Date of Award
Economics and Finance
Joseph A. Tainter
Modern economists today rely on several fundamental assumptions in the same way physicists rely on laws governing energy and motion. Economists use growth—ideally unrestricted growth—as the key assumption upon which they build models and policy recommendations. The central economic theory explains that growth will enhance individual well-being over time. However, every known physical system has boundaries beyond which it will collapse, and the observed reality is that economic growth cannot be separated from physical resource consumption. As a result, many societies are overshooting physical, ecological boundaries. This project focuses on a few of the complexities generated by a growth-oriented economy in Northern Utah. It analyzes the ways traditional economic models prioritize growth as the primary means of improving quality of life. It explores several positive and negative impacts of limits to growth, whether they are elective policy measures (like paying a carbon tax) or reactions to a collapsed system (like depleted water reservoirs). It draws on electricity data from two utility providers and compares trends with interconnected behavioral and technological changes. Ultimately, this project questions the ways in which society could thrive without traditional economic growth. By using axioms from physics, primarily the second law of thermodynamics, this project assesses population projections and increased resource consumption, drawing connections between a growing population, a growing economy, and growing energy use.
Alder, Jacob Cannon, "Limits of Growth: An Ecological Approach to Mainstream Economics" (2020). Undergraduate Honors Capstone Projects. 471.
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