David Mytton

Book Review (5/5) – The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind (Donella H. Meadows)

Published (updated: ) in Book Reviews.

Originally published on Goodreads.

Although completely out of date, there are several key principles explained in this book that are vital to understand, and somewhat unintuitive. Exponential growth is a well known confounder when it comes to what one might normally expect, but combined with modelling potential productivity improvements due to technology and what that does (or doesn’t do) to the ultimate outcome, this book does a great job at explaining the challenges we face as a civilisation.

Regardless of the timeline of how things have actually developed, the model is still relevant. Indeed, the narrative specifically says that the model is not supposed to be predictive and the dates are just indicative. The direction is accurate though, so this serves to illustrate how we should be thinking about what are inevitable problems of the future.

My biggest criticism of the equilibrium state is what might be necessary to reach it. The book does a good job at being non-partisan but to me is clearly advocating for a socialist / centrally controlled solution. It’s reasonable to initially think that is the only way to get everyone aligned and working towards the same goal, but anyone who knows anything about history will know that socialism simply doesn’t work, it has never worked and will never work. The Road to Serfdom describes this clearly.

That leaves us with the challenge of how to bring about the same result through pragmatic, capitalist means. This is all about incentives. Government certainly has a role here and we are already seeing how well that works when it comes to energy markets and renewables. The question is: is it soon enough and how do we speed things up? That’s where global agreement will be needed – common light-touch intervention to stimulate innovation and market based solutions that don’t then result in loss of freedom. How we achieve this is the key policy question of the next decade.