IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Critiques of Growth in Classical Political Economy: Mill's Stationary State and a Marxian Response


  • Gareth Dale


In recent political-economic theories of 'nature', Mill and Marx/Engels form important reference points. Ecological economists see Mill's 'stationary state' as seminal, while Marxists have 'brought capitalism back in' to debates on growth and climate change, sparking a Marxological renaissance that has overturned our understanding of Marx/Engels' opus. This article explores aspects of Mill's and Marx/Engels' work and contemporary reception. It identifies a resemblance between their historical dialectics. Marx's communism is driven by logics of 'agency' and 'structure' (including the 'tendency of profit rates to fall'). In Mill's dialectic a 'thesis', material progress, calls forth its 'antithesis', diminishing returns. The inevitable 'Aufhebung' is a stationary state of wealth and population; Mill mentions countervailing tendencies but fails to consider their capacity to postpone utopia's arrival. Today, Mill's schema lives on in ecological economics, shorn of determinism but with its market advocacy intact. It appears to contrast with the 'productive forces expansion' espoused by Marx/Engels. They stand accused of 'Promethean arrogance', ignoring 'natural limits' and 'gambling on abundance'. But I find these criticisms to be ill-judged, and propose an alternative reading, arguing that their work contains a critique of the 'growth paradigm', and that their 'cornucopian' ends do not sanction 'Promethean' means.

Suggested Citation

  • Gareth Dale, 2013. "Critiques of Growth in Classical Political Economy: Mill's Stationary State and a Marxian Response," New Political Economy, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 18(3), pages 431-457, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:cnpexx:v:18:y:2013:i:3:p:431-457
    DOI: 10.1080/13563467.2012.709839

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    File URL:
    LibKey link: if access is restricted and if your library uses this service, LibKey will redirect you to where you can use your library subscription to access this item

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Herman E. Daly, 2007. "Ecological Economics and Sustainable Development, Selected Essays of Herman Daly," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 12606.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Most related items

    These are the items that most often cite the same works as this one and are cited by the same works as this one.
    1. Marwa Hannouf & Getachew Assefa, 2018. "A Life Cycle Sustainability Assessment-Based Decision-Analysis Framework," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 10(11), pages 1-22, October.
    2. Kronenberg, Tobias, 2010. "Finding common ground between ecological economics and post-Keynesian economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(7), pages 1488-1494, May.
    3. Gabriela Michalek & Reimund Schwarze, 2015. "Carbon leakage: pollution, trade or politics?," Environment, Development and Sustainability: A Multidisciplinary Approach to the Theory and Practice of Sustainable Development, Springer, vol. 17(6), pages 1471-1492, December.
    4. Agnieszka Napiorkowska-Baryla & Miroslawa Witkowska-Dabrowska & Natalia Swidynska, 2022. "Financing of Activities Increasing the Energy Efficiency of Residential Buildings in Poland," European Research Studies Journal, European Research Studies Journal, vol. 0(1), pages 690-712.
    5. Tiziano Gomiero, 2016. "Soil Degradation, Land Scarcity and Food Security: Reviewing a Complex Challenge," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 8(3), pages 1-41, March.
    6. Spash, Clive L., 2014. "Better Growth, Helping the Paris COP-out? Fallacies and Omissions of the New Climate Economy Report," SRE-Discussion Papers 2014/04, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    7. Lawn, Philip, 2010. "On the Ehrlich-Simon bet: Both were unskilled and Simon was lucky," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(11), pages 2045-2046, September.
    8. Marialuisa Saviano & Clara Bassano & Paolo Piciocchi & Primiano Di Nauta & Mattia Lettieri, 2018. "Monitoring Viability and Sustainability in Healthcare Organizations," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 10(10), pages 1-23, October.
    9. Martínez-Alier, Joan & Pascual, Unai & Vivien, Franck-Dominique & Zaccai, Edwin, 2010. "Sustainable de-growth: Mapping the context, criticisms and future prospects of an emergent paradigm," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 69(9), pages 1741-1747, July.
    10. Philip Lawn (ed.), 2013. "Globalisation, Economic Transition and the Environment," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 15053.
    11. Luiz Fernando Rodrigues Pinto & Glória de Fátima Pereira Venturini & Salvatore Digiesi & Francesco Facchini & Geraldo Cardoso de Oliveira Neto, 2020. "Sustainability Assessment in Manufacturing under a Strong Sustainability Perspective—An Ecological Neutrality Initiative," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 12(21), pages 1-40, November.
    12. Lundgren, Jakob, 2022. "Unity through disunity: Strengths, values, and tensions in the disciplinary discourse of ecological economics," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 191(C).
    13. Komarov, Vladimir (Комаров, Владимир) & Kotsyubinskiy, Vladimir (Коцюбинский, Владимир), 2016. "The Implementation of the Concept of Sustainable Development in Russia [Реализация Концепции Устойчивого Развития В России]," Working Papers 1034, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration.
    14. Orrell, David & McSharry, Patrick, 2009. "System economics: Overcoming the pitfalls of forecasting models via a multidisciplinary approach," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 25(4), pages 734-743, October.
    15. Kolinjivadi, Vijay & Gamboa, Gonzalo & Adamowski, Jan & Kosoy, Nicolás, 2015. "Capabilities as justice: Analysing the acceptability of payments for ecosystem services (PES) through ‘social multi-criteria evaluation’," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 99-113.
    16. Erling Holden & Geoffrey Gilpin, 2013. "Biofuels and Sustainable Transport: A Conceptual Discussion," Sustainability, MDPI, vol. 5(7), pages 1-21, July.
    17. Szennay, Áron, 2020. "A vállalati társadalmi felelősségvállalás megközelítései és a fenntartható fejlődés [How popular approaches to corporate social responsibility relate to sustainable development]," Közgazdasági Szemle (Economic Review - monthly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences), Közgazdasági Szemle Alapítvány (Economic Review Foundation), vol. 0(10), pages 1057-1074.
    18. Lawn, Philip, 2011. "Wake up economists! - Currency-issuing central governments have no budget constraint," MPRA Paper 28224, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    19. Dzeraviaha, Ihar, 2018. "Mainstream economics toolkit within the ecological economics framework," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 15-21.
    20. Sahar Milani, 2023. "Teaching Environmental Macroeconomics to Undergraduate Students," Eastern Economic Journal, Palgrave Macmillan;Eastern Economic Association, vol. 49(3), pages 391-407, June.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:taf:cnpexx:v:18:y:2013:i:3:p:431-457. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a bibliographic reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: Chris Longhurst (email available below). General contact details of provider: .

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service. RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.