University Of Tasmania

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Forbidden question : a history of the limits to growth debate

posted on 2023-05-26, 17:17 authored by Higgs, KA
This thesis investigates the history of the debate about the limits to economic growth. It asks how it came about that the emerging concerns of natural scientists and physical modellers were scorned by economists and, at least after 1980, largely ignored by governments and policy-makers world-wide. The unprecedented character of economic growth in the twentieth century is examined and its roots, scale and relationship to cheap energy is analysed, as well as the conflict between the pre-analytic assumptions of the two disciplines most concerned with the debate-economics and the natural sciences. The increasingly self-conscious pursuit of economic growth is explored as is the process by which growth was adopted as the self-evident solution to all social problems, .displacing ideas about equity and fairness. It is argued that the newly consolidated corporations that emerged in the US at the tum of the twentieth century progressively banded together to sell not just their products but 'free enterprise' itself, a system tied to ever-continuing growth. That investigation gives rise to a history of corporate ideological campaigns against organised labour, democratic oversight and government 'interference', especially regulation and taxation-campaigns readily adapted to resisting environmental priorities. The thesis examines how these established techniques-propaganda and the straightforward buying of influence-were augmented after 1970 by the construction of a vast research apparatus dedicated to business interests and values, and designed to exert determinate influence over government policy. Its sources of funding and expertise are explored. It is argued that this institutional expansion has been instrumental in naturalising and strengthening the economic paradigm, 'mysteriously' detached from the physical world on which it relies, giving economists pre-eminent influence within governments and bureaucracies and turning the pursuit of economic growth into everyday common sense.


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Copyright 2012 the Author Thesis (PhD)--University of Tasmania, 2012. Includes bibliographical references

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