on 25 November 2009
As manifestos go, Prosperity Without Growth ranks as one of the more
well-mannered. Its critique of the path we are taking is devastating.
We have, Jackson persuasively argues, embarked on a consumerist road
which is utterly unsustainable - and ultimately unsatisfying. We are locked in because economic stability has become predicated on continuous growth - the survival of the entire system is thrown into jeopardy if economic growth slows. Governments, even somewhat enlightened governments, find themselves putting materialistic consumption above all else.
There are few villains. No greedy bankers, no grasping multinationals. Rather, as Jackson tells it, we are all victims of a collective self-delusion. Consumer goods become part of `a social conversation' with our families, friends and others because we invest them with meaning, with emotion. Consequently weaning ourselves off retail therapy isn't half as straightforward as you might think.
Prosperity without Growth catches the popular mood of disenchantment in much the same way as Oliver James's Affluenza. Jackson's diagnosis is a good deal more sharply defined than his prescriptions for change: he demands (politely, of course) the "pursuit of an individual frugality". Still here is a well-argued, well-written book which is plainly intent on winning over the sceptical mainstream.
on 14 January 2010
"An economy predicated on the perpetual expansion of debt-driven materialistic consumption is unsustainable ecologically, problematic socially, and unstable economically" writes Jackson, before explaining three reasons why the growth model of economics is impossible to sustain. Firstly, it assumes that material wealth is an adequate measure of prosperity, when it is actually pretty obvious that a life worth living is much more complicated than that."Our technologies, our economy and our social aspirations are all mis-aligned with any meaningful definition of prosperity"
Secondly, growth is unevenly distributed, and so is doomed to fail at providing a basic standard of living for everyone. Globally, the richest fifth of the world takes home 74% of the income, while the poorest fifth gets just 2%. And thirdly,"we simply don't have the ecological capacity" says Jackson. "By the end of the century, our children and grandchildren will face a hostile climate, depleted resources, the destruction of habitats, the decimation of species, food scarcities, mass migrations and almost inevitably war."
By way of solutions, Jackson prescribes a "new ecologically literate macro-economics" and "shifting the social logic of consumerism", and this is where Prosperity Without Growth comes into its own. It's easy to lament the unsustainable nature of growth economics. It's slightly harder to re-imagine it on the other side. Hardest of all is to detail the transition, how you get from growth to a steady state without breaking the economy. That's the missing piece, and Tim Jackson has boldly stepped into the breach with a book that is clear, balanced and free of political bias. This isn't a blueprint for such a transition, but it does show that it is possible. For that, Prosperity Without Growth has got to be one of the most important books of the year.
Obviously this is a book that will draw strong reactions, and many will dismiss it as environmentalist or socialist nonsense without ever reading it. I'd suggest that's not good enough. If growth is unsustainable, then we need to move beyond it whether we like it or not. "The clearest message from the financial crisis of 2008 is that our current model of economic success is fundamentally flawed" Jackson writes in his conclusion. "For the advanced economies of the western world, prosperity without growth is not a utopian dream. It is a financial and ecological necessity."
on 30 April 2010
I ought to have liked this a lot more than I did. I've been looking forward to it. I agree with the main thesis. I find a lot of the arguments convincing. And yet...the structure is somehow wrong. It's not clear what the book is for; it's not strongly argued enough to be polemic in favour of green economics. It's not rigorous enough to convince other economists, let alone ones of a different bent. It's not likely to convince policy-makers, or give them a tool-box of policies to pick up and use. It's somehow less than the sum of its parts - unlike, say, 'The Spirit Level, to which it makes frequent reference.
There are a few separate arguments in the book, most of which are familiar territory. Money doesn't make you happy, and neither does more stuff; there are references to the literature on this, but they are not specially comprehensive or specially convincing. There is some stuff about the iron cage of consumerism, but I preferred the WWF pamphlet on the same subject. There is some theoretical stuff about the flow of goods and savings, but it didn't seem to me (a non-economist) to engage sufficiently with the money system - or to take on board the consequences of a no-growth society for pensions. Nothing much about other forms of organisation for economic activity - co-ops, mutuals and so on, or gift economies. I don't think Open Source got a mention once.
The section on 'the myth of decoupling' is the most powerful, but arguably should have been longer - decoupling is the last best hope of the 'growth-ist' who has acknowledged that the world has limits. In the ICT world, it is constantly trotted out as the reason why the industry can keep growing and still be contributing to sustainability - because it helps other industries to decarbonise. Jackson's arguments are strong and convincing here, but I still felt that there ought to have been a relentless pounding of evidence - like in 'The Spirit Level'. I'm convinced that decoupling is a myth, but I don't feel empowered to convince others.
