Imagine yourself a committed liberal Democrat. In 2008 -- after eight years of a presidency you regarded as plucked from the darker recesses of Dante's mind -- you get a man who is the seeming embodiment of everything that is Good and True in American liberalism elected to the White House. Then, four years later, that very same man has, by any reasonable estimation, utterly failed to repair a tattered economy. What do you do?
Well, if you're Mother Jones' Clive Thompson, you set pen to paper to write one of the most barkingly mad pieces ever beheld by the human eye -- one that proposes the idea that the nation should actually be aspiring towards an economy with no growth. And, before the laudanum wears off, you seriously entertain writing passages like these:
...To move away from growth, we'll all have to work a lot less...Handled correctly, this could bring about an explosion of free time that could utterly transform the way we live, no-growth economists say. It could lead to a renaissance in the arts and sciences, as well as a reconnection with the natural world. Parents with lighter workloads could home-school their children if they liked, or look after sick relatives—dramatically reshaping the landscape of education and elder care.
The no-growthers argue that a world with fewer yawning inequities between the rich and poor would be more stable; but quite apart from that, their models require stabilizing world population, and raising the economic lot of the poor is a proven way to do that.
Given the shift in wealth needed to accomplish this, Americans would need to turn back the clock to well before 1983; in fact, we'd be pretty lucky even to find ourselves where we were in 1960—when the median family made $35,994 in today's dollars (versus $61,932 in 2008).
I can't help but think that income reduction on that scale might get in the way of all those leisurely family afternoons handcrafting ceramics and doing recreational work on string theory. Not that that's the only problem at work here:
The vexing reality is that the no-growth thinkers simply don't know how things would shake out. We don't have any realistic examples to learn from, after all. In the past, the only no-growth societies were agrarian or consisted of hunter-gatherers.
So no one's ever experimented with your theory besides man in his most primitive social form (who wasn't exactly doing it voluntarily). Think there's a message there?
But for a breezy wave-off, no passage rivals this one:
There are other aspects of no-growth theory—like the population-stabilizing businesss—that could chill partisans of any stripe. To halt population growth, you need to reduce global fertility rates to an average of about two children per couple. But if boosting poor people's means doesn't defuse the population bomb, what then? Population control by mandate is essentially totalitarianism.
So, not exactly a walk in the park.
The word "essentially" in that last passage may be the most unnecessary adverb in human history. "Not exactly a walk in the park"? No, a walk in the killing fields.
The entire piece must be read to be believed. By the time you're done, you'll want some of Mr. Thompson's laudanum.