In one of the most memorable mid-1990s episodes of The Simpsons, the curmudgeonly misanthrope Charles Montgomery Burns achieves a lifelong dream:
Since the beginning of time, man has yearned to destroy the sun. I shall do the next best thing: block it out.
While Mr. Burns had no use for our nearest star, the other residents Springfield were dismayed by the citywide sun-block. They understood, as Steve Martin once said, that “A day without sunshine is like, you know, night.”
Only a cartoon villain would propose an idea as absurd as blocking out the sunshine. But in the real world we find its economic equivalent: opposing economic growth.
A prime example is Eugene McCarraher, an associate professor of humanities at Villanova University, who recently wrote in The Hedgehog Review:
The beatific vision of the capitalist moral imagination is the Gross Domestic Product: the yearly growth in the volume of goods and services whose increase is never questioned.
Similarly, the British economic historian Robert Skidelsky says that in his new book he “rejects indefinite economic growth for reasons which are substantially, though by no means exclusively, conservative.”
Too much growth, like too much sunshine, can indeed by be harmful to human flourishing. But why would anyone oppose long-term economic growth?
Consider the consequences if there were to be a long period in the U.S. with no economic growth. The result would be almost as cataclysmic as blocking out the sun: