IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The contested concept of growth imperatives: Technology and the fear of stagnation


  • Oliver Richters

    (University of Oldenburg, Department of Economics)

  • Andreas Siemoneit

    (ZOE Institute for future-fit economiex,Bonn, Germany)


Economic growth has become a prominent political goal worldwide, despite its severe conflicts with ecological sustainability. Are ‘growth policies’ only a question of political or individual will, or do ‘growth imperatives’ exist that make them ‘inescapable’? We structure the debate along two dimensions: (a) degree of coerciveness between free will and coercion, and (b) types of agents aected. Carefully derived micro level definitions of ‘social coercion’ and ‘growth imperative’ are used to discuss several mechanisms which are suspected to make economic growth necessary for firms, households, and nation states. We identify technological innovations as a systematic necessity to net invest, trapping firms and households in a positive feedback loop to increase eciency. Due to its resource consumption, the competitive advantage of a novel technology is often based on a violation of the meritocratic principle. The resulting dilemma between ‘technological unemployment’ and the social necessity of high employment can explain why states ‘must’ foster economic growth. Politically, we suggest market compliant institutions to limit resource consumption and redistribute economic rents.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:old:dpaper:414

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: First version, 2018
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Katharina Knoll & Moritz Schularick & Thomas Steger, 2017. "No Price Like Home: Global House Prices, 1870-2012," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 107(2), pages 331-353, February.
    2. Mathias Binswanger, 2009. "Is there a growth imperative in capitalist economies? a circular flow perspective," Journal of Post Keynesian Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 31(4), pages 707-727, July.
    3. Yajin Wang & Vladas Griskevicius, 2014. "Conspicuous Consumption, Relationships, and Rivals: Women's Luxury Products as Signals to Other Women," Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Research Inc., vol. 40(5), pages 834-854.
    4. Gerken, Lüder, 1999. "Der Wettbewerb der Staaten," Beiträge zur Ordnungstheorie und Ordnungspolitik, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen;Walter Eucken Institut, Freiburg, Germany, edition 1, volume 127, number urn:isbn:9783161472817, December.
    5. Rosenbaum, Eckehard F, 1999. "Against Naive Materialism: Culture, Consumption and the Causes of Inequality," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 23(3), pages 317-336, May.
    6. A.B. Atkinson & John Hills, 1998. "Exclusion, Employment and Opportunity," CASE Papers 004, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    7. Voudouris, Vlasios & Ayres, Robert & Serrenho, Andre Cabrera & Kiose, Daniil, 2015. "The economic growth enigma revisited: The EU-15 since the 1970s," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 86(C), pages 812-832.
    8. Hermann Simon, 2009. "Hidden Champions of the Twenty-First Century," Springer Books, Springer, number 978-0-387-98147-5, June.
    9. Stefan Homburg, 2015. "Critical remarks on Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-first Century," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 47(14), pages 1401-1406, March.
    10. Florence Jaumotte & Subir Lall & Chris Papageorgiou, 2013. "Rising Income Inequality: Technology, or Trade and Financial Globalization?," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 61(2), pages 271-309, June.
    11. Deutschmann, Christoph, 2014. "Moderne Ökonomie ohne Wachstumszwang: ein Wunschtraum?," WSI-Mitteilungen, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft mbH & Co. KG, vol. 67(7), pages 513-520.
    12. Jeroen van den Bergh & Giorgos Kallis, 2012. "Growth, A-Growth or Degrowth to Stay within Planetary Boundaries?," Journal of Economic Issues, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(4), pages 909-920.
    13. Sebastian Strunz & Bartosz Bartkowski & Harry Schindler, 2017. "Is there a monetary growth imperative?," Chapters, in: Peter A. Victor & Brett Dolter (ed.), Handbook on Growth and Sustainability, chapter 15, pages 326-355, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    14. Madlener, R. & Alcott, B., 2009. "Energy rebound and economic growth: A review of the main issues and research needs," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 34(3), pages 370-376.
    15. Zsuzsanna Csereklyei, M. d. Mar Rubio-Varas, and David I. Stern, 2016. "Energy and Economic Growth: The Stylized Facts," The Energy Journal, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2).
    16. Gerken, Lüder & Märkt, Jörg & Schick, Gerhard, 2000. "Internationaler Steuerwettbewerb," Untersuchungen zur Ordnungstheorie und Ordnungspolitik, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen;Walter Eucken Institut, Freiburg, Germany, edition 1, volume 40, number urn:isbn:9783161474576, September.
    17. Kubiszewski, Ida & Costanza, Robert & Franco, Carol & Lawn, Philip & Talberth, John & Jackson, Tim & Aylmer, Camille, 2013. "Beyond GDP: Measuring and achieving global genuine progress," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 57-68.
