There is a discussion on a Green Party email list about economic growth. My 2p:
In the Alice in Wonderland world of politics
that we seek to enter and influence,
economic growth is held to be the norm that
guarantees our prosperity. Recession, or
contraction, also inelegantly called
de-growth, guarantees misery for many
because it means unemployment and poverty.
So conventional economics demands continual growth.
But it is axiomatic that it is impossible to
expand forever into a finite space.
It is so
axiomatic that even one or two conventional
economists and politicians have noticed it.
We in the Green Party have been opposing
growth for four decades. The reaction from the mainstream has
been mainly "La La La, we can't hear you".
Occasionally a more thoughtful politician
will tell us "You cannot get people to vote for
a reduction in their living standards".
(As an aside, the Tories have proved this
wrong. You can get people to vote for a
reduction of their living standards so long
as you have the media on your side, and so
long as you can blame it all on Labour, and
so long as Labour doesn't have the nous to
speak up for itself).
But given that we in the Green Party do not have the press on
our side, it is true that we cannot get
people to vote for a reduction in their
living standards, which is what non-growth
means in common parlance.
So maybe it is
time for us to unpack the term "growth".
The essential problem with our economy is
throughput of materials. Throughput as in
transformation of coal, oil and gas into CO2
in pursuit of energy. Throughput as in using
said energy to mine materials, to make them
into items that are often trivial,
unneccessary, and unfit for purpose, and then
disposing them into landfill. While emitting
toxic pollution at many stages of this
That is the problem - the linear,
mine-make-dispose model. It is a model that
is toxic at present levels, let alone at
levels that must always be growing.
So the first priority for green economics is
to transform the linear consumption mode
into a cyclic mode. Manufacture for quality
and durability, use the product for as long as possible, repair it, and eventually
recycle it. A cyclic production mode.
At the same time as we close the cycle, we
need to stop destroying resources that are
essentially renewable - i.e. soil, forests
and fisheries. It is one thing to exhaust a
finite resource (like guano, a big source of phosphorus which has been the first to go), but an entirely
separate order of stupidity to exhaust
resources that should be inexhaustible if
So growth is not really the No 1 problem.
is just an added stupidity on a system that
is already intolerably stupid.
If we stopped growing the present economy, we would still run out of materials.
Then there is population growth. Contentious, but the short
and conclusive answer to our friends that
talk about consumption levels as being the
most important issue is that if the entire
human population of earth had the optimal
ecological footprint, we would still have to
curb our population growth.
So the political issue that we have to
address is not just "Economic Growth" as an
abstract concept, but the issue of
throughput of physical materials through our
economy, particularly of carbon.
This changes the game materially. The
transition from linear to cyclical requires
a lot of work. That will cost a lot of
money, but money is not a commodity, it is a
flexible human construct that exists for the purpose of easing the functioning of
the human economy.
Our opponents (primarily the climate
deniers) scream that the cost of transition
from carbon energy will wreck the global
economy. It is true that it will wreck the
carbon corporations, but hey, things change.
The Stone Age gave way to the Bronze Age, to
the Iron Age, to the Steam Age, to the Oil
Age and now finally to the Solar Age. Oil
will wither, and yes, this does pose
financial problems to those who have
invested billions in their false
prospectuses, but that's the market for you.
The point that we have to insist on is that
the cost of the transition represents a lot
of wages. A lot of salaries. A lot of
families with food on the table. Yes, there
will be lay-offs in the oil industry and its spin-offs, but
there will be recruitment in the green
There is recruitment in the hardware side of the
green economy - the Green New Deal part,
public transport, and the other physical
projects such as house-building and flood
defences. Green work is generally labour
At the same time, we can point to expansion
of the softer "human" sector of the economy -
health, education, and social care. The
ageing population is not a threat, it is an
opportunity for us to exercise our humanity.
So to summarise, growth is a problem, yes,
but only in that it is growth of an economic system
that is already problematic (not to say insanely destructive). Curing
this insanity is in no way similar to a
recession or a depression. It is going to
involve a period of intense economic
activity, but in this case, it will be
constructive, not destructive economic
I hope that I have explained this clearly
enough. I have left out many important
details, as it is not possible to be
comprehensive in a short post.
But I hope I
have explained that to stop "growth" of our
economy would not be enough. The real issue
is to transform the economy from a linear to
a cyclic mode. This transition is nothing
like a recession. It means that everyone
will have an opportunity to participate in
the true wealth of the new economy.
[a little bit more on growth]