What Do You Call It?

Ok, folks, I'm taking a poll - what do you call a society and an economy that can't keep growing, but can get better in ways that haven't been part of the conventional measures. What I'm looking for is a word or a couple of words that are evocative, not boring, not too wordy or wonky and appealing.

Obviously, this is not a new concept - lots of writers and thinkers have played with this one. The problem is that I haven't liked any of their language. "Steady State Economy" is way too boring. "Ecocentrism" sounds way too close to "egocentrism." I like the word "subsistence" but let's be honest, it needs a PR campaign. I love Tom Princen's substitution of "sufficiency" for "efficiency" but that requires too many words to explain. The concepts of Gross National Happiness or the Genuine Progress Indicator both rely on an implicit understanding of something most American't don't actually understand - GDP. There are lots and lots of other choices, but all the ones I have seen don't work linguistically.

So here's your chance to point me to someone else's brilliant construction, or better yet, be eternally famous as the coiner of the phrase or word of the century. What are we shooting for? How to describe it? Come on, hive mind, do your stuff!


More like this

Down to Earth Economy. It's a reminder/play on words that we have to put the earth first while pointing out that the changes are mostly just really, really sensible.

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

I think of it as "The Quality Economy."

Would the change over be called "Qualitative Easing" then? ;P

By Richard Eis (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Something about neighborhoods. Neighbor has a nice 1950s nostalgia, Mr. Rogers, happy feeling about it. And sustainability on a local level seems key. If you're focused on what you can do in your local area, you'll probably have to do it without oil or coal... and you can see the actual affects of your externalities on your kids.

Plus, "neighborhood" is one of those words like "justice" where people can interpret it widely and usually find something they like about it.

I'm interested to see the results of the poll!

For the economy: Money-stretching.
For the society: Resource-stretching.

Or perhaps some term that suggests "independent of economic metrics". Replace "independent" with "outside,over" and you get extraeconomic, metametric.

The possibilities for big confusing words are endless!

I rather like "Sustainable Economy".


By Pat Meadows (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

How about "grounded"? It brings in the concept of the earth, plus has the overtone of something that is steadfast and a foundation.

The lateral economy.

I'm not sure I have the answer but perhaps this is a step towards one.

Our society may have been in a period of growth but it is hollow, there is no center. That's also why it is so fragile. It is obvious that we can no longer grow outward, the only real room for growth is to fill the center.

I'd like to posit the "essential economy", and also a strong second for e4's "enough economy".

By Stacy Canterbury (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

I think Milton is on to something. In real estate, they would call the process of renewing areas that have been abandoned and nelected "redevelopment." Essentially, that's what we are talking about.

Somehow Regrowth and Reconomy doesn't quite ring right, but perhaps there is something along those lines?

I rather like the word "heritage" too. Where we acknowledge that we (and our forefathers) have built a lot of stuff and now we can live off of it. We already conquered the world - so now let's chill a little.

The Heritage Economy focuses on enjoying our hard accomplishments and enjoying family and ice tea on the porch. (Sure, it's a wishy, washy lie, but we don't have to tell people that. We can trick them into doing the right thing and feeling good about it.) We can get back to the ideals that made America great at the beginning - self-reliance (as a nation) and promoting equality.

Along the same lines... something like Apex Empire. We don't have to rule the world anymore. We've proven that we could do it and now we're secure in our "accomplishments." It sounds strong for people who care about such things, but still encompasses the idea that we're not going to grow and we can refocus our narrative on other things.

Is distributism too wonky? I can see how it would put off anyone who doesn't think Catholic Worker-style thinking is a good thing!

I find myself using the metaphor of earth-as-spaceship pretty often, but can't find a way to sum that up right now.

i like the word "emergent". it is sometimes used in ecology or "emergy" analyses of green infrastructure projects (which are totally over my head) to refer to properties that grow from the whole entity, but cannot be reduced to a sum of parts. emergy, as i view it after hearing about it in a few talks, relates to energy, financial inputs, social benefits, environmental costs and benefits, and the whole shebang. and emergent qualities of an ecosystem are things like (i think) resilience, resistance, stability, and unquantified ecosystem services and all. maybe "emergent" might sum it up? but you might need to check with someone more knowledgeable.

