Post-Growth, Credit, Interest and Money

As impressively (though unwittingly) shown by Francis Fukuyama, attempts to imagine the future of societies are likely to go wrong. Extrapolation of trends can well be a bad idea. On the other hand, some idea about what the future is to look like is needed when a major transformation of the society is to be attempted. The transformation towards a post-growth society is no exception here. It would be naive to expect an exacting outline of how a post-growth society is supposed to work, but it is important that those advocating it at least try to give answers to some inconvenient questions: what about productivity growth? Can universal basic income, supported by many in the degrowth movement, work? And what about the monetary and financial systems? The latter question has gained some attention recently, and some argue that monetary factors might be a main obstacle for a post-growth society. Their arguments should get proper consideration if we do not want to choose the wrong transition “trajectory”, given path dependencies so common in socio-economic systems. Continue reading

Productivity Growth in a Post-Growth Society

In Robert Solow‘s (in)famous growth model, perhaps the most important part was what is now called the “Solow residual” or “Total Factor Productivity” (TFP)–the part of economic growth that cannot be explained by changes in the input of the factors “capital” and “labour”, which is, in effect, the result of technological progress. In other words, TFP is a reflection of us learning how to produce more with the same amount of input. A recurrent theme in this blog is that quantitative GDP growth is highly problematic, mainly due to the related pressures on natural ecosystems. However, even if we decide to stop growing–or, better, to stop focusing on growth–, it is not obvious that we can actually achieve it. And TFP is one of the reasons why this isn’t as simple as many in the degrowth movement seem to believe. Continue reading

Development AND resilience vs. development OR resilience

Ideas for Sustainability

By Joern Fischer

At the Resilience 2014 conference, Dennis Meadows kicked off today’s plenary session by highlighting that the conference we’re at is called “Resilience AND Development” – but alternatively, it could be called “Resilience OR Development”, if we believe that humanity has already surpassed planetary boundaries. This very pertinent question was then reflected on (and later debated) by Melissa Leach and Johan Rockström, two of the big thinkers on these issues of our times.

Johan first gave a short presentation, in which he highlighted that the Holocene had actually been a climatically very stable period – enabling humanity, among other things, to develop agriculture. Leaving the Holocene behind, however, we have now entered the Anthropocene, which is characterized by rapid and exponential growth in a wide range of biophysical variables; driven by exponential growth in social and economic variables.

What makes the changes taking place in the Anthropocene particularly…

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3 Reasons Why a Post-Growth Society Is Not Within Reach

For reasons explained elsewhere (see, e.g., this post and that one), I am among those dreaming of a post-growth society. Of course, it is not entirely clear what a post-growth society would look like, and even less is known about the road there. Still, many people around the world–for instance those coming to Leipzig in September for the 4th International Degrowth Conference–agree that one of the greatest problems of the current societal-economic model is that it is heavily dependent on economic growth. And that at least the first steps towards it should be done soon, for the longer we wait the more we put our civilisation at danger of collapse of one kind or another. Nevertheless, there are numerous obstacles that hinder the urgently needed transition. In what follows, I would like to present three reasons why a post-growth society is not within reach, which are related to three aspects of human psychology: laziness, narratives and conservative inertia. Continue reading

A Basic Income Research Programme

It is a great vision, particularly popular among the political Left: that the citizen could enjoy the freedom of doing with his life whatever she wants. Work, make arts or devote oneself to family or the community. Of course, basic income would not bring with itself the total freedom, but it would make the unconstrained choice of one’s way of living much easier. So far the assumptions, at least. It would be interesting to know, however, whether and–if yes–how this idea can become reality. For so far the vision of basic income is not much more than that–a vision. A beautiful one, but largely lacking an empirical and scientific basis. Continue reading

The Case for A-Growth, Not De-Growth

It is always a very nice feeling when you find thoughts similar to yours in an influential publication. Once upon a time, some 1 1/2 years ago, I published here a text entitled Stop Debating Growth and Focus on What Is Important (yeah, I admit that titles are not quite a strength of mine). Today I read a paper by Jeroen van den Bergh, published two years ago in the Ecological Economics journal, entitled Environment versus growth — A criticism of “degrowth” and a plea for “a-growth”. To my pleasure, his credo is very similar to what I wanted to emphasize in the Stop Debating text. Continue reading

Sustainability and Post-Normal Science

Who should decide what the proper policy towards genetically engineered plants in agriculture is? Should it be experts who determine, say, the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that is acceptable (after they had defined what “acceptable” means)? What about other sustainability-related problems: biodiversity loss, Peak Everything? Are science and scientific analyses enough, or do we need a different basis for decision-making? Continue reading

