Limits to growth rates in an ethereal economy

Journal Title: 
Futures
Journal Number: 
3
Journal Volume: 
40
Journal Pages: 
261-267

It has been argued that economic growth can continue despite the finite nature of the Earth and its ecological systems if growth is concentrated in an ethereal economy where ideas and information dominate over physical inputs. In this paper, we agree that in a sustainable society continued growth must eventually be concentrated in the ethereal economy; however, we argue that such growth cannot occur at the ongoing exponential rate that currently underpins the constant rate of returns relied upon within our economies. As there is a limit to how fast a population can adopt new ideas, and as such adoption and innovation itself occurs in unpredictable bursts, growth in an ethereal economy will follow a model of punctuated equilibrium composed of exponential bursts, logistic growth, and stable/stagnating periods in a manner similar to ecological evolutionary processes. Although such an economic environment is likely far in the future, lessons in not overtaxing ecological capital and encouraging information dissemination and knowledge diffusion are applicable to problems we face today.