The Goldilocks Zone vs. Unbounded growth

The concept of the Goldilocks Zone reminds us that most typically, there is a range of possibilities above and below which would not be viable. This is in contrast to the idea of unbounded growth, in which one or more key performance indicators is expected to continue to grow forever, without bounds. Think: up and to the right.

Commonly used as a metaphor, the Goldilocks Zone has its origins in planetary science. It defines a planet that is within the habitable zone of its star system, meaning not too hot and not too cold — with the ability to sustain liquid water. Without it, life on the only living planet we know — ours — would cease to exist. Therefore, one good place to look for potential life on other planets is the Goldilocks Zone, which has also come to be used as a reference meaning “the perfect conditions” for some ideal state or goal.

“Going viral” isn’t always desirable

We crave it in our social media feeds, but avoid it like the plague when it is the plague — viral contagion can both giveth and taketh away. In America we’ve recently been having both as of this writing.

Whereas the Goldilocks Zone presupposes limits at both ends, unbounded growth expects no limits to ever be encountered from the start. In a finite world inside a finite universe, it is simply unlikely to be true with much regularity.

You could say that Goldilocks Zones know a lot about establishing boundaries, while the infinite growth areas tend to extremism. Beyond the pandemic, cancer is another infamous candidate for illustrating the dangers of growth without bounds. Arguably, hypercapitalism belongs.

The Goldilocks Zone is a moderate

Goldilocks Zones are akin to the center of the Bell curve; the boundaries of the margin of error; the middle path. James Madison would have been a fan of the Goldilocks Zone — it would have smelled to him like his own concept of the moderating force of many factions preventing too much extremism from taking root in governance, and reminded him of the insights of the Marquis de Condorcet.

“Moderation in all things” was made famous by first the Greeks and later the Romans. It is a kind of ancient wisdom that turns out to have very old roots indeed — back even to the early days of the universe.