Opposition to the growth juggernaut has gathered pace in recent years. Growth, say critics, is not only failing to make us happier; it is also environmentally disastrous. Both claims may well be true, but they fail to capture our deeper objection to endless growth, which is that it is senseless. To found our case against growth on the fact that it is damaging to happiness or the environment is to invite our opponents to show that it is not, in fact, damaging in those ways—an invitation they have been quick to take up. The whole argument then disappears down an academic cul-de-sac. The point to keep in mind is that we know, prior to anything scientists or statisticians can tell us, that the unending pursuit of wealth is madness.
In discussing our ideas with friends and acquaintances, we find that several objections have crop up regularly. The first concerns timing. “Now, of all moments,” we are told, “is not the time to be talking about an end to growth. Wouldn’t Keynes himself, were he alive, urge us to resume growth as rapidly as possible in order to bring down unemployment and pay off government debt?” We do not dispute this. But we need to distinguish between short-term policies for recovery after the worst depression since the 1930s, and long-term policies for realizing the good life.