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Gütersloh, 09/06/2010

Colloquium With Tim Jackson on "Prosperity Without Growth"

Tim Jackson
Tim Jackson, head of the Economics Steering Group at the UK’s Commission for Sustainable Development
Sustainable Development Commission

For Tim Jackson, head of the Economics Steering Group at the UK’s Sustainable Development Commission, “prosperity without growth” is not a fantasy but a compelling necessity. The author of the book by the same name, one of the most important publications dealing with post-growth economics, considers the era of continual growth over and “continuing on as in the past” neither desirable nor possible for numerous reasons.

Jackson was one of the participants attending a colloquium organized by the Bertelsmann Stiftung at the end of May in Berlin in order to examine the question of whether and how we can maintain or increase our prosperity in the future without relying too heavily on economic growth. The question is a conundrum, given that economic growth and greater levels of consumption are considered by many to be the best way to achieve prosperity and social peace and the basis for democratic life.
 
At least in terms of mature market economies, Jackson posed the question of whether prosperity without growth is conceivable. Does prosperity mean supplying people need a constant stream of consumer goods? Can it also be defined by psychological, health and social aspects?
 
According to Jackson, the exploitation of our natural resources and the environmental degradation taking place around the globe are no longer sustainable. While many countries have in fact tried to make their production of goods and services more efficient in terms of the use of energy and other resources, these efforts will not be enough. “If you consider a globe with 9 billion people in the year 2050, today’s total CO2 emissions used in manufacturing around the world would have to be reduced by one quart, if we are to achieve the IPCC goals,” he said, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “This is hardly possible given the lagging progress made in recent years and technological constraints.” 

According to the sustainability expert, the necessary reductions in resource use and CO2 emissions have thus not succeeded. In addition, efficiency gains have been offset by increases caused by population growth and the expansion of western consumer lifestyles, something that demonstrates a key dilemma: anyone who ignores growth risks economic and social collapse, and anyone who focuses on growth risks jeopardizing the social, financial and economic systems needed by the economy and that ensure long-term survival. According to Jackson, the recent financial, economic and debt crises demonstrate that we are already in the middle of this dilemma, and that the political sphere’s traditional answers, such as increasing consumer demand by reducing taxes, only increase the dilemma.
 
Something that exacerbates the situation, he says, is that growth gains have been unequally distributed geographically in recent years, so that many countries have not benefitted from industrial nations’ prosperity, even though they will be forced to grow in the future if they want to provide their inhabitants with what we consider a humane existence.
 
Jackson thus calls for developing a new economic system that is no longer based on long-term growth, but on increasing the ability for people to participate in society and reducing our environmental footprint. In his view, that requires redefining the whole notion of prosperity and defining new values, something that calls for accessing new sources of immaterial well-being.

Ulrich van Suntum of the University of Munster, another participant at the colloquium, expressed doubt that prosperity is possible without growth, noting that doing without growth would heavily impede the functioning of national pension systems and a reduction of national debt, while simultaneously increasing unemployment and hindering development among the globe’s less developed nations. According to van Suntum, growth is critically important, even if it must take place in a way that is more environmentally friendly than is currently the case. To that extent, he said, we must treat environmental pollution as a “good,” making it much more expensive by expanding the use of environmental certificates.


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"Prosperity without Growth" - Interview with Tim Jackson (englisch mit deutschem Untertitel)

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