Prosperity without economic growth!

Posted: May 10, 2009 in society
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A UK government commission calls for the immediate end of economic growth according to The Republic of East Vancouver online newspaper. In the article, Eric Doherty refers to Britain’s Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) which recently came to the conclusion that we need economic stability rather than stimulus. The commission not only decouples ‘prosperity’ from being a subjective experience based on consumption, material excess and unlimited economic growth; it also posits that limitless growth cannot continue anyway in the face of the environmental changes before us. And what better time than right now, in midst the economic disaster, to jettison the whole growth concept?

Government report calls for end to growth

By Eric Doherty

Economic stability, not stimulus, needed it says. Anybody notice it?

end of economic growthIn March, the UK Sustainable Development Commission released a major report which says that the immediate end of economic growth is both necessary and feasible. This is heresy to many in the economic elite, but the present economic crisis has made this heresy a real possibility.

The report titled “Prosperity without growth? The transition to a sustainable economy,” asserts that desperate attempts to stimulate growth in recent decades has caused the current economic crisis and that “the current economic crisis presents us with a unique opportunity to invest in change.”

Before this economic crisis, the dominant economic dogma was that economic growth would continue indefinitely, with the irritation of minor economic recessions being the only interruption. According to the report, the global economy is about five times larger than it was 50 years ago, and if it resumes growing at previous rates, it will be 80 times larger by the end of the century. The report points out that the founding fathers of economics, such as John Stewart Mill, recognized that an end to growth would be necessary and that the dogma of infinite growth is a recent development in economic theory.

Report author Professor Tim Jackson, Economics Commissioner at the Sustainable Development Commission (SDC), asserts that dealing with the climate crisis is near impossible without ending economic growth: “The report finds that aspirations for ‘decoupling’ environmental impacts from economic growth are unrealistic. Even based on a moderate level of growth of 2% per year, meeting 2050 carbon reduction targets would mean achieving a carbon content of no more than 6g CO2 for each dollar spent—a staggering 130 times lower than the average carbon intensity today.”

Jonathon Porritt, Chair of the SDC, said “The current economic crisis may be painful, but it will be nothing compared with the crises we will face if we continue to grow in a way that threatens the life-support systems on which we rely.”

The SDC sees the global economic crisis as a golden opportunity to change directions and avert disaster. In the past, economists acknowledged that growth would have to end some day, but this report calls for ending the present economic crisis by stabilizing the economies of wealthy countries now, rather than by stimulating economic growth and then figuring out how to stop it later.

Jackson said, “It may seem inopportune to be questioning growth while we are faced with daily news of the effects of recession, but allegiance to growth is the most dominant feature of an economic and political system that has led us to the brink of disaster. Not to stand back now and question what has happened would be to compound failure with failure: failure of vision with failure of responsibility. Figuring out how to deliver prosperity without growth is more essential now than ever.”

Jackson acknowledges that many in our society are addicted to consumption as a way of boosting our status and self esteem. But his report does not call just for individual action to reduce consumption; instead he calls for a concerted campaign to dismantle the “iron cage of consumerism” that makes it so difficult to live sustainable lives in a consumer society. He calls for government action to create a much more equal distribution of wealth and to reduce hours of work to prevent unemployment.

The report includes an in-depth discussion of what “prosperity” means. It rejects the notion that subjective happiness is an adequate measure, pointing out that some people without even access to adequate nutrition report being very happy. Instead, the report includes health, security, and the material capability to live well in their definition of prosperity. This is a practical middle ground between those who believe that the consumer society can be made sustainable with some miraculous technological fix, and “hair shirt” environmentalists who call for unlikely levels of individual material sacrifice without structural change.

The SDC does not call for selling a vision of happiness based on sacrifice or self-righteous denial. Instead, it points out that our present excessive level of consumption does not achieve anything we value very much and threatens everything we do value. Prosperity does not have to mean material excess, and the fact that many of us are not feeling very prosperous right now is an opportunity not to be missed.

“Prosperity without growth?” concludes: “The clearest message from the financial crisis is that our current model of economic success is fundamentally flawed. For the advanced economies of the western world, prosperity without growth is no longer a utopian dream. It is a financial and ecological necessity.”

This report presents an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. If you care about the future of humanity, take a few minutes to read at least the eight-page summary. It could be the most important heresy ever written in a government report.

Prosperity without growth and an interview with Tim Jackson is available at sd-commission.org.uk. The SDC can be found at http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/prosperity-without-growth-background.html”>here.

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