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The growth paradigm: History, hegemony, and the contested making of economic growthmanship


  • Schmelzer, Matthias


‘Economic growth’ is widely regarded as a key goal of national and international economic policies, not only across the political spectrum but also in all countries, and it has been dubbed the most important idea of the twentieth century. Yet, how did the pursuit of economic growth become a key priority taken for granted among social scientists, politicians, and the general public? Building on studies of the so-called Post-Development school and focusing on the OECD, one of the least understood international organizations, the article offers a source-based and transnational study to chart the history of growth discourses. After setting this analysis in the context of the current debate about the relationships between GDP, welfare, and environmental sustainability and after introducing a definition of the growth paradigm, the article sketches its historical (re)making in postwar history by focusing on four entangled discourses. These claimed that GDP, with all its inscribed reductions and exclusions correctly measures economic activity, that its growth serves as a magical ward to solve all kinds of often changing key societal challenges, that growth was practically the same some of the most essential societal ambitions such as progress, well-being, or national power, and that growth is essentially limitless.

Suggested Citation

  • Schmelzer, Matthias, 2015. "The growth paradigm: History, hegemony, and the contested making of economic growthmanship," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 262-271.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolec:v:118:y:2015:i:c:p:262-271
    DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2015.07.029

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Sarah-Louise Ruder & Sophia Rose Sanniti, 2019. "Transcending the Learned Ignorance of Predatory Ontologies: A Research Agenda for an Ecofeminist-Informed Ecological Economics," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(5), pages 1-29, March.
    2. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2017. "How imperative are the Joneses? Economic growth between individual desire and social coercion," VÖÖ Discussion Papers 4/2017, Vereinigung für Ökologische Ökonomie e.V. (VÖÖ).
    3. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2017. "Fear of stagnation? A review on growth imperatives," VÖÖ Discussion Papers 6/2017, Vereinigung für Ökologische Ökonomie e.V. (VÖÖ).
    4. Leonardi, Emanuele, 2019. "Bringing Class Analysis Back in: Assessing the Transformation of the Value-Nature Nexus to Strengthen the Connection Between Degrowth and Environmental Justice," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 156(C), pages 83-90.
    5. Ângelo Barroso & Cristina Chaves & Francisco Vitorino Martins & Manuel Castelo Branco, 2016. "On the possibility of sustainable development with less economic growth: a research note," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 18(5), pages 1399-1414, October.
    6. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2016. "Consistency and stability analysis of models of a monetary growth imperative," VÖÖ Discussion Papers 1/2016, Vereinigung für Ökologische Ökonomie e.V. (VÖÖ).
    7. Oliver Richters & Andreas Siemoneit, 2018. "The contested concept of growth imperatives: Technology and the fear of stagnation," Working Papers V-414-18, University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics, revised Nov 2018.
    8. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2017. "Consistency and stability analysis of models of a monetary growth imperative," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 136(C), pages 114-125.
    9. Sievers-Glotzbach, Stefanie & Tschersich, Julia, 2019. "Overcoming the process-structure divide in conceptions of Social-Ecological Transformation," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 164(C), pages 1-1.
    10. Matutinović, Igor & Salthe, Stanley N. & Ulanowicz, Robert E., 2016. "The mature stage of capitalist development: Models, signs and policy implications," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 17-30.

    More about this item


    Economic history; Economic growth; GDP; Externalities; International organizations; Capitalism;

    JEL classification:

    • B22 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought since 1925 - - - Macroeconomics
    • E01 - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics - - General - - - Measurement and Data on National Income and Product Accounts and Wealth; Environmental Accounts
    • N40 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation - - - General, International, or Comparative


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