While I was on holiday last week figures were published to show that the British economy had grown by only 0.2% in the previous quarter. The news was reported with almost universal lamentation, accompanied, I suspect, by secret relief from the government that the figure wasn't actually negative.
Just as unfettered market forces and monetarism have been the unchallengeable economic creed for the past 30 years, a situation which has led to disaster, so now it it seems universally accepted that the only way to achieve full employment and prosperity, is thorough further economic growth, which will inevitably lead to a greater and more irreversible disaster.
The political right have not hesitated to use the present crisis to implement their ideology of cutting back the state but we on the left are shamefully neglecting the opportunity to propose the alternatives which do not involve the further ravaging of scarce resources, pollution of the environment and the disfunctions which arise from increasing inequality.
We don;t expect people, animals or plants to carry on growing for ever: they reach maturity and stop. Surely it is now time to accept that our economy has reached maturity and explore better ways of sharing its abundant fruits, beyond the wildest dreams of our grandparents, so that "no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity," as my Liberal Democrat membership card has it.
For academic back-up to these idea see Tim Jackson's "Prosperity without Growth" (subtitled "Economics for a finite planet"). Wilkinson and Pickett's "The Spirit Level" (subtitled "Why equality is better for everyone") and the website of the Centre for the Advancement of the Steady State economy, CASSE.
I'd like to hear more discussion on these lines at the Liberal Democrat Conference, and less on how we can restore a more benevolent version of the system as before, under which, as an American economist has put it: "The faster we run the behinder we get."