A steady state economy is one in which the balance has been reached; no further growth is necessary or even desirable. Population and consumption are maintained rather than continually increased, and resources are managed rationally rather than exploited and depleted.
The route to a steady state economy is almost as obvious as its benefits. Decreasing demand and fecundity to manageable levels is a major but essential step; it remains to be seen whether mere ‘sustainability’ is actually headed in that direction, or if ‘de-growth’ is a more appropriate alternative. Much of the focus in the transition to a steady state economy is ecological in nature (no pun intended), so the most visible instance of steady state economics has been ecological economics.
The critics of this theory come in two forms. The good old technological optimists cling to the belief that science will save us…somehow. Many advocates of this view have little to no real understanding of current science, let alone the vaguely predicted tomorrow in which all of our resource problems are solved. Those who have a good grasp must surely realize that each ‘solution’ has been increasingly costly, as well as offering increased risk of widespread economic and environmental impact.
The other type of critic maintains that economics is increasingly ‘de-coupled’ from physical factors — basically, economic output can increase while resource use decreases. The transition to an ‘information-based economy’ is often used to prove this argument, though almost exclusively ignoring the fact that consumption of resources continues to rise even as the efficiency of usage increases (and nothing can ever be 100% efficient, or the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics would have to be repealed…). A good example of such thinking can be applied to the precious metals marketplace, especially for gold and silver which have uses both industrial and for jewelry. Let’s consider the jewelry demand on sterling silver and consider the following: There is a limited supply of all precious metals. But what if we all want sterling silver rings & other jewelry during a time when silver is in short supply. Clearly, the silver marketplace will respond by causing prices to rise. Sudden increases in demand have that effect on everything, not just sterling silver. But by considering the impact of demand on a small niche like sterling silver jewelry, one can understand how completely interdependent price and availability are. Yet to claim that silver demand is independent of price, or visa versa – you can see how quickly this devolves into nonsense that is unsupportable with rational argument.
Really, the only opposition to a steady state economy comes from those who feel that human beings have a right to continue to be greedy, selfish, callous, and/or ignorant. We’re all resistant to being told we can’t have everything that we want, even when we don’t have a complex and widely-accepted economic theory to back us up.