Early signs of struggle for economics and higher ed’s future: more growth versus degrowth

Bryan Alexander
4 min readDec 4, 2022

Recently I had two meetings on the same day which resonated with each other in an interesting way. Both sessions were with academics, a dean and a professor. They expressed diametrically opposite views on economics and higher ed, and that expressed a dynamic I’ve been tracking.

To be clear, economics wasn’t the subject of either conversation. We met to discuss other topics. Yet how we arrange the economic world came up organically in both.

To explain: in our conversation, as we discussed institutional resilience and strategy, the dean expressed firm support for continued economic growth. This was in general, not just for their institution, but for the economy at large. Regular GDP gains, increases in corporate market caps, growing market sizes all benefited that campus in this view. The institution depended on GDP going up each quarter.

The professor, in contrast, detected and approved of an opposed way of thinking, both within higher ed and in the world at large. Zero growth, degrowth, circular, and donut economics were finding an expanding audience and that’s a fine thing, in their estimation. Some of the deepest problems our society experiences, notably income inequality and the climate crisis, stem from our current economic order of perpetual growth. Changing course, even reversing economic progress, was ethically the right thing to do, in this view.

I have a lot to say about each point. We can dive into economic modeling, consider industrialization’s ideologies, reach back to Malthus, and more. Today I just wanted to share that pairing and explain why it moved me. I’m curious what people think. I’d also like to plant this flag for later work.

It’s not a surprise to see professors and administrators on opposite sides of a question, of course, but I don’t think institutional politics are the main driver here. Instead, I think we’re seeing many people question present-day economics (call it neoliberalism, late capitalism, very late capitalism, democratic capitalism, or whatever you like). Partly this stems from the life experience of younger generations, who didn’t receive the anti-socialism Cold War era programming of their elders, and whose experience of capitalism has…

Bryan Alexander

Futurist, speaker, writer, educator. Author of the FTTE report, UNIVERSITIES ON FIRE, and ACADEMIA NEXT. Creator of The Future Trends Forum.