Europe: it’s time to end the growth dependency

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Posted Nov 11 2018 by Dave Darby of Lowimpact.org
It's time to end the growth dependency

We don’t usually blog about petitions – it feels a bit too much like begging, rather than doing things for ourselves and building alternatives from grassroots. However, this petition is too important to ignore, and politicians need to hear it, even though they might not be close to understanding it.

There seems to be a growing groundswell of people who now understand the impossibility – in fact the extreme danger – of pursuing perpetual economic growth, and yet it doesn’t seem to have reached politicians. Radio 4’s Today programme features a never-ending stream of zombie-like politicians and economists obsessed with the quest for endless growth, egged on by equally zombie-like presenters – even directly after articles about the dangers of climate change and biodiversity loss.

The connection is never made, even though once you’ve seen it, it seems impossible not to see. There are vested interests at play, who don’t want it seen. I think it’s probably the most important issue to be addressed for the future of humanity, so the more people you talk with about it, the more the understanding can spread that we can either live in harmony with nature on this planet, and therefore survive, or we can chase perpetual economic growth – but we can’t do both.

Join 238 (enlightened) economists in demanding that EU politicians vastly improve the distribution of wealth, rather than pursue constant growth on a finite planet.

Petition text

The pursuit of economic growth is not environmentally sustainable, and it is failing to reduce inequalities, foster democracy and ensure well-being of citizens. We call on the European Union, its institutions, and member states to:

  1. Constitute a special commission on Post-Growth Futures in the EU Parliament. This commission should actively debate the future of growth, devise policy alternatives for post-growth futures, and reconsider the pursuit of growth as an overarching policy goal.
  2. Prioritise social and environmental indicators. Economic policies should be evaluated in terms of their impact on human wellbeing, resource use, inequality, and the provision of decent work. These indicators should be given higher priority than GDP in decision-making.
  3. Turn the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) into a Stability and Wellbeing Pact. The SGP is a set of rules aimed at limiting government deficits and national debt. It should be revised to ensure member states meet the basic needs of their citizens, while reducing resource use and waste emissions to a sustainable level.
  4. Establish a Ministry for Economic Transition in each member state. A new economy that focuses directly on human and ecological wellbeing could offer a much better future than one that is structurally dependent on economic growth.

Why is this important?

For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations. But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment. We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required. Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have.

Growth is also becoming harder to achieve due to declining productivity gains, market saturation, and ecological degradation. If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade. Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections. This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy.

Those in power have not been willing to engage with these issues, at least not until now. The European Commission’s Beyond GDP project became GDP and Beyond. The official mantra remains growth — redressed as ‘sustainable’, ‘green’, or ‘inclusive’ — but first and foremost, growth. Even the new UN Sustainable Development Goals include the pursuit of economic growth as a policy goal for all countries, despite the fundamental contradiction between growth and sustainability.

The good news is that within civil society and academia, a post-growth movement has been emerging. It goes by different names in different places: décroissance, Postwachstum, steady-state or doughnut economics, prosperity without growth, to name a few. Since 2008, regular degrowth conferences have gathered thousands of participants.

A new global initiative, the Wellbeing Economies Alliance (or WE-All), is making connections between these movements, while a European research network has been developing new ‘ecological macroeconomic models’. Such work suggests that it’s possible to improve quality of life, restore the living world, reduce inequality, and provide meaningful jobs — all without the need for economic growth, provided we enact policies to overcome our current growth dependence.

Dan O’Neill University of Leeds, Federico Demaria Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Giorgos Kallis Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Kate Raworth author of ‘Doughnut Economics’, Tim Jackson University of Surrey, Jason Hickel Goldsmiths, University of London, Lorenzo Fioramonti University of Pretoria, Marta Conde President, Research & Degrowth and 230 other academics. Full list and media clippings here.

See here for more on the dangers of constant growth, and here for the alternative – a ‘steady-state’ economy.

And then…
Thanks!