Citizen Action Monitor

Conventional wisdom holds that economic growth is the surest path to prosperity

But in following that path for decades, we have not gained prosperity, we have lost it.

No 2030 Posted by fw, August 14, 2017

To access all other synopses from Prosperity without Growth, click on the Tab titled “Prosperity without Growth” — Links to All Posts in the top left margin. 

For newcomers to this blog, I am in the process of writing a series of synopses of every chapter, section by section, of the 2nd edition of Tim Jackson’s thought-provoking book, Prosperity Without Growth, (Routledge, 2016-17).

Tim Jackson

Jackson’s title for Chapter 2, “Lost Prosperity” sets the chapter’s tone, for, as he puts it in the chapter’s penultimate paragraph: “There now seems to be a distinct possibility that the growth on which we have relied, not only to improve the quality of our lives but also to maintain economic stability, might just not be available any more.

Since Jackson does not assign headings to his chapters’ opening paragraphs, I have chosen to label them “Introduction.”

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.

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Introduction: a synopsis, excerpted from Chapter 2, “Prosperity Lost” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

Conventional wisdom holds that economic growth and higher incomes is the surest path to prosperity for all.

But, as we are learning, progress based on continually rising consumption on a finite planet is not viable. Those caught in the crippling global financial crisis have been left wondering how and when a new round of economic growth will be generated.

The failure of conventional economics has exposed deep fissures in the capitalist terrain. What are we to make of an economy that –

  • Was over-reliant on relentless consumer demand, a demand that destroys ecosystems
  • Undermined the reliability of the financial and political systems
  • Required debt to drive growth
  • Used complicated financial instruments to conceal risk from borrowers
  • Crashed the financial system when the debt became toxic

Governments’ initial attempts to bailout failing banks and jumpstart the economy with taxpayer money just rewarded those responsible for the crisis: Bailouts were excused with a familiar phrase – “there was no alternative.”

The fact remains, the consequences of failing to prevent a collapse of financial markets would have been truly dire — a massive global meltdown with enormous humanitarian costs.

Nevertheless, as things turned out, government bailouts precipitated further crises: the EU experienced rising deficits, unwieldy sovereign debt, and downgraded credit ratings.

And subsequent government austerity policies just exacerbated the situation. Cuts to social programs contributed to rising inequality, more unemployment, worsening health outcomes, public anger directed at bank bailouts, and deepening social unrest which persists to this day.

What now? Jackson writes: Facing these problems with an economic system still struggling to regain its footing is of course immensely challenging, particularly in the presence of a widely held view that there is no alternative.”

He calls for “some serious reflection.” For, not to adjust our failed economic model would be a failure of responsibility.

And what better time than the present for re-visioning a 20th century economy ill fit for the 21st century. It’s time to envision a post-growth economy to deliver both financial and ecological sustainability.

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