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Work in a World Without Growth


A fixation with growth in economics has seen GDP increase in proportion to environmental damage. As planetary limits draw ever closer and are even being surpassed, such a model cannot be sustained. Riccardo Mastini explains how a job guarantee could open up the way to a sustainable economic model.

Since the dawn of capitalism, market economies have placed a high emphasis on labour productivity. Continuous improvements in technology geared towards productivity increases lead to more output being produced for a given amount of labour. But crucially these advances also mean that fewer people are needed to produce the same amount of goods and services each year. As long as the economy expands fast enough to offset increases in labour productivity there is no problem. But if the economy does not grow, people lose their jobs.

Economic growth has been necessary within this system just to prevent mass unemployment. Communities and the politicians that represent them celebrate the construction of a new factory not so much for the increase in supply of some needed product, but because of the jobs it creates. In advanced economies, the shortage of employment has become more pressing than the shortage of products. Basically, we produce goods and services mostly to keep people employed rather than to cater for their needs.

But what if economic growth were to slow down and, eventually, come to a halt in the near future? More than half a century of ‘growth propaganda’ supporting the dogma that pursuing never-ending growth is plausible and desirable may make this new prospect shocking for some. However, there is now overwhelming evidence that  decoupling GDP growth from increases in natural resource and energy use is impossible. And our plundering of Earth’s bounty has already reached unsustainable levels with the overshot of several planetary boundaries.

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