Can the economy grow for ever?

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Anna Bruce-Lockhart, Editorial Lead, World Economic Forum


  • Just like the universe, economies have been growing seemingly for ever. But what happens if they stop?
  • This animated video explainer by TEDEd and the World Economic Forum inspects the arguments for going ‘post growth’ in order to save the planet.

The global economy has been growing for the past 200 years. Traditionally, that’s been seen as a good thing – a larger pile of money that would lead to a larger pile of opportunities for everyone.

But the ‘tide that lifts all boats’ theory feels less substantial with every new economic crisis. As a global recession looms, and as we veer closer to the limits of our natural resources, and as inequality spirals around the world – a new billionaire was minted every 26 hours during the pandemic – we have to ask: is infinite growth possible on a finite planet?

It’s the central question in this video explainer. Created by world-class storytellers TED-Ed in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, this entertaining and informative film questions the idea of growth for growth’s sake and imagines a world beyond it.

‘Economics Explained’ is a video collaboration between TED-Ed and the World Economic Forum

The goal of green growth

The idea of endless economic expansion might feel academic at this moment in history. The global economy is entering a slowdown; inflation and rising living costs are nudging the world to the brink of a wholesale recession.

But perhaps it is a moment to take a pause, to ask how we can work together to build a stronger and more sustainable economy. In this blog, President of the World Economic Forum Borge Brende explains why global cooperation is key.

Wondering what a recession actually is? This handy explainer will tell you how to know if you’re in one, where recessions came from – and how they end.

Then jury’s out – can economic growth ever be good for the planet? Clever tech innovations are a good start, but what we really need is a decision on shared principles. What we do know is the private sector looks willing to engage, writes Michael Froman, Vice Chairman of Mastercard.

It’s ‘perfectly possible’ to enjoy economic growth while protecting the planet, says British economist Lord Nicolas Stern. In this video interview, he says that since the 1990s the UK economy has grown 70% while cutting emissions by 40%.

But the challenges of sustainable growth are many. They are laid out in this studio interview with Brookings economist Zia Qureshi and Stanford International Policy Director Marietje Schaake, who tackle the question: can growth be green?

What about the world of finance? Can banks and investors shift the world towards ‘net zero’ targets in a meaningful way? A panel of experts from the United Nations, HSBC and the IFC debate in this podcast show:

Infinite growth – what do the young say?

Ultimately the economy – and the planet itself – belong to the young. You can’t lay the foundations for sustainable future growth without their buy-in. We asked six young movers and shakers – members of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leader community – what they think world leaders should prioritise on the path to a more inclusive economic growth.

What’s next for economic growth?

Image: World Economic Forum

For more on what the experts are saying about upcoming economic trends, check out this year’s Chief Economists Outlook 2022, which anticipates the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical tensions.

Economics has had a huge impact on the world we live in – and understanding the key factors at play in these massive, interconnected systems can give us insight into how to make them better, stabler, and more equitable.

To find out more, dig into a new series of quick and compelling explainers from TED-Ed and World Economic Forum at ed.ted.com/worldecon. A great many articles, videos and podcasts to answer all your economic questions are waiting for you at weforum.org/focus/economics-explain.

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