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Abstract: ‘Economic growth’ is widely regarded as a key goal of national and international economic policies, not only across the political spectrum but also in all countries, and it has been dubbed the most important idea of the twentieth century. Yet, how did the pursuit of economic growth become a key priority taken for granted among social scientists, politicians, and the general public? Building on studies of the so-called Post-Development school and focusing on the OECD, one of the least understood international organizations, the article offers a source-based and transnational study to chart the history of growth discourses. After setting this analysis in the context of the current debate about the relationships between GDP, welfare, and environmental sustainability and after introducing a definition of the growth paradigm, the article sketches its historical (re)making in postwar history by focusing on four entangled discourses. These claimed that GDP, with all its inscribed reductions and exclusions correctly measures economic activity, that its growth serves as a magical ward to solve all kinds of often changing key societal challenges, that growth was practically the same some of the most essential societal ambitions such as progress, well-being, or national power, and that growth is essentially limitless.

Ecological Economics, Volume 118, October 2015, Pages 262–271