Tim Jackson (1957):
[The] story of [our consumer society one] of us being encouraged …
(Deakin Lecture, Big Ideas, ABC Radio National, 4 July 2010)
- to spend money we don't have,
- on things we don't need,
- to create impressions that won't last,
- on people we don't care about or who don't care about us.
Low interest rates lead to easy credit, which creates higher asset prices.
Capital gains from these assets favour the richer members of society and increase both income and wealth inequality.
Since richer households typically have a higher propensity to save than poorer ones, this leads to a further increase in funds, lowering interest rates further and creating even more cheap credit.
Around 2600 employees at British banks were paid a total of £3.4 billion in bonuses in 2013, an average £1.3 million each [ie, equivalent to the average lifetime income or] almost 50 times the average annual salary in Britain.
(Note 34, p 234)
[A study in] London revealed that life expectancy in Haringey (a poorer area) is 17 years shorter than it is in in Chelsea (a richer one).
People living in more deprived areas have
Children brought up in those areas have
- worse levels of drug abuse,
- more alcohol-related hospital admissions, and
- higher incidences of postnatal depression
(Prosperity Without Growth, 2nd Edition, 2017, p 72)
- lower educational attendance, and
- fewer qualifications.
United Nations Environment Program:
From 1981 to 2005 the global economy more than doubled, but 60% of the world’s ecosystems were either degraded or over-used.
Prosperity Without Growth
Growth has delivered its benefits, at best, unequally.
A fifth of the world’s population earns just 2% of global income.
Inequality is higher in the OECD nations than it was 20 years ago.
And while the rich got richer, middle-class incomes in Western countries were stagnant in real terms long before the recession. …
[A] world in which nine billion people all aspire to the level of affluence achieved in the OECD nations … would need to be 15 times the size of this one by 2050 and 40 times bigger by the end of the century. …
Climate change, fuel security, collapsing biodiversity and global inequality … are issues that can no longer be relegated to the next generation or the next electoral cycle. …
[That] poorer nations stand in urgent need of economic development [does not mean that] ever-rising incomes for the already-rich are an appropriate goal for policy in a world constrained by ecological limits.
The myth of growth has failed us.
It has failed the two billion people who still live on less than $2 a day.
It has failed the fragile ecological systems on which we depend for survival.
It has failed … to provide economic stability and secure people’s livelihoods. …
Prosperity for the few founded on ecological destruction and persistent social injustice is no foundation for a civilised society. …
[At] the end of the day, prosperity goes beyond material pleasures.
It transcends material concerns.
It resides in the quality of our lives and in the health and happiness of our families.
It is present in the strength of our relationships and our trust in the community.
It is evidenced by our satisfaction at work and our sense of shared meaning and purpose.
It hangs on our potential to participate fully in the life of society.
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.
Prosperity Without Growth
12 Steps Towards a Sustainable Economy
The Age of Irresponsibility
The Dilemma of Growth
The Myth of Decoupling
Keynesianism and the 'Green New Deal'
Macroeconomics for Sustainability
Flourishing Within Limits
Governance for Prosperity
Tim Jackson (1957)
Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey.
- Can economies thrive without growth?, RSA, 2017.
- Prosperity without growth?, Sustainable Development Commission, 30 March 2009.
… 20% of the population earn just 2% of the world’s income.
[One] billion people across the world who are living on less than $1 a day — half the price of a small cappuccino in Starbucks. …
Rising prosperity is not the same thing as economic growth.
[Indeed, the continued pursuit of economic growth (beyond a certain point at least) … may even impede human happiness.]
[Economic growth is leading] to the depletion of natural resources and the degradation of the environment, impoverishing both present and future generations. …
[Oil] price hikes have already [demonstrated their] potential to destabilize the global economy and threaten basic securities.
Fears peaked in July 2008 when oil prices reached $147 a barrel …
The International Energy Agency estimates that [peak oil] could arrive as early as 2020.