I don't have a suggestion, unfortunately. I would like to point out that what people understand about our economy as we know it is because that was part of their elementary school education. In order for us to have a wide understanding of any new term, it must catch on and be taught at the 5th grade level, and be reinforced at many levels of society.

Whatever term(s) you come up with, it will take a huge effort to educate/inoculate our society's denizens with the idea and definitions.

Heritage is good,it brings up ideas that may or may not be true to the past, but it does bring up a mental picture of something most of us can relate to without too much education on meanings. It's definitely a good starting point for introducing more complex and truer terms.

Climax Community

In ecology, a climax community, or climatic climax community, is a biological community of plants and animals which, through the process of ecological succession â the development of vegetation in an area over time â has reached a steady state. This equilibrium occurs because the climax community is composed of species best adapted to average conditions in that area. The term is sometimes also applied in soil development.

what do you call a society and an economy that can't keep growing, but can get better in ways that haven't been part of the conventional measures

So instead of growing the pie, or more equally distributing the pie, I am picturing 'Baking the Pie'.i.e. making the same amount of resources better, and it uses existing economist imagery. Of course it does require explanation, but hey, just a first thought.

"I like the word 'subsistence' but let's be honest, it needs a PR campaign."

How about insubstence, a portmanteau of "insistence", "substance" and "subsitence" (hence the "e", not an "a")?

Or how about market lentilism? (A parody of China's "market Leninism", for those who don't get the joke.)


I am relieved that somebody is bringing up topics like this. Ad hoc language usage can obscure a lot more than it clarifies and language grows only when there are new things to describe, so what you call it DOES make a difference.

I think a lot of what we are talking about is an economy in which the centralized model decays and now the means of production becomes distributed to the people and their local communities. Whereas the centralized economy is convenient to skim for profits, a distributed economy almost cannot be skimmed. Investment will mostly be personal or community-based. Partners will replace banks. Profits will replace interest. Instead of the globalized mess we have now, the goods and revenue will produced in the garden, the home, the local farm, local factory, and local business and thus will accrue to the citizens. So, my name is the Citizens' Distributed (or Decentralized) Economy. Further, what the economy brings about is Distributed Production.

Wow, we're asking a term to do a lot of work -- probably more than is possible, given how many arenas of ignorance and misunderstanding there are.

Sustainability, social/economic justice, ecology -- but I guess for me it all circles back to the question of sustainability - a concept that average people have a lot of trouble with when it comes to daily life.

My preference would be for a term that forces people to think of the Big Picture and the Long Time Horizon. So my preference would be for a term like the "Thousand Year Economy" or cribbing from the Iroquois, the "10-generations Economy". So much of the stupidity that seems sensible or even inevitable when right under our noses, appears appropriately ludicrous when thinking 10 generations down the road.

I like #13's suggestion of a "heritage economy". It's got a nice ring to it, and it sounds patriotic enough to be accepted by people who would scoff at "ecocentric" or "sustainable".

Maybe only physicists like me would like this one, but how about "equilibrium economy"? Equilibrium can be dynamic, so to me this term lacks the staleness of "subsistence" or "sufficiency", and yet it has the meaning of giving back as much as you take and so on, and it also has the connotation of something that can last.

How about "Mr. Ponzi's comeuppance...."


I'll go for "heritage economy," or better "traditional economy"

By Adam Eran (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

I don't have a suggestion, but will weigh in on the ones I like here ... I like the "Reconomy" for wordsmith types... it's catchy. But to actually meaningfully describe the type of economy you mean, I think the "climax community" is perfect (or would be if it didn't elicit snickers). "Equilibrium economy" says a similar thing without the snicker-factor.

I'm with JoAnna....Heritage economy.


By Sue in Pac NW (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Borrowing some terms from the local and slow food movements:

Lo-conomy...Slo-conomy...Community Supported Economy (CSE anyone?)

Sharon--I have never told you how much I enjoy reading your blog posts. Thank you so much for giving me interesting things to think about.

Be well,

By Java Jane (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

How about "Old-Growth Economy"? It's targeting the same idea as "Climax Economy", but less snicker-worthy. ;)

"Heritage Economy" would be my second choice.

By Andrea G. (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

The reurbanized economy?

