Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"Growth is essential"

On the radio, David Miliband said that the priority now is to return to "the growth that is essential in a modern industrialised society."

He's right of course. Growth is essential to a modern industrialised society. Newness is funded by investors and lenders who need to get back more than they put in, so things need to grow in order to pay everybody. The system, and most of the organisations in it, are based upon interest, profit and growth.

But, isn't 'modern industrialised society' broken? Of course Miliband is thinking of what is essential to hold up modern industrialised society, it's his job to be among those in charge of it. It's a big job, and probably doesn't leave much time for thinking, 'what next?'

But I wonder what he talks about when he goes round to Matthew Taylor's for dinner. I'd like to be a fly on their wall.

I'd be surprised if they're not talking about what next; it is, perhaps, the most fascinating question of our time.

Which is perhaps why he contextualises his assertion of that growth is essential within a 'modern industrialised society' - thereby drawing a circle around it like something we can start to talk about with separation, something we can start to think beyond.

A nice lady called into the show he was on and said, 'where is the energy for this growth going to come from? We're running out of oil and renewables can't match its capacity.'

Andrew Simms also raises doubts. "Adair Turner, chair of the Financial Services Authority and the Committee on Climate Change, refers to the pursuit of growth for its own sake as a "false god". Other work by Professor Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University concludes that: "Economic growth in the OECD cannot be reconciled with a 2C, 3C or even 4C characterisation of dangerous climate change."

He's saying, in other words, that economic growth is not compatible with reaching our targets on climate change, or even something worse than our targets.

Growth seems to mean always making and selling and buying more stuff. We know we've already passed the law of diminishing returns with our relationship with stuff. We know we're drenched in it and worse off for it.

You could dematerialise the economy to some degree. Trade in non material stuff like massages and therapy. But massagers and therapists still use a lot of stuff to do their non material service. I don't think dematerialised growth is going to help us.

But what is the alternative? I've got a cleaning lady from Brazil. She left Brazil after her husband left her and her son died, because there simply was no work to be found. She left her ten year old daughter, now fourteen, with her sister, and came to England where she now cleans fifteen houses a week at £8 an hour and is sending money home and saving up to return to Brazil and her daughter. Tears well up in her lovely eyes as she tells me this.


That's what can happen when you have a money-based way of life (as opposed to a land-based way where you can still meet your basic needs without money), and there is not growth, and so not enough jobs.

So if we don't want growth but we don't want depression and destitution, if we don't want Capitalism but we're not interested in Communism, what do we want?

It's time for a big, exciting, challenging, explosive conversation about post-capitalist economic theory and practice.

It's time for a scale of innovation and creativity that rattles our roots and shakes our timbers, and results in something better than we have ever known.

The next thing I'm going to do is read Prosperity without Growth by Tim Jackson and see what he has to say. (There's a nice little video on the Amazon page btw...)

1 comment:

  1. Have you read or heard of Cradle to Cradle? Contentious but fascinating ideas, that you could continue with consumerism indefinitely if (1) all products were either fully recyclable as opposed to downcyclable (which is what most things currently are) or 100% biodegradable, and (2) All energy used in production, transportation, and recycling was generated by 100% renewable sources.