Sunday, 25 March 2012

Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson

Tim Jackson is Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey and Director of the ESRC Research Group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment (RESOLVE). Funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the aim of RESOLVE is to develop a robust understanding of the links between lifestyle, societal values and the environment, and to provide evidence-based advice to policy-makers seeking to influence people’s lifestyles and practices. Tim also directs the newly-awarded Defra/ESRC Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group (SLRG).

[...]Tim Jackson states the challenge starkly: "Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries. But question it we must." And that is the core mission of this perfectly timed book. Had he published it before the financial crisis, he would probably have been dismissed as another green idealist, at best. But in the wake of the crisis, more people are questioning the primacy of growth at all costs. President Sarkozy, the Nobel-prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz and elements of the Financial Times's commentariat are among those now arguing that prosperity is possible without GNP growth, and indeed that prosperity will soon become impossible because of GNP growth. A new movement seems to be emerging, and this superbly written book should be the first stop for anyone wanting a manifesto.

Jackson, who is economics commissioner on the UK government's Sustainable Development Commission, skilfully makes the relevant economic arguments understandable to the lay reader. He is not slow to simplify where that is warranted: "The idea of a non-growing economy may be an anathema to an economist. But the idea of a continually growing economy is an anathema to an ecologist."

This is the core of the debate. Endless growth is a ridiculous notion to the typical ecologist because we live on a planet with finite resources, the mining and use of some of which is undermining our planet's life-support systems. But the typical economist believes we can "decouple" GNP growth from resource use through the increased efficiency that tends to be intrinsic to capitalism: that we can grow our economies and reverse environmental degradation too. Tesco, as it were, can keep building more stores for ever, provided they are increasingly resource-efficient.
(Written by Jeremy Legget )