Note — Feb 09, 2020

Can We Have Prosperity Without Growth?

Seen in → No.112

Source → newyorker.com/magazine/2020/02/10/can-we-ha...

Quite a good overview of a number of positions regarding degrowth or slow growth, including Vaclav Smil, Tim Jackson, Banerjee and Duflo, Dietrich Vollrath (I’d never heard of his view that “slower growth is appropriate for a society as rich and industrially developed as ours”), Kate Raworth, and the Green New Deal. I don’t think the piece spends enough time on the measure of GDP. Arguing about growing, stabilizing, or reducing growth takes for granted that we keep measuring GDP the same way. Changing what we measure is as (more?) important as whether we can slow the current “one number to rule them all” or not.

Vaclav Smil, a Czech-Canadian environmental scientist, complains that economists haven’t grasped “the synergistic functioning of civilization and the biosphere,” yet they “maintain a monopoly on supplying their physically impossible narratives of continuing growth that guide decisions made by national governments and companies.” […]

Jackson doesn’t underestimate the scale of the changes, in social values as well as in production patterns, that such a transformation would entail, but he sounds an optimistic note: “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.” […]

Drawing on their findings, Banerjee and Duflo argue that, rather than chase “the growth mirage,” governments should concentrate on specific measures with proven benefits, such as helping the poorest members of society get access to health care, education, and social advancement. […]

In the United Kingdom, the New Economics Foundation has called for the standard workweek to be shortened from thirty-five to twenty-one hours, a proposal that harks back to Victor’s modelling and Keynes’s 1930 essay. Proposals like these would have to be financed by higher taxes, particularly on the wealthy, but that redistributive aspect is a feature, not a bug.