By surgoshan (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

I would say Sustainable Economy would be a very simple and succinct way to put it. The economy that can recover and work within it's means, at least that's how I view it. The word already has the meaning that you'd want as an explanation. There can also be subcategories for the economy in respect to what you would want to focus on. Just a thought.

Building on Milton's comment, how about "Infill Economy". It's a good metaphor. As Milton says, our economy grows out but the core is weak.

"Core Infill Economy"?

I also like "Equilibrium Economy".

"Möbius Economy" ;)

My suggestion is "Stableconomy"(as in no growth). Stability is a good thing, right?

I was just reminded about the concept of 'satisficing' by another blog - the Satisficing Economy might be a bit too wonky, but how about the Satisfaction Economy? Otherwise, I like the Heritage Economy.

What about co-opting "right-sizing" ?

By Mandarina (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

I like "emergent", for all the reasons the commenter proposed.

I would also suggest "equipoised", to imply the necessarily dynamic nature of such a society. Or a new coinage, "equilibrial".

Borrowing from other disciplines, "proprioceptive" or "homeostatic". Both, again, imply active feedback mechanisms in play.

With regard, Richard.

I like Pat's Sustainable Economy. To me it says it all.

By Mary Ellen (not verified) on 19 Jul 2011 #permalink

Yeah, it's a problem. I lean towards "Enough IS Enough"; but it's not sticky enough.

Nor are the others here, I fear.

"Mature Economy" - just popped into my head. Like "hey, we're grown ups." I like that; at the moment.

You know, the more I think about it the more I like it. "Growth" is what you do when you are immature. When you are mature- you're not growing in the physical sense- but growth in other senses is not restricted.

I think it has the right weight.

The autonomy economy or the auteconomy

Anything that I can instantly think of a crude joke about is out - Climax Economy is sadly, right out, even though I like the idea ;-). Auteconomy has some issues there too.

The problem with "sustainable economy" to me is that the word sustainable has been so badly coopted, and is now functionally empty. The word is used to describe so many things that aren't even remotely sustainable that it seems problematic - but it does have the merits of being very clear.

I'm liking a lot of these, although "Heritage Economy" might be a leading contender to my mind.

In Depletion and Abundance, I call it "the real economy" but I think that's sadly too vague.


I liked "heritage economy" until I got down to Greenpa's suggestion. "Mature economy" seems like a good goal, much like a full-bodied properly aged red wine, or more to the taste of this blog, a properly fermented spicy kimchi imbued with a medley of flavors.

"Mature economy" brings to my mind the wisdom of elders, patiently counseling but not controlling.

The one problem that immediately comes to mind is that so many chronologically mature adults in the world seem still mentally immature. Like greedy teenagers, nothing is ever enough, and darnit they know what's best, not those out-of-touch elders!

I think "Climax Economy" is the most accurate, but I don't think it will, as they say, play in Peoria. It requires explanation even without the gutter-think crowd.

I agree "sustainable" has become too diluted to be of use to convey a concrete idea. Sadly.

"Heritage Economy," I think, will play to the goats and backyard chicken crowd but won't appeal to anyone else. It conjures up deprivation and retreat and dying of dysentary and food poisoning. I don't think "Mature" will impress anyone under about 35 and might have negative connotations, and we need the youngsters on board more than anyone else.

I think Andy has a good direction with trying to evoke future generations instead of past ones, but I can't think of any way to make a catchphrase of it. I think "Infill" might have some potential as well.

Even though it was my idea and I wasn't too keen on it yesterday, Re-conomy is growing on me. It's not terribly accurate, but for English speakers they will instantly get the gist of the "Re-" part with no explanation. It doesn't suggest retreat, it suggests getting it right this time, which is what I hope we are trying to convey.

But I'm not married to it -- the next comment could change my mind. There is some good food for thought here.

"Next century economics." As in "economics that will permit our society to survive into the next century, not just the next quarterly report."

- Jake

Perpetual economy is my best suggestion.

How about 'sustainably constrainted'.
Agree, 'sustainable' has been hammered to death but it should mean 'that which can carry on or be maintained'. 'Constrained' should mean limited to the forgoing.

I like Jake's idea (#45) of "economics that will permit our society to survive into the next century, not just the next quarterly report." How about "Seventh Generation economy," after "...the ancient Native American philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future." http://www.seventhgenerationadvisors.org/ and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability The term isn't immediately understandable, but neither is the abandonment of "Growth" as an ideal. (I have a button that says something like: Endless growth is the definition of cancer.)

