Abstract: There has been increasing interest in new economic models that aim to improve quality of life without increasing consumption. This article provides the first empirical analysis of how close modern-day economies are to the concept of a “steady-state economy”, and explores whether there is any relationship between a country’s proximity to such an economy and its social performance. The analysis is carried out using the Degrowth Accounts, a set of 16 biophysical and social indicators that are derived from Herman Daly’s definition of a steady-state economy and the social goals of the degrowth movement. These indicators are applied to ∼180 countries over a 10-year period. The analysis reveals that the majority of countries in the world are biophysical growth economies. There are only a small number of countries where resource use is relatively constant from year to year (e.g. Denmark, France, Japan, Poland, Romania, and the US), and only four countries experiencing biophysical degrowth (Germany, Guyana, Moldova, and Zimbabwe). There are no countries that achieve a true steady-state economy, defined as an economy with a stable level of resource use maintained within ecological limits. However, a few countries come relatively close, including Colombia, Cuba, Kyrgyzstan, Romania, and South Africa. In general, countries with stable resource use perform better on many social indicators than countries with either increasing or decreasing resource use. This finding runs contrary to conventional economic thought. However, social performance is also higher in countries with greater per capita resource use. Overall, these findings suggest that a steady-state economy can be socially sustainable, but countries need to become much more efficient at transforming natural resources into human well-being if all seven billion people on Earth are to lead a good life within ecological limits.
Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 108, Part A, 1 December 2015, Pages 1213–1231