The continuing disparities between rich and poorer nations … generate rising social [and political] tensions …
These three related arguments — ecological, social and psychological — are now well-rehearsed in the literature on sustainability (and on happiness). …
In a world of finite resources, constrained by strict environmental limits, [and] characterized by ‘islands of prosperity’ within ‘oceans of poverty’, are ever-increasing incomes for the already-rich … a legitimate focus for our continued hopes and expectations?
Is there [another path to] a more sustainable, a more equitable form of prosperity?
Raising deep, structural questions about the nature of prosperity in [the current economic] climate might seem inopportune if not insensitive. …
But there are several reasons not to postpone this … until the economy looks brighter.
[The] cumulative impacts of economic growth — climate change, resource depletion, social recession [—] are unlikely to go away, just because growth slows down in the advanced economies. …
[It] is impossible to ignore the influence of financial markets and commodity prices in the relationship between growth and prosperity. …
[The] problems of climate change, soaring food prices and development [are] ‘deeply interconnected’ crises that need to be addressed simultaneously.
[A] clear window of opportunity — and [an] overwhelming imperative [—] now exists for change.
In the face of economic collapse, governments have an undisputed duty to intervene. …
[There] is no better time to make progress towards a more sustainable society.
To invest in renewable technologies that will reduce both carbon emissions and our dependence on finite resources.
To renew our financial and social institutions and create a fairer world.
To invest in the jobs and skills that these tasks demand.
To initiate the transition to a sustainable economy.
The banking crisis of 2008 [that] led the world to the brink of financial disaster [was] not the result of isolated malpractice or simple failures of vigilance …
It was [caused by] growth itself.
The growth imperative has shaped the architecture of the modern economy.
It motivated the freedoms granted to the financial sector.
It stood at least partly responsible for the loosening of regulations and the proliferation of unstable financial derivatives.
Continued expansion of credit was deliberately courted as an essential mechanism to stimulate consumption growth.
This model … has now proven itself unstable economically.
The age of irresponsibility is not about casual oversight or individual greed.
[It] was systematic, sanctioned widely and [focused on one thing:] the continuation and protection of economic growth. …
[The restoration of the status quo simply returns] us to a condition of financial and ecological unsustainability.
Prosperity has … material … social and psychological dimensions. …
A fair and lasting prosperity [is] bounded on the one hand by the scale of the global population and on the other by the finite ecology of the planet.
To ignore these natural bounds to flourishing is to condemn our descendents — and our fellow creatures — to an impoverished planet.
Basic capabilities are threatened when economies collapse.
Growth has been (until now) the default mechanism for preventing collapse.
[Market economies place] a high emphasis on labour productivity.
Continuous improvements in technology mean that more output can be produced for any given input of labour.
[This] means that fewer people are needed to produce the same goods from one year to the next.
As long as the economy expands fast enough to offset labour productivity [growth] there isn’t a problem.
But if the economy doesn’t grow, [people] lose their jobs.
With less money in the economy, output falls, public spending is curtailed and the ability to service public debt is diminished.
A spiral of recession looms.
Growth is necessary within this system just to prevent collapse. …
[Growth] may be unsustainable, but ‘de-growth’ appears to be unstable.
Relative decoupling refers to a situation where resource impacts decline relative to the GDP …
The situation in which resource impacts decline in absolute terms is called ‘absolute decoupling’.
The energy required to produce a unit of economic output declined by a third in the last thirty years [however this has been] offset by increases in the scale of economic activity over the same period.
Global carbon intensity fell from around one kilo per dollar of economic activity to just under 770 grams per dollar [whilst] carbon emissions from energy use have increased by 40% since only 1990 (the Kyoto base year). …
Resource productivity in the use of some structural materials (iron ore, bauxite, cement) has been declining globally since 2000, as the emerging economies build up physical infrastructures, leading to accelerating resource throughput.
In a world of nine billion people, all aspiring to a level of income commensurate with 2% growth on the average EU income today, carbon intensities … would have to fall … by over 11% per year to stabilise the climate, 16 times faster than it has done since 1990.
By 2050, the global carbon intensity would need to be only six grams per dollar of output, almost 130 times lower than it is today. …
… Stern has argued that stabilising atmospheric carbon at 500 parts per million (ppm) would mean investing 2% of GDP each year in carbon emission reductions.
