How could the world economy continue to grow?

Can the economy grow forever?

Full shelves in the supermarket, the latest medicines and one more vacation trip than last year: all of this ensures a high gross domestic product (GDP). GDP indicates the value of all goods and services that are produced in a country within a year. In most countries it is considered an indicator of prosperity and development. If more was produced and sold than in the previous year, the gross domestic product also rises and one speaks of economic growth.

Not all growth is the same as prosperity

However, the calculation of GDP does not take into account possible damage, such as wildfires or environmental pollution, which arise from the extraction of raw materials or the production and transport of goods. And the production of food is included as well as the manufacture of weapons. Economic growth can also go hand in hand with an increase in social inequality: Then the wealth of a country is distributed among a few. All of these are reasons to critically question the current growth model, says the Ecuadorian economist and former energy minister Alberto Acosta. Economic growth is not just development: "Every form of growth has a social and an ecological history. There are good forms of growth and bad forms of growth," he says.

Aiming higher and higher: Economic growth is seen as proof of successful development

The industrialized countries would follow a logic of growth for the sake of growth that is not based on the actual needs of their own people and is at the expense of the developing countries. He therefore calls for growth to be slowed down.

A life beyond the means

The demand for less growth is still a taboo in traditional economic circles and in economic policy, says Petra Pinzler, the author of the book "More and more is not enough. From growth mania to gross social happiness". She shares the view of many critics: "Traditional economists assume an almost eternal growth that continues indefinitely." But natural raw materials, the author makes clear, are limited.

Economic growth can also be achieved by expanding the service industry. However, this sector also includes highly speculative financial transactions, the author points out. She calls for no longer equating prosperity with material wealth and refers to the results of happiness research. According to this, there is a connection between well-being and economic growth only in very poor countries, while beyond a certain level of wealth, well-being cannot be increased indefinitely: three cars don't make you three times as happy as one car.

Growth doesn't necessarily create satisfaction

Population growth and higher incomes

Günter Schmidt, on the other hand, asks himself whether the industrialized countries are actually saturated and whether there is scope for growth to slow down. He works as an expert on natural resources for the World Bank, among others, and points out that a lack of growth in Greece has just led to a drastic decline in prosperity and well-being. Schmidt assumes that growth is an inevitable fact: "In a few years we will be nine billion people on earth. In addition, incomes are rising in all countries, especially in emerging countries like India and China." This will inevitably result in a greater demand for various goods and products, not just for food.

In addition, people are naturally creative, develop new technologies or save money that flows into research and development via bank loans - all of this generates growth, according to the expert. In global competition, the question arises pragmatically as to which authority should prescribe countries to grow less, Schmitz points out.

Demand for regulation of the markets

In emerging countries like Brazil, a congregational middle class has emerged

At least representatives of the developing countries are calling on politicians to set limits on the world economy. A suggestion: The gross national product should be replaced by other measures or its calculation should be supplemented by factors such as environmental degradation. This would take the pressure off governments to promote growth for its own sake. In addition, the overexploitation of nature should be punished more severely. They view the approach that is at the top of the agenda of the Rio-plus-20 conference with skepticism: the so-called "green economy", which should ensure socially and ecologically sustainable growth. This then - so the fear - the environment itself becomes a commodity that is traded on the stock exchange.