Posted by: Jon | 24/11/2010

Frugality, not austerity, is the road to new prosperity

“This is a strange and rather perverse story about us – people – being persuaded 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”.

Professor Tim Jackson, author of ‘Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet‘. 

In these volatile times, when economic crisis in one part of the world is no sooner ‘stabilized’ than it erupts somewhere else, one single solution has been repeated like a mantra by politicians and the media  –  ‘a return to economic growth’.  Note the key-word ‘return’. Because, despite little tweaks of reform here and there, the same in-the-box thinking that brought the world to the brink of economic collapse is still being applied to its recovery – a return to the endless cycle of using up precious natural resources to produce and consume more and more ‘stuff’ that we don’t need and that does not seem to make us any happier.

 Watch Tim Jackson’s Economic Reality Check (click here or on image below)


But some maverick economists – such as Tim Jackson, Herman Daly, the New Economics Foundation and the French decroissance movement  – think differently, recognizing that the relentless pursuit of consumption growth is both undesirable and unsustainable if we wish to preserve life and well-being on a finite planet. (In fact, this thinking leads straight back to E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful and to the warnings of the much derided but now vindicated Limits to Growth report – and even back to Adam Smith’s misguided faith in the restraining ‘invisible hand’).

But recently there are welcome signs that the common-sense thinking of today’s ecological economists may finally be filtering into the fantastical mainstream. David Cameron has proposed measuring the nation’s well-being as well as its gross domestic product. In this he is following the lead of President Sarkozy who, in 2009, commissioned Nobel prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amarta Sen to report on ways to measure happiness alongside economic growth.  

Of course in the blinkered short term thinking of mainstream politics, this does not mean that the alluent nations are any closer to resolving the obvious conflict between economic growth and caring for the ecological systems that enable our lives – for instance, through Tim Jackson’s approach to ‘prosperity without growth’ or through what Jonathon Porritt calls capitalism as if the world matters’ .

In September last year, Nicholas Sarkozy declared:

“The (economic) crisis does not only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so.”

Since then, attempting to troubleshoot the immediate twists and turns of the unravelling eurozone has evidently diverted him from pursuing this brave new world. So the question still remains: will our political elites wake up in time to the wisdom of smaller re-localised steady-state economies – or will circumstances force them upon us first, ready or not?  


You can download  Tim Jackson’s 2009 Sustainable Development Commission report ‘Prosperity Without Growth?’ here. (But hurry, because the SDC, advisers to the UK Government on sustainability issues, has been made redundant under the new ‘austerity’ regime!). 

For Tim Jackson’s 2009 book of the same name (but without the final question mark), see here.

For a recent (21 Nov 2010) CNN article by Tim Jackson on the unfolding economic crisis, see here.


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