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The Politics of Post-Growth

THE POLITICS OF POST-GROWTH

The Post-Growth 2018 conference at the European Parliament marked a milestone in the history of the post-growth debate, which has predominately been contained within academic circles. In the first part of a two-part interview, Riccardo Mastini discusses the possibilities and challenges for imagining a world beyond growth with two key post-growth thinkers at the conference.

Riccardo Mastini: We are here in the European Parliament talking about post-growth with academics such as yourselves, but more surprisingly with officials from the European Commission and MEPs. As longstanding thinkers of a world beyond growth where does the battle to imagine a world without growth stand today?

Tim Jackson: It’s still a difficult debate, but not as difficult as it has been. It’s interesting to think of it in historical terms, kicking off with Robert Kennedy’s speech at the University of Kansas in 1968. In that speech, Robert Kennedy wasn’t just questioning GDP as an indicator, he also talked about what makes life worthwhile and what we mean by social progress. That speech is significant in its philosophical and social content and its vision of a different kind of society. In the 50 years between that speech and today much has changed, including in the measurements sphere. The Stiglitz Commission published its report on measurement of social progress in 2009, coinciding almost exactly with the financial crisis. Around the same time, the degrowth movement was beginning to emerge. Over the last 10 years, the conversation has been richer, deeper, and has increasingly involved civil society and resonated with the public.

Yet the debate still doesn’t quite reach political ears in a comfortable way and that’s what is slowly beginning to change. When I wrote Prosperity Without Growth 10 years ago, I was reporting to the British Prime Minister. But as a whole the government wanted it to go away.

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A Sufficiency Vision for an Ecologically Constrained World

A SUFFICIENCY VISION FOR AN ECOLOGICALLY CONSTRAINED WORLD

Owing to the limits of eco-efficiency and the need to liberate environmental space for the global poor, new policy instruments should be designed to bring about ecological fair sharing between countries and a new economy based on the concept of sufficiency.

EU economic policies should pursue an equitable downscaling of Member States’ environmental ‘throughput’, namely the rate at which they use energy and raw materials. Since a constant increase in the transformation of natural resources into goods and services is ingrained in our current economic system, this downscaling challenges the dominant economic belief in the feasibility and desirability of infinite economic growth. This implies a new direction for societies, one in which they will organise and live differently from today.

The sufficiency transformation would mean that people work fewer hours in paid employment, share jobs and services, and lead more social and less materialistic lifestyles. Although economic activity would be more localised, the state would have an important role both to limit material and energy use, and redistribute income and wealth. Many new policy ideas for an economic paradigm shift have been developed and discussed at the academic and grassroots levels in recent years. And finally NGOs have started talking about this too with Friends of the Earth Europe recently publishing the booklet Sufficiency: moving beyond the gospel of eco-efficiency which includes several policy proposals to advance the debate towards a post-growth economy.

Why the economics of enough

We live in a world where more than 2 billion people still live on less than 3.10 international dollars per day. While the global share of people living under this poverty line has been in steady declinefor the past few decades, there is very little hope that this trend can continue without a change of paradigm.

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Oceans in Crisis: Gambling With Our Future

OCEANS IN CRISIS: GAMBLING WITH OUR FUTURE

The threats posed by climate change and overexploitation of the oceans are already being felt. All will be affected, none more so than the poorest costal and island populations. With the crisis in our oceans and its devastating ecological consequences now abundantly clear, global solutions are needed.

Overfishing, rising sea levels, huge dead zones, and waste plastic in the ocean: these are hard facts, generated from sound data brought together by renowned marine scientists from across the world and available internationally. Experts, relying on ever-improving digital measurement methods and imaging techniques, are extremely concerned and warn of a scenario that affects everyone. It is beyond dispute: our oceans are in crisis.

We! Will! Die!” ran the headline in Jakob Augstein’s political column in the German current affairs magazine, Der Spiegel, in November 2017 following the UN climate summit in Bonn, chaired by Fiji. “It was good of the UN to pass the baton to the islanders before they sink”, Augstein continued. “Previously, when something could actually still have been done about rising sea levels, nobody would have thought to ask Fijians what they thought. There were more important things to think about, like cars, jobs, fridges… ourselves, really. And it’s not like Mallorca is going to sink. Not yet, anyway.”

Waves of concern: the consequences of climate change

The seas are suffering due to climate change. Scientists consider acidification, sea warming, and rising sea levels to be the three biggest problems we are facing. The main cause of climate change is CO2 released by humanity into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels. As the ocean absorbs too much CO2 it gradually becomes acidic, while increasing temperatures push sea levels up and cause huge changes to marine ecosystems.

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Work in a World Without Growth

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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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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