In This Review

The Infinite Desire for Growth
The Infinite Desire for Growth
by Daniel Cohen; translated by Jane Marie Todd
Princeton University Press, 2018, 184 pp

Cohen has produced a breathtaking overview of the history and evolution of humanity and human society—and a sobering essay on the future of civilization. He points out that modern Western civilization draws heavily on the eighteenth-century Enlightenment (which drew, in turn, on earlier intellectual and scientific developments) but that writers of that period emphasized the moral improvement of humans rather than the accumulation of wealth. The celebration of the latter began largely in the twentieth century, during which people in the West and around the world came to want and expect continuous improvements in their material well-being, based on economic growth. Yet as Cohen notes, thanks to a growing global population, itself the result of improved economic conditions, sustained economic growth is testing the limits of the planet’s resources. What is more, after a certain point, growth fails to make people happier because they measure their circumstances against those of their neighbors and, as methods of communication improve, against those of ever more distant people.