But since the official end of the recession, virtually all of the new income—92 percent as of the first quarter of 2011—has gone to corporate profits, according to a May report by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University. None of the increased GDP has gone to boost wages and salaries.
More importantly, since World War II, growth has been built on cheap energy—particularly petroleum—and low-cost dumping of the effluents of a wasteful global economy. Now the easy-to-pump oil is nearly used up, and the cost of extracting petroleum is rising. At the same time, we’ve used up the Earth’s capacity to absorb climate-changing gases and other forms of pollution. Growth has failed to yield prosperity, and the planet cannot bear more of it.
So how do we create an economy that provides dignified livelihoods to all who are willing to work, without undermining the natural systems we, and our children, rely on? A real solution requires a vision that is both humble in terms of the material wealth we can expect and ambitious about the fairness, mutual support, and quality of life we can build.