Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 12/2010

The Macroeconomics of Development without Throughput Growth

Jonathan M. Harris

September 2010

Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University


Serious discussion has begun of policies to promote the goal of increasing wellbeing without material growth. Moving towards this goal requires a profound reorientation of macroeconomic theory. Importantly, the call by ecological economists to move away from traditional growth-oriented models comes at a moment when standard macroeconomics is in considerable turmoil. The financial crisis of 2008/2009 seriously undermined the basis for mainstream macroeconomics and brought renewed attention to various forms of Keynesian analysis and policy previously regarded as outdated. There is a close complementarity between new Keynesian and ecological perspectives. While older Keynesian analysis was oriented towards promoting growth, a true Keynesian analysis of the relationship between investment and consumption does not depend on a growth orientation. What this analysis has in common with an ecological perspective is the rejection of market optimality assumed in classical models. Moving away from the neoclassical goal of inter-temporal utility maximization allows for different, pluralistic economic goals: full employment, provision of basic needs, social and infrastructure investment, and income equity. These goals are compatible with environmental preservation and resource sustainability, whereas indefinite growth is not. But they require a revitalization of the sphere of social investment, seriously neglected (indeed often omitted completely) in standard models.