It is interesting to observe how the original ‘Limits to Growth’ debate in the 1970s (then unacceptable to the developing world) was softened into a debate on ‘Sustainable Development’ in the 1980s (Brundland report) and then more or less derailed into a ‘Sustainable Growth Discussion’, with a tendency to deny to hard limits to growth or even assuming that there will be (sustainable) growth forever.
In this context, a book like ‘Beyond Growth’ by Herman Daly (1996, mainly based on older texts) is refreshing. On the one hand, it is completely outdated, as it is based on a pre-1990 world view. On the other hand, it makes excellent distinctions into issues of efficiency (market), justice and scale (sustainability) and rightly argues that markets can only solve efficiency issues, but not scale issues (the physical limits to growth). It rightly addresses the absence of 'sustainability' in macro-economics. Old stuff, but still highly relevant.
I started my work on sustainability after reading (as a student) the Club of Rome report in 1972 or 1973. Where are we now, 40 years later? What are the next steps? Daly's book gives some clues. In any case, we will have to re-think the interface between the private sector and the public sector. The market can play an important role in sustainable development, but we need to strengthen public institutions that will have to take limits to growth seriously again.
Herman Daly fills a spiritual void in the field of economics. He explains how current capitalist economic theories dependent on unlimited growth are not only destructive to the environmental resource base upon which the economy depends, but also morally indifferent to unwanted side effects such as the unequal distribution of wealth. The strength of Daly's work is such that it may help bring two important advocacy groups that are not normally associated we each other--environmentalists and Christians--together into a powerful constituency.
Daly is a former World Bank senior adviser on international economic policy. He writes well, cogently and accessibly. His anecdotal style makes this a comfortable, but not comforting, and really challenging book. Read it, change your world view then downsize your consumption and lifestyle. Enjoy