Tim Jackson critiques degrowth and finds “it gives us too little to go on in building a post-growth macroeconomics.”
No 2114 Posted by fw, December 5, 2017
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In Section 1, Tim Jackson’s introduction to Chapter 9, the author finds “something distinctly odd about our contemporary refusal to question economic growth”. His goal, therefore, in Chapter 9 is to correct that oversight by building a “convincing macroeconomics for a ‘post-growth’ society.”
In this, Section 2, Jackson takes a step back by turning his attention to the recent emergence, and increasingly more visible, degrowth movement as an economic model to provide an escape route from an untenable dilemma of growth — “between the desire to maintain economic stability and the need to remain within ecological limits”?
Jackson posits two escape routes: 1) Make growth more sustainable; 2) Make “degrowth” more stable. Endless growth has proven to be environmentally unsustainable; as for degrowth, the worry is that it may prove to be socially and economically unstable.
In this section, Jackson critiques the degrowth movement and finds “it gives us too little to go on in building a post-growth macroeconomics.”
Our challenge: Maintain economic stability AND Remain within ecological limits.
The dilemma posed by this challenge is that endless economic growth is environmentally unsustainable; AND the untested economic degrowth model potentially leads to social and economic instability.
Faced with this untenable dilemma, Jackson posits two escape routes: 1) Make growth more ecologically sustainable; 2) Make “degrowth” more stable. Endless growth has proven to be environmentally unsustainable; as for degrowth, the worry is that it may prove to be socially and economically unstable.
Given the increasingly apparent boom and bust instability of the conventional economic growth model, a challenge has emerged from an increasingly more visible degrowth movement.
And, as Jackson notes, proponents of the status quo do themselves no favour with their more-of-the-same growth prescription: “Sticking with the status quo just leaves us staring into the face of impending disaster. Growth itself is an accident waiting to happen.”
The opposing degrowth response to an inevitable and impending bust cycle “is an interesting but not entirely satisfactory one”, observes Jackson. The degrowth crowd insists on arguing what degrowth “is not”: — “Our degrowth ‘is not’ their recession.” Degrowth, they insist, is all about “opening up the debate”; it’s more about “imagining and enacting alternative visions to modern growth-based development.”
As far as it goes, Jackson is sympathetic with degrowth’s push for creating space for a debate about “alternative visions”.
But degrowth’s challenge to the proponents of endless economic growth doesn’t go far enough”
“… what does this mean for the economy as a whole? Is production expanding or is it contracting? Is demand rising or is it falling? The word ‘degrowth’ suggests that one or other of these things is falling. In which case, the challenge is to show how the consequences associated with the second horn of the dilemma are to be avoided. How are jobs protected? How are debts managed? How is stability ensured?”
Some degrowthers would have us abandon economics entirely. Certainly, there is no denying the catastrophic failures of economics and of “arrogant” economists. But is it an acceptable intellectual position to call for a rejection of economics altogether?
“This is not the moment to abandon the aim of making economic sense of the world; but rather an opportunity to build a new economics, fit for purpose in addressing the enormous challenges we are already facing.”
Degrowth advocates quickly accept the “the first horn of the growth dilemma: that growth is unsustainable.”
Just as quickly, they reject that degrowth would lead to social and economic instability.
“But,” contests Jackson, “this isn’t an entirely satisfactory answer – in part, because it gives us too little to go on in building a post-growth macroeconomics.”