It is taken as a given that unless political parties of whatever stripe promise growth, they are dead in the water. Even within the green movement, anyone seeking to influence government and business is likely to focus on promoting “green” growth to be deemed serious. Question growth and face irrelevance.
But infinite growth on a finite planet, what sense does that make? Immaterial economic activity? Just consider the energy requirements of the digital sphere. That is not to say that “fixing the planet” by insulating houses and so on won’t involve a lot of economic activity as well as caring for each other as our climate becomes less and less supportive of life. It is just that we are going to have to drop a lot of other environmentally negative stuff.
Is our inability to drop our dependence on growth to be our undoing?
Jared Diamond speculated in his book, Collapse, that the Nordic settlement of Greenland in the dark ages failed due to their unwillingness to adjust their diet to include fish. There was plenty in the sea around them that supported the ongoing survival of the Inuit. Is this our fish moment? Is our inability to drop our dependence on growth to be our undoing?
If not, then rather than an aspiration, degrowth has to become a harsh reality as our political-economic systems burn up in the fire of climate heating and ecological collapse.
This is where the idea of a “wellbeing economy” is posited as an answer to this conundrum. Maybe politicians could promise and measure this to make the aspiration of growth irrelevant while staying “serious.” We could become “post-growth”.
But does this really solve anything? Does it not leave unresolved the decision between material and spiritual wellbeing? In our culture, most will focus on the material, which will not reduce our environmental impact. And gives little prominence to the issue of injustice.
In this context it is easy to see growth as a comforter for the masses with cloaked injustice a shield for the global rich against any challenge to their unfair play in the global competition for resources.
Proponents of a wellbeing economy certainly argue for justice, but so might proponents of growth.
Proponents of a wellbeing economy certainly argue for justice, but so might proponents of growth. Maybe promoting a “caring economy” is nearer the mark with its emphasis on the collective where we care for others as we care for ourselves.
There are lessons in history. Spiritual well-being underpinned society in Europe before the carbon-driven industrial revolution. And it still is in many countries. Could the woke movement become a modern-day puritanism, driven by the young and dispossessed as climate change reality increasingly bites?
To feed your reflections we have a great line-up of contributors in this issue.
We talk to political economists, Helen Thompson, Christopher Dent and Lebohang Liepollo Pheko. Thompson discusses the outlook for the international political economy in the context of the ecological crisis, while Dent looks at how mainstream economic thinking dominates international thinking on sustainable development.
Pheko provides challenging views on the recent Post Growth conference in the EU Parliament, which may have moved this debate out of the margins.
Roland Kuper argues that we need to embrace turbulence in the transition, Willie Diddens looks at the state of reform of finance post COP26 and Niko Humalisto wonders whether the Global North will ever seriously address the issues faced by Least Developed Countries.
Getting into specifics, Tom Neumark explores the potential of just giving cash, Ted Lechterman examines the legitimacy of business boycotting and Muhammad Faisol Chowdhury looks at the realities of health and safety in the Bangladesh rag trade.
On economics, Blair Fix looks at the myth peddled about interest rates controlling inflation and Guy Dauncey reviews John Komlos’s economics textbook.