I have a vague recollection I am unsuccessfully trying to find an exact reference for.

I recall watching an interview of Jacques Attali about a new book of his (maybe 6 or 7 years ago) where he mentioned scholars who once (around 1700?) were convinced that economic growth would stop, not because of limits to technological progress, but because of satiation.

As I recall it, the argument from these scholars was something like "we may be able to produce 10 times more food, but there's only so much food an individual can eat in a day, so we'll never get to such levels of production because of a lack of demand".

Of course, we know that these scholars missed a number of important points, the main one being that growth occurs not only through producing more of the same old good, but by increasing the quality of these goods and by creating entirely new goods (which can easily break the satiation argument).

I am not interested in a discussion of the argument per se. Rather, I am looking for precise references (if any) to people who actually argued (or maybe are still arguing) about the purported "satiation" limit to growth.

Bonus points if someone can point me to Attali's interview or to the book where he mentions these people.


2 Answers 2


In an essay entitled Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, Keynes famously argued that people would one day only need to work 15 hours per week (see bottom of p 4). This was linked to an argument about satiation (see p 3, half way down), although he was careful to say that this applies to absolute needs, and that relative needs (ie needs to feel superior to others) may be insatiable.

Note that Keynes' essay is just pages 1-4 of the linked document.

  • $\begingroup$ +1. Still waiting to accept, hoping for further references. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2017 at 14:16

In addition to @Adam Bailey's answer there is also Frank Ramsey's original paper "A mathematical theory of saving " in the economic journal. He argued that nations would at least asymptotically achieve a state of bliss, where no further growth was necessary. More precisely he states on p. 545:

There are then two logical possibilities: either the rate of enjoyment will increase until infinity or it will approach asymptoticallt to a certain finite limit. The first of these we shall dismiss on the ground that economic causes alone could never give us more than a finite rate of enjoyment [...]. There remains the second case where, in which the rate of enjoyment approaches a finit limit, which may or may not be equal to the maximum conceivable rate.


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