    18. Myron J. Gordon & Jeffrey S. Rosenthal, 2003. "Capitalism's growth imperative," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 27(1), pages 25-48, January.
    19. Per Krusell & Lee E. Ohanian & JosÈ-Victor RÌos-Rull & Giovanni L. Violante, 2000. "Capital-Skill Complementarity and Inequality: A Macroeconomic Analysis," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 68(5), pages 1029-1054, September.
    20. A.B. Atkinson & John Hills, 1998. "Exclusion, Employment and Opportunity," CASE Papers case04, Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, LSE.
    21. Ottmar Edenhofer & Linus Mattauch & Jan Siegmeier, 2015. "Hypergeorgism: When Rent Taxation Is Socially Optimal," FinanzArchiv: Public Finance Analysis, Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, vol. 71(4), pages 474-505, December.
    22. Mason Gaffney, 2009. "The hidden taxable capacity of land: enough and to spare," International Journal of Social Economics, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, vol. 36(4), pages 328-411, March.
    23. Segal, Paul, 2011. "Resource Rents, Redistribution, and Halving Global Poverty: The Resource Dividend," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 39(4), pages 475-489, April.
    24. Amitava Krishna Dutt & Benjamin Radcliff (ed.), 2009. "Happiness, Economics and Politics," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 13280.
    25. Alan D. Morrison, 2011. "Systemic risks and the 'too-big-to-fail' problem'," Oxford Review of Economic Policy, Oxford University Press and Oxford Review of Economic Policy Limited, vol. 27(3), pages 498-516.
    26. Kahneman, Daniel & Tversky, Amos, 1979. "Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(2), pages 263-291, March.
    27. Abramovitz, Moses, 1993. "The Search for the Sources of Growth: Areas of Ignorance, Old and New," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(2), pages 217-243, June.
    28. (IFS), Institute for Fiscal Studies & Mirrlees, James (ed.), 2011. "Tax By Design: The Mirrlees Review," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199553747, Decembrie.
    29. Robert M. Solow, 1956. "A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, President and Fellows of Harvard College, vol. 70(1), pages 65-94.
    30. Marc Lavoie, 2014. "Post-Keynesian Economics: New Foundations," Post-Print hal-01343652, HAL.
    31. Matthew Rabin, 1998. "Psychology and Economics," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 11-46, March.
    32. Hans Christoph Binswanger, 2013. "The Growth Spiral," Springer Books, Springer, edition 127, number 978-3-642-31881-8, June.
    33. Ozturk, Ilhan, 2010. "A literature survey on energy-growth nexus," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(1), pages 340-349, January.
    34. Elster, Jon, 1989. "Social Norms and Economic Theory," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(4), pages 99-117, Fall.
    35. Maier, Charles S., 1977. "The politics of productivity: foundations of American international economic policy after World War II," International Organization, Cambridge University Press, vol. 31(4), pages 607-633, October.
    36. Gary S. Becker, 1981. "A Treatise on the Family," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number beck81-1, March.
    37. Blauwhof, Frederik Berend, 2012. "Overcoming accumulation: Is a capitalist steady-state economy possible?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 84(C), pages 254-261.
    38. Amitava Krishna Dutt, 2009. "Happiness and the Relative Consumption Hypothesis," Chapters, in: Amitava Krishna Dutt & Benjamin Radcliff (ed.), Happiness, Economics and Politics, chapter 6, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    39. Ayres, Robert U & Ayres, Leslie W & Warr, Benjamin, 2003. "Exergy, power and work in the US economy, 1900–1998," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 28(3), pages 219-273.
    40. Stefan Giljum & Martin Bruckner & Aldo Martinez, 2015. "Material Footprint Assessment in a Global Input-Output Framework," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 19(5), pages 792-804, October.
    41. Schmelzer, Matthias, 2015. "The growth paradigm: History, hegemony, and the contested making of economic growthmanship," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 262-271.
    42. Posner, Richard A, 1997. "Equality, Wealth, and Political Stability," The Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(2), pages 344-365, October.
    43. Gregor Semieniuk, 2018. "Energy in Economic Growth: Is Faster Growth Greener?," Working Papers 208, Department of Economics, SOAS University of London, UK.
    44. Kallis, Giorgos, 2011. "In defence of degrowth," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(5), pages 873-880, March.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2019. "Wachstumszwang – eine Übersicht," ZOE Discussion Papers 3, ZOE. institute for future-fit economies, Bonn.
    2. Salvador Pueyo, 2019. "Limits to green growth and the dynamics of innovation," Papers 1904.09586,, revised May 2019.
    3. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2019. "Marktwirtschaft reparieren: Entwurf einer freiheitlichen, gerechten und nachhaltigen Utopie," EconStor Books, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, number 213814, October.