It's not truthfully my idea. I cribbed it shamelessly from Yes Prime Minister, where they say it about the difference between diplomacy and politics. But it's still a good quote.

I think "next century economics" makes a better slogan than "seven generations economics," because "next century" makes it explicit that it's a modern project rather than an anti-modernity project. The latter accusation is frequently leveled against any critique of cornucopians, productivism or even crude GDPism, so it's vital to defend against it on the narrative level, not just the rational level.

- Jake

Colin Firth was talking about things generative on his No Impact Man blog, and it occurred to me that "regenerative economy" might convey both the generativity that must be implicit in anything that is truly sustainable and the rising-from-the-ashes aspect of what is needed.

By C holland (not verified) on 20 Jul 2011 #permalink

The Balanced Economy

By Grey Wolf (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

How about Agrarian Urbanist, from the title of the book by Andres Duany and DPZ; "Garden Cities, Theory and Practice of Agrarian Urbanism". It sure sounds like the kind of society I'm looking for. I would call myself an "Agrarian Urbanist"!

I really like the Heritage Economy too. That captures a lot, I think. We have inherited our systems from our forefathers, and we need to leave something a value for our descendants (presumably!). What will our heritage be??? I think just by saying the word we can ask that question and by asking that question people might instantly think of the future and the life that their grandkids may or may not have. That's where my mind went when I read the term.

Homeo Sweet Homeo.

A country or region doing this is a Homeostate.

By Randomfactor (not verified) on 21 Jul 2011 #permalink

I rather like John Michael Greer's phrase "ecotechic," as in the ecotechnic economy. But the "technic" part of it might imply technological toys to many folks, which is just another form of consumption.

Second choice would be Equilibrium Economics. "Equilibrium" instantly implies that growth cannot happen forever, and that you must put back in everything you take out.

"Equilibrium," in the context of economics, is deeply tainted by the neoclassical general equilibrium garbage that passes for macroeconomic theory these days.

Besides, the political economy is an inherently non-equilibrium process, and will be as long as we permit large-scale use of credit instruments (something we will probably want to keep doing).

- Jake

I like heritage economy, which brought to mind a legacy economy. Turns out there's a group in Denver that already uses that term. From their web site www.LegacyEconomy.org:

"A Legacy Economy is an economy whose prosperity leaves intact the basis for the next generation's prosperity, recognizing the importance of community, family, and happiness to our prosperity."

I don't think "legacy" has bad connotations for either the left or the right.

Contributors #4 and #21 made mention of the word, and Justice Economy sounds solid, as Heritage Economy sure is worth passing on.


One Northern Gal

Okay. My official entry is Justice Economy in honor of Ralph Nader, The Magnificent.

Y'all stay well and wise, now.

Thank you.

Alrightie, already! Who's your hero? How 'bout the Nader Economy.

Case closed in my book with a couple 2,3,4 pages!!

A very good day, in-deed.

Words emanating from the worldview that has popularized and normalized neoclassical free-market economics should be avoided. Frank Luntz is a GOP strategist. His shortlist of 'words that work'is extremely popular with the neoclassical echo-chamber. For this reason I hope the new name of this market will seek to avoid these choice terms. The link to an executive summary of words that work for the free-market worldview are here.

The main ingredient of neoclassical economics has been the field of statistics. In spectacular fashion it has successfully convinced people that humans are homo economics maximizers of rationality. Market activity seeking to show that people are not juts consumers, but makers, shapers, lovers, educators, artists etc...must come from myriad sources. So, I strongly think that to counter the fundamentals of neoclassical economics there's a need to get the math terms right first - meeting neoclassical market fundamentalists on common ground.

Hans Rosling and Manuel Lima both deserve special mention. Please visit Gapminder and Visual Complexity to see how systems thinking, information visualization and new-market-thinking come together.

Because neoclassical economics will remain as the de facto system until this new market proliferates, I vote that it should be named the Reciprocal Convergence Market. I think these terms tie together some key aspects of daily life, like practical ethics and social connectivity. Highlighting how these types of markets differ also results from what the above term reveals in bas relief, ie that the neoclassical system has eschewed ethics and truth in science for the singular pursuit of growth and profits.