Citizen Action Monitor

Government is caught in a “dilemma of growth” – It’s time to move beyond this conflicted state, says Jackson

A half-century of the governmentality of growth has come at the expense of policies for the common good.

No 2144 Posted by fw, January 15, 2018

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 of the Home page.

In Section 5, Chapter 10, Jackson introduced the term ‘governmentality’ as the way governments try to produce citizens best suited to fulfil their policies. Sadly, a half-century of neoliberal regimes have delivered a “governmentality of growth” as the way to keep the ecologically destructive capitalist economy booming. More to the point, the commitment to consumptive growth has undermined government’s potential role as a commitment instrument in nurturing the governmentality of altruistic and conservative human values and behaviours.

Below is my synopsis of Section 6, which Jackson titles “Beyond the conflicted state.” Evidence indicates that the state is deeply conflicted, striving on the one hand to encourage consumer freedoms that lead to growth and on the other to protect social goods and defend ecological limits.

The conflict derives “from the governmentality of the growth-based society.” Government is caught in the “dilemma of growth”, actively fostering economic growth to protect jobs and ensure macroeconomic stability, while concurrently promoting — more in word than in deed – sustainability and the common good.

What is needed, insists Jackson, is “a new vision of governance” that affirms the role of the state as “the principal agent in protecting our shared prosperity.

Tim Jackson is a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey.

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Beyond the conflicted state, a synopsis, from Chapter 10, “The Progressive State” of Tim Jackson’s book, Prosperity without Growth, Routledge, 2nd edition, 2016-17

In what sense is the state conflicted? Jackson explains.

On the one hand, government is bound to the pursuit of economic growth. On the other, it finds itself having to intervene to protect the common good from the incursions of the market. The state itself is deeply conflicted, striving on the one hand to encourage consumer freedoms that lead to growth and on the other to protect social goods and defend ecological limits.

Why is the state conflicted?

The conflict arises, says Jackson, “from the governmentality of the growth-based society.” Government is caught in the “dilemma of growth”: actively fostering economic growth to protect jobs and ensure macroeconomic stability, while concurrently promoting — more in word than in deed – sustainability and the common good.

Over the last half-century, governments have actively advanced a form of aggressive consumerism that serves economic growth, protects jobs and maintains stability — at the considerable expense of other common good policy goals.

Jackson is blunt in his condemnation of this shortsighted “governmentality of the growth-based society”:

“But this narrow pursuit of growth represents a horrible distortion of the common good and a misrepresentation of our underlying human values. It also undermines the legitimate role of government. A state framed narrowly as the protector of market freedom in the unbounded pursuit of consumerism bears no relation to any meaningful vision of social contract.”

What is needed, insists Jackson, is “a new vision of governance” that affirms the role of the state as “the principal agent in protecting our shared prosperity.

Vital influences on a “shared responsibility” are family, community, friendship, health and the like. It is too much to expect individuals to protect these elements, which, in Jackson’s view are being “eroded in modern society.” As well, he favours a role for government in protecting “employment, justice and equality … at the level of aggregate wellbeing.”

Equally important, Jackson believes an appropriate role for government would be “to strengthen and protect commitment devices that prevent myopic choice and … reduce the pernicious structural impacts of economic development that increase inequality and reduce wellbeing.

Jackson concedes that a significantly revised vision of governmentality would require a democratic mandate: “A progressive State must engage actively with citizens both in establishing the mandate and delivering the change.”

Democratic mandate notwithstanding, government is not exempt from its responsibility in delivering a “shared prosperity” – “The role of government is to provide the capabilities for its citizens to flourish – within ecological limits.”

And just what does this responsibility entail? In essence, it calls for “shifting the balance of existing institutions and structures away from materialistic individualism and providing instead real opportunities for people to pursue intrinsic goals of family, friendship, community, participation, creativity.”

As one young Singaporean minister put it to Jackson:

“Politicians should see themselves as stewards of human potential. Their role is to enable people to reach their full potential as human beings. To provide them with the skills and infrastructure to do so.”

However, as long as economic stability is trapped in the iron cage of consumer-driven growth, the conflicted state will never provide the capabilities for its citizens to prosper without growth.

Freeing the macroeconomy from the structural requirement for consumption growth will simultaneously free government to play its proper role in delivering social and environmental goods and protecting long-term interests. The same goal that’s vital for a sustainable economy is essential to a progressive State.

Amen to that.

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