    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. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2019. "Growth imperatives: Substantiating a contested concept," Structural Change and Economic Dynamics, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 126-137.
    2. 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).
    3. 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).
    4. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2019. "Marktwirtschaft reparieren: Entwurf einer freiheitlichen, gerechten und nachhaltigen Utopie," EconStor Books, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, number 213814, October.
    5. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2021. "Making markets just: Reciprocity violations as key intervention points," ZOE Discussion Papers 7, ZOE. institute for future-fit economies, Bonn.
    6. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2019. "Wachstumszwang – eine Übersicht," ZOE Discussion Papers 3, ZOE. institute for future-fit economies, Bonn.
    7. Richters, Oliver & Siemoneit, Andreas, 2020. "System change, not climate change? Marktwirtschaft zwischen Utopie und Wachstumszwang," ZOE Discussion Papers 5, ZOE. institute for future-fit economies, Bonn.
    8. Javier Lopez Bernardo, 2016. "A post-Keynesian theory for the yield on equity markets," Working Papers PKWP1613, Post Keynesian Economics Society (PKES).
    9. 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.
    10. Andreas Makoto Hein & Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, 2020. "Energy Limits to the Gross Domestic Product on Earth," Working Papers hal-02570677, HAL.
    11. Kalkuhl, Matthias & Fernandez Milan, Blanca & Schwerhoff, Gregor & Jakob, Michael & Hahnen, Maren & Creutzig, Felix, 2017. "Fiscal Instruments for Sustainable Development: The Case of Land Taxes," MPRA Paper 78652, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Lange, Steffen & Pohl, Johanna & Santarius, Tilman, 2020. "Digitalization and energy consumption. Does ICT reduce energy demand?," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 176(C).
    13. David I. Stern, 2010. "The Role of Energy in Economic Growth," CCEP Working Papers 0310, Centre for Climate & Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.
    14. Andreas M. Hein & Jean-Baptiste Rudelle, 2020. "Energy Limits to the Gross Domestic Product on Earth," Papers 2005.05244,
    15. Grahame Dowling, 2014. "The Curious Case of Corporate Tax Avoidance: Is it Socially Irresponsible?," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 124(1), pages 173-184, September.
    16. Wesley Burnett, J. & Madariaga, Jessica, 2017. "The convergence of U.S. state-level energy intensity," Energy Economics, Elsevier, vol. 62(C), pages 357-370.
    17. Sorrell, Steve, 2015. "Reducing energy demand: A review of issues, challenges and approaches," Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 74-82.
    18. Naqvi, Asjad & Stockhammer, Engelbert, 2018. "Directed Technological Change in a Post-Keynesian Ecological Macromodel," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 154(C), pages 168-188.
    19. Alois Stutzer & Bruno S. Frey, 2008. "Stress that Doesn't Pay: The Commuting Paradox," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 110(2), pages 339-366, June.
    20. Kostas Bithas & Panos Kalimeris, 2017. "The Material Intensity of Growth: Implications from the Human Scale of Production," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 133(3), pages 1011-1029, September.

    More about this item


    economic growth; social coercion; growth imperative; technology; resource consumption; unemployment;
    All these keywords.

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    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:old:dpaper:414. 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: Catharina Schramm (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.