Achieving 450 ppm stabilisation [50% chance of limiting warming to 2°C] would require even higher levels of investment. …
[There] is as yet no credible, socially just, ecologically sustainable scenario of continually growing incomes for a world of nine billion people.
[Simplistic] assumptions that capitalism’s propensity for efficiency will allow us to stabilise the climate and protect against resource scarcity are nothing short of delusional.
Those who promote decoupling as an escape route from the dilemma of growth need to take a closer look at the historical evidence — and at the basic arithmetic of growth.
(p 8, italics added)
['Deep’] resource and emission cuts can [only] be achieved [by] confronting the … two interrelated features of modern economic life that … drive the growth dynamic:
the production and consumption of novelty. …
[The demand for novelty] is intimately linked to the symbolic role that material goods play in our lives.
The ‘language of goods’ allows us to communicate with each other — most obviously about social status, but also about identity, social affiliation, and even — through giving and receiving gifts for example — about our feelings for each other. …
[Novelty] allows us to explore our aspirations for ourselves and our [families], and our dreams of the good life.
[There is an] almost perfect fit between the continual production of novelty by firms and the continuous consumption of novelty in households.
The restless desire of the consumer is the perfect complement for the restless innovation of the entrepreneur [and drives growth relentlessly forwards]. …
[Unfortunately, the endless] pursuit of novelty [also] creates an anxiety that can undermine social wellbeing.
Individuals are at the mercy of social comparison. …
The economy itself is dependent on consumption growth for its very survival. …
It’s an anxious, and ultimately a pathological system.
Economic recovery demands investment.
Targeting that investment carefully towards energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection offers multiple benefits [ie:]
- freeing up resources for household spending and productive investment by reducing energy and material costs
- reducing our reliance on imports and our exposure to the fragile geopolitics of energy supply
- providing a much-needed boost to employment in the expanding ‘environmental industries’ sector
- making progress towards demanding global carbon reduction targets
- protecting valuable ecological assets and improving the quality of our living environment for generations to come.
['Green stimulus’] offers jobs and economic recovery in the short term,
energy security and technological innovation in the medium term, and
a sustainable future for our children in the long term.
Nonetheless, [returning] the economy to a [state] of continuing [an ultimately unsustainable] consumption growth [remains the default assumption].
A different kind of macro-economic structure is essential for an ecologically-constrained world.
[Two] attempts to develop a macro-economics of sustainability [are presented.]
[The first model involves stabilising the] economic output [of a] conventional macro-economy [and using] work-time policies … to prevent rising unemployment.
The second model addresses the … implications of a shift away from fossil fuels [and] shows that there may only be a narrow ‘sustainability window’ through which [such a] transition [could be made].
[This window could be] widened if more … national income is allocated to savings and investment. …
[Necessary conditions for] a sustainable economy [include:]
- … economic stability …
- distributional equity …
- sustainable levels of resource throughput and emissions, and
- [preservation of] natural capital. …
[In such an economy the] balance between consumption and investment, the split between the public and the private sector spending, the nature of productivity improvements [and] the conditions of profitability [would all] have to be re-negotiated. …
Sustainability will need enhanced investment in public infrastructures, sustainable technologies and ecological maintenance and protection. …
[A] new macro-economics for sustainability must abandon … growth in material consumption as the as the basis for economic stability [and end] the folly of separating [the] economy from society and environment.
[People] may turn out both to be happier and to live more sustainably when they favor intrinsic goals that embed them in family and community rather than extrinsic ones which tie them into display and social status. …
[Simple] exhortations for people to resist consumerism are destined to [fail. …]
[Two forms of] structural change [are necessary] to address the social logic of [consumerism:]
- [Dismantling] the perverse incentives for unproductive status competition.
- [Establishing] new structures that provide capabilities for people to flourish — and in particular to participate meaningfully and creatively in the life of society — in less materialistic ways.
A less materialistic society will enhance life satisfaction.
A more equal society will lower the importance of status goods.
A less growth-driven economy will improve people’s work-life balance.
Enhanced investment in public goods will provide lasting returns to the nation’s prosperity.
