The simple fact is that the world can't afford our standard of living, and neither can we. It all stems from the idea that more is more regardless of the costs to the environment, society or even the individual. We can no longer operate under the assumption that resources are limitless and their extraction, manufacture, use and disposal are devoid of very real and threatening consequences to our existence.
We need a New Economic Model. Of course, Ehrenreich is talking about our existing economy which, we know, will be obsolete. The question is what will replace it.
What is growth? Currently, growth is measured in money. The current model is based on goods and services but does not take into account external costs. External costs are those that are detrimental to the environment, society or the individual. Smoke from a factory causing asthma in children, mine runoff that pollutes biosystems and drinking water downstream or toxic materials from our refuse that we export to other countries. Society suffers crime, disease, mental illlness and other maladies very often caused by the neglect of resourses for personal well being or education. Growth has to be measured by the degree of benefit measured against the price of external costs for the environment and everything in it, including ourselves and those who folllow.
Japan proves to be an interesting case. Ehrenreich and the Wall Street Journal get it wrong. Japan is in perpetual stagnation because the population is declining and its markets are being contested. Consumer capitalism needs more and more consumers and more and more markets to perpetuate itself or it withers and dies.
And therein lies the problem. Consumer Capitalism's dirty little secret is that unless it constantly expands it dies, and that is antithetical to what we have discovered about the environment and the atmosphere--that they are finite, and that mining, forestry, manufacturing and refuse cannot be forever thrust upon them without dire consequences to the economy and the very survival of civilization itself.
We need an economy based on sustainability. Without it the human population will be "right-sized" through warfare, starvation, disease, pestulence or a combination thereof. It is only a matter of time and time is getting short. Which road do we take, ever more consumption or sustainability?