Reviewed in the United States on December 21, 1999
Richard Douthwaite has written an important book. In this updated version of his 1992 classic of the same name, he brings the evidence he has amassed of growth's downside up to the present. If anyone reading the book does not come to question the unexamined assumption most of us hold that growth is a good thing, then he is indeed delusional. Though other growth heretics, such as Herman Daly, have made many of the same arguments as Douthwaite, I know of no book which covers so many of growth's unfortunate side effects or documents them so well, from the inadequacy of GNP as a measure of well-being through the decline in public health in recent decades to the slap in the face of our growth-oriented society administered by the refugees from Tristan da Cunha. Douthwaite uses the history of Britain over the last 200 years to document growth's ambivalent contribution to human betterment, finding it as instructive a guide as Marx found it to be for analyzing capitalism 150 years earlier. Included in the book are chapters on the consequences of growth in his native Ireland and in contemporary Holland and India, chapters enlivened by his direct personal involvement in these countries. It is regrettable that more of his insights do not come from the American experience, both because of the United States' remarkable history of growth and because of its premiere position in the world today as the foremost proponent and most dogmatic practitioner of the growth doctrine. Apparently, this is not where Douthwaite's life experience led him to direct his attentions. Hopefully, in a future book he will.