[Government] ‘co-creates’ the culture of consumption, shaping the structures and signals that influence people’s behaviour.
[It also plays a role] in protecting the ‘commitment devices’ that prevent myopic choice and support long-term social goals.
History suggests a cultural drift [in governance towards promoting] a materialistic and individualistic consumerism. …
[Different] ‘varieties of capitalism’ place more or less emphasis on deregulation and [competition; however, all] have a structural requirement for growth, and rely directly or indirectly (eg in export markets) on consumerism to achieve this. …
[As] long as macro-economic stability depends on economic growth, government will have an incentive to support social structures that undermine commitment and reinforce materialistic, novelty-seeking individualism. …
[Freeing] the macro-economy from a structural requirement for growth [would] free government to [pursue] social and ecological goals and [secure] long-term interests.
[The] state is society’s [ultimate] commitment device … and the principal agent in protecting our shared prosperity.
12 Steps Towards A Sustainable Economy
The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago.
If it continues to grow at the same rate [it] will be 80 times that size by the year 2100.
A. Building a Sustainable Macro-Economy
A macro-economy predicated on continual expansion of debt-driven materialistic consumption is unsustainable ecologically, problematic socially, and unstable economically …
- Developing macro-economic capability
There is an urgent need to develop … a new macro-economics for sustainability [including] tools to explore different configurations of the key macroeconomic variables and to map the interactions between these and ecological variables. …
- exploring the investment demands associated with a sustainable economy;
- investigating the economic implications of strict resource or emission caps; and
- evaluating the impact of changes in natural assets and ecosystem functioning on economic stability.
- Canadian LowGrow model;
- climate-economy models (cf IPCC, Stern Review);
- Cambridge Econometrics’ MDM-E3 model;
- the EU’s TEEB study, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment.
- Investing in public assets and infrastructures
[Public investment targeting:]
- public sector jobs in building and maintaining public assets; …
- renewable energy, public transport infrastructure, and public spaces;
- retrofitting the existing building stock with energy- and carbon-saving measures; …
- ecosystem maintenance and protection; and
- fiscal support and training for green businesses, clean technologies and resource efficiency.
- the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA);
- UK Pre-Budget Report ‘green stimulus’;
- UNEP’s global Green New Deal;
- Deutsche Bank ‘Green Investment’;
- SDC Sustainable New Deal.
- Increasing financial and fiscal prudence
Debt-driven materialistic consumption has … destabilized the macro-economy and contributed to the global economic crisis. …
[Financial and fiscal prudence [could be advanced by:]
- [[regulatory reform in] national and international financial markets;
- [increased] public control of the money supply;
- [incentivizing] domestic savings … through secure (green) national or community-based bonds;
- [outlawing] unscrupulous and destabilising market practices (such as short-selling); and
- [providing greater protections] against consumer debt.
- G20 statement on regulation of finance and currency markets (Nov 2008);
- Tobin tax;
- Obama Administration plan to protect borrowers.
- Reforming macro-economic accounting
[Developing] robust measures of economic wellbeing that correct for the most obvious drawbacks [of GDP by accounting for: …]
- changes in the asset base; …
- welfare losses from inequality in the distribution of incomes; …
- the depletion of material resources and other forms of natural capital; …
- the social costs of carbon emissions and other external environmental and social costs; and …
- positional consumption and defensive expenditures.
- longstanding critiques in the economic literature;
- the World Bank’s Adjusted Net Savings measure;
- RDA policies on Regional-ISEW;
- Sen/Stiglitz recommendations from the French Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress.
B. Protecting Capabilities for Flourishing
The social logic that locks people into materialistic consumerism as the basis for [social participation is as powerful as it is] ecologically and psychologically [damaging].
- Sharing the available work and improving the work-life balance
In a declining or non-increasing economy, working time policies are essential …
- to achieve macro-economic stability; [and]
- to protect people’s jobs and livelihoods. …
[Specific policies aimed at increasing flourishing by] improving the work-life balance [include:]
- reductions in working hours;
- greater choice for employees on working time;
- measures to combat discrimination against part-time work as regards grading, promotion, training, security of employment, rate of pay and so on;
- better incentives to employees (and flexibility for employers) for family time, parental leave, and sabbatical breaks.
