I read a book on the subject a little while ago.
Growth Fetish is a book about economics and politics by the Australian liberal political theorist Clive Hamilton. Published in 2003 it became a best-seller in Australia, an unusual feat for what is normally considered a dry subject.
The book argues that the policies of unfettered capitalism pursued by the west for the last 50 years has largely failed, since the underlying purpose of the creation of wealth is happiness, and Hamilton contends that people in general are no happier now than 50 years ago, despite the huge increase in personal wealth. In fact, he suggests that the reverse is true. He states that the pursuit of growth has become a fetish, in that it is seen as a universal magic cure for all of society's ills. Hamilton also proposes that the pursuit of growth has been at a tremendous cost in terms of the environment, erosion of democracy, and the values of society as a whole. One result is that we, as a society, have become obsessed with materialism and consumerism. Hamilton's catchphrase "People buy things they don't need, with money they don't have, to impress people they don't like" neatly sums up his philosophy on consumerism.
Hamilton proposes that where a society has developed to the point at which the majority of people live reasonably comfortably, the pursuit of growth is pointless and should be curtailed. The surplus wealth could then be diverted into the essential infrastructure and to other nations that have not reached this level of wealth. Hamilton adapted the term Eudemonism to denote a political and economic model that does not depend on ever increasing and ultimately unsustainable levels of growth, but instead (page 212) "promotes the full realisation of human potential through ... proper appreciation of the sources of wellbeing", among which he identifies social relationships, job satisfaction, religious belief for some, and above all a sense of meaning and purpose.
The basic premise is that once we have guaranteed shelter, food, and health care (and need not worry about these any more), then every other "luxury" we add to our lives does NOT in fact make us happier/more satisfied, and in many cases, reduces our happiness.
I find it very ironic, that for all the economic progress made in the US, many do not have guaranteed food, shelter and least of all Health Care.
Written in August 2008