All in all, not as good as it should have been.
on 27 June 2011
The Sustainable Development Commission (SDC) was a non-departmental public body responsible for advising the government on sustainable development and set up by the Labour Government in June 2000. In the foreword to this book, published by the SDC, Prof Tim Jackson writes: "Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth. ... It's totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival. ... Prosperity consists in our ability to flourish as human beings - within the ecological limits of a finite planet. The challenge for our society is to create the conditions under which this is possible. It is the most urgent task of our times."
PROSPERITY WITHOUT GROWTH argues that growth is driven by the dynamic of production and consumption of novelty and that somehow this needs to end. It argues for heavy investment targeted carefully to energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection and work-time policies so that people spend more time in leisure giving more opportunity for otherwise unemployed people to work. In all it puts forward 12 steps towards creating a sustainable economy. They are not all easy for the non-specialist to follow, but overall the argument looks very persuasive. Let's hope Ed Miliband is reading it.
The Commission was closed down by the Coalition Government in March 2011- an act of ideology and nihilism which verges on lunacy.
on 20 January 2011
I believe in the idea of prosperity without growth. The basic logic is simple and overpowering. Limited planet and resources, global warming, growing population, gross international inequality, happiness not related to ever higher wealth levels. I get it and I like the idea even more thanks to this book.
But my primary reading interest / background is economics, and for my personal taste the weakness of this book is the gap between the admirable goals based on viable objectives, and the realities of the competitive international economic trading system.
Most people care about these progressive issues, but also most people feel more forcefully other basic factors affecting their economic existence. When unemployment rises, a priority of the whole country rightly becomes reducing it. I recognise the need to move away from free market capitalist globalisation as much as anyone, but you need a coherent economic stance which physically engages with trade relationships, not just a set of worthy objectives and values.
For example, consider if this book succeeded in persuading all of Britain to follow these aims of less growth, less inequality and greater focus on environmental issues. Our companies would be in danger of being beaten in competition with foreign companies playing by the old rules, and fighting over smaller stagnant domestic markets. Our workers would become more expensive. Opportunities for sound investment in this country would be shrinking. (God I sound like a proper prophet of the dismal science right!).
My opinion is that a book that proposes radical disengagement from the basic rules of competitive capitalism, (which I support), should prioritise in its content details of how it is going to manage the international disadvantages and potential unemployment such a move will cause. In my personal opinion, these kind of progressive issues cannot be feasibly discussed without thoughts on trade in general and protectionism in particular being included as necessary to counteract the handicapping effect of practising less ruthless pure competition.
on 14 November 2012
The book describes "Growth without prosperity", as most of the book criticises today's economy in those terms - we use up too much irreplaceable stuff, generate too much unabsorbable waste, and aren't happy.
The last two chapters (of twelve) make specific suggestions of laws, which (it claims) would make the economy sustainable and enable people to flourish.
Work: Per-capita limits on throughput (resource use and waste production); maximum wages, maximum working hours; ban disposable products; higher pollution tax, lower income tax; carbon tax on imports; make fair trade compulsory; reduce labour mobility.
Finance: ban short-selling; require banks to hold 100% reserves against all deposits; Tobin tax; restrict access to personal credit.
Media: more state media; ban advertising to children.
State spending: minimum income; more spending on education and crime prevention; more public leisure facilities; lower government borrowing; localise government spending decisions; higher transfers to poor countries.
Public policy: public indices to measure natural capital. Macroeconomic models to include different forms of capital.
The book has great faith in government.
on 13 February 2012
Tim Jackson's 2009 book (now in paperback) 'Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a finite planet' is a key text for efforts to shape a sustainable future, locally and globally. Jackson sets out to debunk the conventional thinking which has helped get us into the current mess and start to define a credible vision of what it means for human society to flourish in the context of ecological limits. He has particular messages for `rich' economies like the U.K. and U.S.A. which are already exhausting much more than our share of the world's natural resources.
In a persuasive and detailed analysis Jackson advances four main propositions:
§ The dominant capitalist model of the last 30 years and the ecologically illiterate economic theories on which this is based have failed.
§ Worse than this, the endless but unsustainable pursuit of economic growth is now `wired in' to our materialist culture in which consumerism is a key driver and personal status is judged by wealth and acquisition.
