No 2013 Posted by fw, July 22, 2017
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“The vision of social progress that drives us – based on the continual expansion of material wants – is fundamentally untenable. And this failing is not a simple falling short from utopian ideals. It is much more basic. In pursuit of the good life today we are systematically eroding the basis for wellbeing tomorrow. In pursuit of our own wellbeing, we are undermining the possibilities for others. We stand in real danger of losing any prospect of a shared and lasting prosperity.” —Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth
This post is a synopsis of the opening 12 short paragraphs of Chapter 1, The Limits of Growth, of the 2nd edition of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity Without Growth. (Routledge, 2016-17).
Tim Jackson is a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey. He is the director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP), a multi-disciplinary, international research consortium which aims to understand the economic, social and political dimensions of sustainable prosperity.
The oxymoronic title of Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, raises the question at the very heart of Tim Jackson’s book: In a finite world, what can prosperity (without growth) possibly mean? In the opening 12 short paragraphs of Chapter 1, Jackson reflects on the meaning of ‘prosperity’, leading to a meaning that encompasses a shared vision of life lived within the limits of a finite planet.
“Prosperity matters,” declares Jackson in his opening. To prosper, he says, is commonly understood to mean “to do well and to be well”, not just for oneself, but for others.
“How’re things going?” is a conversational ice-breaker in casual encounters. But they are more than this, insists Jackson: “Wanting things to go well is a common human concern.” A common concern in the sense that one’s wellbeing, one’s prosperity, is rooted in the prosperity, the wellbeing, of others – of family, friends, neighbours, community, and beyond.
At this point Jackson takes a cognitive leap from a rather narrow view of prosperity for oneself and others to an encompassing “vision of human progress.” On this level, Jackson conceives of prosperity for all, prosperity that envisions an end to humanity’s ills – poverty, homelessness, injustice, insecurity, inequality, conflict, and more.
Jackson believes that those who share this vision of prosperity as human progress will enhance the meaningfulness of their own lives. As he puts it, “If I cannot believe this prospect is possible, then what can I believe? What sense can I make of my own life?”
His pivotal question looms large. How can this bold conception of prosperity be attained? Jackson attaches a condition to the means for achieving prosperity on a global scale — the means must be legitimate and moral, otherwise, there can be no collective meaning to the enterprise.
Humanity has failed in this task, declares the author, because the vision that drives us is “based on the continual expansion of material wants,” a vision that is destroying the very basis for “lasting prosperity.”
On an ominous note, Jackson recognizes that three framing conditions beyond our control, namely ecological limits, resource constraints, and aspects of human nature, threaten to thwart our prospects for a lasting prosperity.
The author ends this section of Chapter 1 by stating the primary purpose of his book: “to seek viable responses to the biggest dilemma of our times: reconciling our aspirations for the good life with the limitations and constraints of a finite planet.”
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