lead to the shopping mall, as most economists would have us believe? What if, in fact, all that shopping -- and the imperative to grow corporate profits quarter after quarter and continuously expand the economy -- was actually the root of many of the problems we face today? 

That's the view of a renegade but increasingly influential band of economists, who say the myth of perpetual economic growth and "the iron cage of consumerism" are the chief causes of world economic dysfunction and environmental crisis -- and the biggest obstacle to our very happiness. 

"Overwhelmingly, growth is seen as the solution to all problems, but growth is failing," says Herman Daly, a former World Bank economist who is also known as the father of "ecological economics," an offshoot of the same field that spawned Adam Smith three centuries ago but challenges many of the assumptions that classical economists hold dear. 

While the term may seem like an oxymoron to some, ecological economics places the economy inside the larger "ecosphere" that supports all life on Earth, rather than seeing the economy and job creation in direct opposition to environmental protection. That's an idea that has gained ground in recent years as businesses have become increasingly compromised by water and raw material scarcity, extreme weather, crop failures and other problems linked to global warming and environmental degradation. 


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