Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder

Why it’s Time to Stop Defining a Nation’s Success Through Economic Growth


A new paper out of the University of Colorado Boulder argues that it may be time to stop being hyper-focused on economic growth as a leading indicator of a society’s success, because we may be headed for a long-run decline in growth this century, whether we like it or not. 

The paper, published on Nov. 18 in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, argues that this slowing growth could bring challenges, particularly in countries with multicultural democracies like the United States. To address these challenges, the authors call for a “guided civic revival” aimed at decoupling social capital and well-being from economic growth.

To prepare for a slow-growth future, we might need to move away from the notion of a growing economy as central to our national identity, said lead author Matt Burgess, assistant professor of environmental studies, affiliate in economics and fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at CU Boulder.

“Basically, if you’re not growing, you can’t have this narrative that the rising tide is lifting all boats,” Burgess said. “You have to have a narrative that your social cohesion is built on around something else.”

In recent years, the financial crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have contributed to slowing growth in the United States, but growth has been gradually slowing since the 1970s. Still, economic growth continues to be a key measure of success in the country.

This story was written by CU Boulder Strategic Relations. Continue reading here.


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.


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Matt Burgess
Nicole Mueksch
CU Boulder Strategic Relations

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