The Myth of Decoupling

It is something probably every junkie dreams of – to be able to keep taking drugs and feeling free, careless or just high, but without all the unpleasant side-effects like health issues, financial ruin, destroyed social networks etc. This, however, is illusion and no reasonable person would deny that it is. It is therefore astonishing how many otherwise reasonable persons fall prey to this illusion with regard to the great societal addiction – economic growth. They invoke the idea of decoupling GDP growth from resource use, environmental pollution and the like. But decoupling growth has nothing to do with reality, it is a myth. Continue reading

Where Does Technological Progress Lead – Ancient Greece or “Beggars in Spain”?

Ancient Greek polis are often thought to be the ideal form of participative democracy and vital cultural life of a society. Political discussions, philosophy, science and arts – male Greeks enjoyed a real “highlife” that many in the educated “elites” of today dream of. However, to engage in politics, arts, philosophy and science, one needs a significant amount of free time. Indeed, Greek vivid public life rested on a peculiar foundation: slaves. Greek citizens were free of doing most of the less pleasant (but necessary) work like washing, cleaning, production of simple everyday-use goods etc. Therefore they had lots of time to visit the Agora or the Amphitheatre. Continue reading

The Need to Decouple from Growth

Not first since the recent Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro there has been much talk about the need to make the world economy “green”. The problem with this mention, somewhat similar to “sustainability”, is that everyone has a different picture of what constitutes a “green” economy (thus the decision in Rio to leave the definition in the national domain…). Astonishingly many view the “green economy” as one that still relies on economic growth – but without all the negative side-effects, such as climate change and environmental degradation in general. This is the idea of “decoupling growth“. It is just as tempting as flawed. Continue reading

Reposted: Green Growth or Steady State?

Forty years ago, a team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology declared that civilisation had a problem: it was fast approaching a cliff. The Limits to Growth, published in 1972, was a wake-up call for a society then only dimly aware of the finite resources of the Earth. Through its marshalling of hard statistics and what was then cutting-edge computer modeling, Limits to Growth kicked off a debate that is still burning today: can economic growth be reconciled with environmental constraints? […]

If you’d like to read this quite interesting article comparing the arguments of green growth and steady-state (no-growth) advocats, go here.

From Efficiency to Consistency, from Consistency to Sufficiency

It is a near-consensus that the way we produce and consume goods and services in modern economies is not sustainable. We systematically (and knowingly) overuse natural resources, ignore the social cost of (ab)using Nature’s services… So, the diagnosis is more or less uncontroversial and agreed upon. However, the question about the right therapy is still unsettled: how can we do it all in a better way? Generally, there are three strategies that are often named as necessary to achieve true sustainability: efficiency, consistency and sufficiency. Continue reading

Stop Debating Growth and Focus on What Is Important

For years already, there is a debate ongoing about the role of economic growth (in terms of GDP and related measures) with regard to well-being and environmental sustainability. While some claim that GDP growth is a well-suited tool for economic policy-making and should not be questioned as a social indicator as well, most see this as problematic. It is widely believed that within the current economic system, economic growth causes disruptions both in social and environmental systems – in the latter particularly. But this let to another debate emerge, regarding whether GDP growth and environmental impacts can be decoupled or whether a transition to a no-growth economy is the only solution of anthropogenic environmental problems. But is this ongoing debate not detracting our attention from more real problems? Continue reading

Decoupling Growth or System Change?

It is becoming ever more clear that something has to change in the way human economic activity takes place and impacts the world around us. The ecological footprint of the world economy is ever increasing – it is by now believed to have reached unsustainable levels. Few people are questioning this. However, so far the (re-)actions to this new challenge have not been adequate – the 17th Conference of Parties of the UNFCCC in Durban last month, where the world leaders failed to agree on a binding framework aiming at tackling anthropogenic climate change, is a prime recent example. Alas, it is not the only one – rather it is the tip of the iceberg. There are many proposals what to do. And it is clear that human economic activity (including consumption) is the main problem. One popular idea is to “decouple” growth from resource use (in a wide sense of the latter). Continue reading

Islamic Banking as a Paradigm?

Recently I read the book by the nef authors David Boyle and Andrew Simms, The New Economics. The key idea of this book (and of the nef generally) is opposition to the growth ideology, by which our modern economic thinking is dominated. While analyzing the flaws of the current economic system and presenting alternatives, the authors mentioned the possibility “to learn from Islamic banking” (p. 146). Continue reading