§ Current incrementalist myths, for example that growth and material consumption can be decoupled, don't stand up to empirical examination.
§ We need therefore both a new ecological macro-economics and new ways of defining what we value: we have no sensible option but to pursue prosperity without growth.
Borrowing both from the small-scale example of social enterprises which employ (mostly) human resources to address community needs and the inspiration of `intentional communities' like those discussed in Wheatley and Frieze's book 'Walk Out, Walk On', as well as Amartya Sen's identification of well-being in terms of our capabilities for flourishing, Jackson defines prosperity simply as a state which offers us all the ability to participate meaningfully in the life of society.
In more detail, prosperity goes beyond basic material satisfactions (still to be achieved in many `poorer' countries) to emphasise instead the quality of our lives and the health and happiness of our families; the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community; our sense of shared purpose and satisfaction at work. He also shows how well-being in this sense is more easily achieved in more equal societies.
This analysis leads on to a promising sketch of the public policies required to make the transition to a better future, in three main areas:
ü Establish clear limits to our use of non-renewable resources e.g. through caps on emissions and ecological tax reform.
ü Changing our economy through an ecological focus on low carbon and labour intensive activities and investment in `green' technologies, infrastructure and jobs.
ü Changing our society through tackling systemic inequalities, sharing out employment and reducing working hours, and building more resilient communities which promote equal citizenship and local self-sufficiency.
Within this broad vision and strategy, we can see that valuing everyone in our diverse communities for the assets they bring and welcoming their inclusion is not only morally right, it is also essential to achieving this better future for us all.
on 15 September 2010
I had very high hopes for this book, based on the Amazon reviews and the accolades by prominent people and journals on the cover. For me it started well and showed convincingly that economic growth has taken some richer countries way beyond what's needed for a happy and long life. Further, resource scarcity, as we pillage the planet, will curtail this growth mdel.
When it comes to looking forward, for me the book gets lost in the weeds of rather nebulous concepts and endless restatement of the problem. I was looking to assemble a mental picture of how in decades and centuries to come, we're going to be living comfortably but perhaps austerely, relative to the present. Instead I felt hints of some sort of command economy, and didn't sense any gratitude towards an economic system that has taken billions out of poverty and disease in a remarkably short time. Nor could I relate the intellectual propositions to the real people I see around me.
Given the glowing praise of others, I acknowledge that the major issue may well be that I'm just not clever enough to "get it", but if I had my time again I'd buy it second-hand or borrow it, and pass it on at the point where it becomes tedious.
on 5 January 2016
This is certainly a very readable and thought provoking book about balancing individual freedoms against the common (environmental) good. The author reminds us that from an environmental point of view we are presently behaving like children in a sweet shop knowing that sugar is bad but unable to resist the temptation. Somewhat scarily he advocates the need for more government in order to ensure (a) equality (a study shows a direct correlation between income inequality, characteristic of more liberal economies, and index of health and social problems), (b) manage employment (fewer working hours if necessary in order to counter the growth effect of productivity gains, moving towards low carbon labour intensive activities), and (c) all else that is needed for a rapid transition away from rampant materialistic consumerism driven by unsustainable novelty seeking and planned obsolescence (in favour of a sustainable society more focused on the common good, citing Mahatma Gandhi’s “live simply so others might simply live”). The book argues how GDP needs to be redefined in order to reflect resource depletion and carbon footprint. Studies show that as a nation’s income increases towards the current levels of developed countries there is a significant tailing-off in education level, life expectancy and happiness index. But the problem for the reader is the difficulty of imagining the precipitation of such a transition away from our planet-destroying way of life with the rapidity needed and without crashing the economy in the process. Much more ominously, though, is the fact that this book was derived from the work of the UK Sustainable Development Commission which was closed down in 2011 by the incoming “greenest government ever”.
on 25 September 2012
As I read the opening chapters a lot of the ideas were not strange to me. As a practising Sikh, the ideas of living simply and within ecological boundaries are very familiar to me. Where I felt very let down was how the points were argued. A no-growth strategy whilst national debts in the western world are so high, is a very anti-consensus idea and the book did not persuade me as to why we should adopt this strategy now.
Any book where the main argument is: governments should make people do x & y and people should voluntarily turn their whole lives around seems a little fanciful to be persuasive.
I love the theory, but then again, I loved it before this book, unfortunately I feel that this book preaches to the choir and does not persuade people who might be doubtful of this.