Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Prosperity without growth

In this iciest of new years, you might as well curl up with a good book and hope for sunnier times. A good candidate, if you're at all interested in some of the economics ideas occasionally aired here, would be Tim Jackson's Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (thanks to publishers Earthscan for the review copy).
Based closely on Jackson's report for the Sustainable Development Commission (published in March last year, and freely available from the SDC site), the book is a painless introduction to the case against that impossible totem of conventional theory, endless economic growth.
Jackson begins with a sketch of ecological limits - it is a small world, after all - and overview of the most unsustainable aspects of our current global economy, addressing the usual objections about the necessity of eternally growing GDPs. Bracingly, Jackson debunks the familiar calls for a 'decoupling' of economic growth and ecological cost - the basic numbers just can't add up.
A broader reconsideration of some of the fundamentals of society is needed, Jackson reckons, particularly what he calls, pace Weber, 'the iron cage of consumerism'. The book argues the case for the now-familiar if ever elusive Keynesian 'green new deal', as well as a new form of ecological macro-economics which relaxes that old presumption of perpetual consumption growth as a prerequisite for stability.
It's all presented as plainly as is possible for such an inevitably complex topic - a little handwavey at times, but there's abundant references for anyone who wants to dig deeper. The arguments are sound but, in the depths of this post-Copenhagen winter, it's too easy to doubt whether they'll ever be usefully heard.

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