No 2145 Posted by fw, January 17, 2018
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In Section 6, Chapter 10, Jackson argued that 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, he insisted, is “a new vision of governance” that affirms the role of the state as “the principal agent in protecting our shared prosperity.”
In Section 7, Jackson follows up his call for “a new vision of governance” by advancing “four broad policy themes for a post-growth society — establishing limits, countering consumerism, tackling inequality and ‘fixing’ economics.” In addition, he asserts that policymaking progress hinges on two preconditions: 1) evidence of improved political will; and 2) resolution of the “dilemmas that haunt the conflicted state.”
In asserting that the formal process of government policymaking must include opportunities for input from constituents, Jackson puts forward his own “four broad policy themes for a post-growth society: establishing limits, countering consumerism, tackling inequality and ‘fixing’ economics.”
Policymaking progress hinges on two preconditions, adds Jackson: 1) evidence of improved political will; and 2) resolution of the “dilemmas that haunt the conflicted state.”
Jackson’s Four Policy Themes for a Post-growth Society
1/ Establishing limits
“Establishing clear resource and environmental limits is vital. Integrating these limits into both economic structure and social functioning is essential.”
The first step in establishing resource and environmental limits is to “learn more about the “safe operating space” within which we should remain.” Jackson cites two resources that inform the setting of limits: the Stockholm Resilience Centre’s identification of nine “planetary boundaries”, tipping points to signal the risks of irreversible and abrupt environmental change; and the 2015 Paris Accord agreement to “pursue efforts” to restrict global warming to 1.5°C above the pre-industrial average, thus setting precise carbon budgets.
“A scientific understanding of our best available information about these conditions is absolutely vital to proper economic planning,” states Jackson.
He goes on the warn that we are at grave risk of leaving “our decision-making to the point where these changes are already upon us…”
2/ Countering consumerism
The social logic that traps us in an iron cage of consumerism is of crucial concern because it’s “detrimental to prosperity, both ecologically and psychologically.” To achieve a lasting prosperity, we must break capitalist society’s addiction to consumer-driven economic growth.
Jackson concedes that “it’s notoriously difficult for people simply to choose sustainable lifestyles.” The key to changing culturally reinforced consumer behaviour patterns is to first understand their nature. As he points out —
“The culture of consumerism is conveyed through institutions, the media, social norms and a host of subtle and not so subtle signals encouraging people to express themselves, seek identity and search for meaning through material goods.”
The consumer society is a complex, intertwined co-creation of “marketeers, investors, advertisers, businesses and politicians.”
Jackson talks of “Dismantling these complex incentive structures…”, which, he grants, is easier said than done. Breaking up this structure will demand a deep understanding of how they were initially assembled and subsequently continue to mutate.
For starters, Jackson zeroes in on the sources that deliver “perverse incentives in favour of a materialistic individualism and undermine the potential for a shared prosperity.”
Advertising is a prime suspect. It pushes all the right emotional buttons to stir our addictive consuming impulses. There are ways to curb those purchasing appetites: for instance, Sweden and Norway have banned TV advertising to children; São Paulo’s ‘Clean City Law’ protects public spaces by establishing commercial-free zones; state support for public media provides advertising-free programming; and improved manufacturing standards would combat built-in product obsolescence.
Jackson accepts that “dismantling consumerism simply isn’t enough. Offering people viable alternatives to the consumer way of life is vital.”
First and foremost, it’s essential to supplant capitalist-driven, addictive consumerism with compelling ways for people to discover the joy in fulfilling social, psychological, physical and mental aspects of life. Jackson has in mind ecologically friendly offerings, such as: public facilities; spaces and programs that create opportunities for leisure activities, self-development, establishing and building new social relationships; physical exercise activities, and other life-enriching experiences.
Jackson encourages government policymakers to “pay closer attention to the structural causes of social alienation and anomie” among citizens. To be effective, policy “must have at its heart the goal of a meaningful and lasting prosperity. Progress depends on building the capabilities for people to flourish in less materialistic ways.”
3/ Tackling inequality
Jackson cites research evidence showing a high positive correlation between health and social problems, and rising inequality in OECD nations:
“Life expectancy, child wellbeing, literacy, social mobility and trust are all better in more equal societies. Infant mortality, obesity, teenage pregnancy, homicide rates and incidence of mental illness are all lower. Tackling systemic inequality is vital … and not just for the least well off. Society as a whole suffers in the face of inequality.”
It’s troubling that so little is currently being done to address the worsening social welfare trends, especially in wealthy, developed nations. Corrective policies and measures for reducing inequality and redistributing incomes are well known, including:
“… progressive tax structures; minimum and maximum income levels; improved access to education; anti-discrimination legislation and improving the local environment in deprived areas.”
Systematic attention to these and other equality-leveling policies is vital.
4/ ‘Fixing’ economics
“An economy predicated on the continual expansion of debt-driven materialistic consumption is unsustainable ecologically, problematic socially and unstable economically,” proclaims Jackson.
To avoid a repeat of the 2008 financial crisis, Jackson advocates a “new portfolio of investment,” one that puts long-term security ahead of short-term gain; one that considers social and ecological interests as important as financial returns.
It’s time to reform capital markets and pass legislation against destabilizing financial practices. Changes and reforms like these will play a vital role in “attracting increased investment in public goods and social infrastructure” leading to a less consumer-driven, growth economy.
Similarly, a new balance has to be pursued in the politics of labour to lessen its current focus on increasing labour productivity. People’s time at work should be protected from “aggressive cost-cutting behaviour by the owners of capital.”
Jackson concludes his thoughts on the last of four broad policy themes for a post-growth society with a recommendation for an “increase in the sovereign control over the money supply by removing (or reducing) the power of commercial banks to create money.” Advantages of this change include: “debt reduction, improved financial stability and enhanced social investment are the fruits of monetary reform.”