- French, German and Danish work-time policies;
- TUC Green and Decent Work seminar.
- Tackling systemic inequality
- drive positional [consumption/status competition,]
- increase anxiety,
- undermine social capital and
- expose lower income households to higher morbidity and lower life satisfaction. …
[Redistributive] mechanisms and policies … include:
- revised income tax structures;
- minimum and maximum income levels;
- improved access to good quality education;
- anti-discrimination legislation;
- implementing anti-crime measures and improving the local environment in deprived areas; [and]
- addressing the impact of immigration on urban and rural poverty.
- proposals for higher income tax on higher rate earners in PBR 08;
- restrictions on bonuses in the financial sector; [and]
- Obama ‘shared prosperity’ plan …
- Measuring prosperity
Developing national accounts of wellbeing through … the measurement of outcome variables such as
- healthy life expectancy,
- educational participation,
- social wellbeing,
- trust in the community, [and]
- social capital …
- Defra SD indicator No 68;
- Dutch capabilities index;
- nef’s national wellbeing accounts;
- the Government Economic Service project on sustainability and Green Book.
- Strengthening human and social capital
[Prosperity consists] in our capabilities to participate in the life of society [and in creating] resilient social communities … in the face of economic shocks. …
Specific policies are needed to:
- create … shared public spaces;
- strengthen community-based sustainability initiatives;
- reduce geographical labor mobility;
- provide training for green jobs;
- offer better access to lifelong learning and skills;
- place more responsibility for planning in the hands of local communities; and
- protect … museum funding, public libraries, parks and green spaces.
- Cabinet Office study on social capital;
- Foresight study on wellbeing and intellectual capital;
- Transition Town movement;
- Environmental Action Fund;
- Young Foundation’s Local Wellbeing Project;
- the ‘Capital Growth’ project.
- Reversing the culture of consumerism
[The perverse] incentives towards materialistic consumption and unproductive status competition [could be addressed by:]
- stronger regulation in relation to the commercial media;
- enhanced support for public sector broadcasting;
- more effective trading standards and stronger consumer protection — particularly on questions of product durability, sustainability and fair trade. …
- banning advertising to children,
- the establishment of commercial-free zones and times, and
- a funded right of reply to advertisers’ claims.
- Scandinavian advertising policies;
- public transport ‘quiet zones’;
- Brazil’s Lei Cuidade Limpa.
C. Respecting Ecological Limits
[Integrating] clear resource and environmental limits [into economic and social functioning] is essential.
- Imposing clearly defined resource/emissions caps
The contraction and convergence model developed for climate-related emissions should be applied more generally [by establishing:]
- Declining caps on throughput … for all non-renewable resources.
- Sustainable yields … for renewable resources.
- Limits … for per capita emissions and wastes.
- UK climate change budgets;
- the Supplier Obligation;
- rationing — post-war and Cuba;
- contraction & convergence proposals;
- Kyoto and post-Kyoto negotiations;
- concept of ecological space.
- Implementing fiscal reform for sustainability
[Shifting] the burden of taxation from economic goods (eg incomes) to ecological bads (eg pollution) …
- UK Government 1997 Statement of Intent on Environmental Taxation;
- Danish, German experience in Ecological Tax Reforms;
- the UK Green Fiscal Commission (reporting 2009).
- Promoting technology transfer and international ecosystem protection
[Establishment of] a global technology fund [funded through a carbon/resource levy (payable by importers) on imports from developing countries, or through a Tobin tax on international currency transfers] to
- invest in renewable energy, energy efficiency, carbon reduction, and
- the protection of ‘carbon sinks’ (eg forests) and biodiversity in developing countries.
- Global Environmental Facility, Clean Development Mechanism;
- Development Aid targets;
- funding provisions of the UN Biodiversity Convention.
[Current circumstances present] a unique opportunity for government [to both demonstrate economic leadership and] champion international action on sustainability [by exercising] financial and ecological prudence at home.