Until just a few years ago, the need for economic growth to sustain societies was almost universally acknowledged. This was not just gospel on the free-market Right. Whatever its failings, 20th century socialism was growth-oriented and espoused the notion, however poorly realized, that greater material progress was critical to expanding working-class wealth.
Now political leaders in France, Iceland, as well as the European Commission increasingly believe, along with influential economists such as Joseph Stiglitz, that growing the economic pie should be supplanted by such goals as better health care, less inequality, and fighting climate change.
Many, particularly on the environmental Left, go even further and advocate “de-growth,” essentially urging societies to consciously reduce their economic wealth. This agenda requires that energy, housing, food, and other consumption costs steadily increase, or be legally prohibited, so that ordinary people will be unable to eat meat regularly, use more energy, live in larger spaces, and travel freely. There’s even a quaint notion that we need to return to a more primitive state of existence, essentially cancelling out the progress of the last few centuries. America’s Green Party, for example, would seek to limit long-distance trade entirely in favor of a feudal economy that is “largely self-sufficient in the production of its necessities.”
Even in the United States, where growth has long been an unquestioned priority, virtually none of the leading Democratic candidates for President even mentions the word. Vice-President Joe Biden, the leading “moderate” in the Democratic party primaries, has explicitly stated that he would wipe out fossil fuel employment in the country to pursue a green agenda.
The American Left’s abandonment of economic growth marks a dramatic shift from the approach of Bill Clinton, or even Barack Obama. In the 1990s, progressives still believed that economic growth was indispensable for improving the lives of the middle- and working-class families. Now, rather than seek to outperform the somewhat more robust economy and modest uptick in blue collar jobs under President Trump, progressives focus mostly on identity issues, environmental piety, and income redistribution.
Fundamentally abandoning growth means the effective end of the old social democratic program. Many self-defined socialists—typically academics and media personalities rather than industrial union leaders—reject the fundamental Marxian emphasis on “materialism” in favor of low growth “sustainability.”
To be fair, that’s only because they hate the working class and want to destroy it, by transforming it into a dependent class of government handout recipients. They’ll turn us all into beggars ’cause they’re easier to please.
And the working class understands this: “It is no surprise that blue-collar workers, traditional a constituency of the Left, are deserting progressive parties for the likes of Donald Trump, and most recently, Boris Johnson. As socialist author Leigh Phillips has observed, the scarcity politics of the greens represents a form of class warfare. . . . Without economic growth, and the opportunity for people to rise up the class ladder, we will devolve, as Tocqueville warned, towards a class structure more favorable to ‘aristocracy’ and authoritarian rule.”
To wannabe aristocrats and authoritarians, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.