To Rethink Economic Growth Will be Difficult–AND Will Make Many People Unhappy

Rethinking “economic growth” will be difficult, especially because the concept is used and abused so frequently.  This, in turn, breeds an inertia binding us tightly into what poet William Blake calls “mind-forg’d manacles” (Songs of Experience, “London,” 1794).

Escaping these manacles will require we avoid groupthink and also forget much of what we have learned, take for granted, and expect—as well as how we believe the world works. John Maynard Keynes notes, for example, “The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds” (The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, 1936).

To master the skill of changing one’s mind—and to do so only when justified or necessary–may ultimately require we do nothing more than listen, which sounds easy but is almost always difficult. “Listen to all sides,” Walt Whitman tells us. “…keeping tally with the meaning of all things”/”Do nothing but listen” (pp. 2, 23 and 25).

This sounds simple, and it is. But as Vincent Van Gogh realized, “how difficult it is to be simple” [unmailed letter to Paul Gauguin, June, 1890].



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