What exactly do we mean by "economic growth," and would "economic equilibrium" be more sustainable, and a better goal?


Perhaps I don't understand the factors that go into economic growth, but it appears to me that we really, truly want our economy to be constantly actually growing, producing more, selling more, employing more. If this is true, and the economic growth factors aren't leveled out if we make it per capita economic growth - meaning we're in equilibrium with our population - there's no justification for this lack of sustainability. Perpetual economic growth is a short sighted goal. Would you please correct me if I'm wrong, or discuss economic equilibrium as an alternative? Thank you.


“Economic Growth” is the year-on-year increase in a country’s GDP, that is, the total market value of goods and services produced in a year. As you rightly said, population is an important factor, and therefore, more meaningfully, we look at the country’s GDP per capita and its growth over a period of time. I agree with your explanation that producing more, selling more, and employing more, summarized by higher GDP per capita, is not a perfect measure of the growth of a country, but we call it the best possible measure. This is because there is enough evidence to support that most of the development indicators, like living standards, social and economic well-being, public services, health services and life expectancy, technological development, etc., which are not directly measured through GDP per capita, are increasing/improving with the increase in GDP per capita.

Having said that, GDP per capita does not speak to many important indicators of sustainability and quality of life, like environmental concerns, inequality, freedom, democratic values, etc.  We face multiple trade-offs in reality, and there needs to be a balance. “Economic equilibrium," or a focus on achieving a stable and balanced economy, is an alternative perspective. Economic equilibrium aims to maintain a state where resources are used efficiently, income distribution is fair, and environmental concerns are addressed. This approach emphasizes sustainability, resource management, and overall well-being rather than solely pursuing unlimited growth. Many economists and policymakers are exploring alternative economic models that prioritize sustainability, such as the concept of a "circular economy" that focuses on reducing waste and recycling resources or the "doughnut economics" framework, which seeks to balance economic growth with environmental and social considerations.

In summary, while economic growth can bring about numerous benefits, it is essential to consider its environmental and social implications, as well as its long-term sustainability. Economic equilibrium, which aims for a stable and balanced economy, may indeed be a more sustainable and desirable goal, particularly when coupled with efforts to address issues like income inequality and environmental degradation. There is a lot of work that needs to be done to devise an objective metric (one similar to GDP per capita) that is comparable across countries and over time and captures all aspects of economic equilibrium.

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Last updated on
October 9, 2023

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