It’s hard to know where to start, faced with such an enormous proposition as the end of growth economics. But we don’t need to do it all at once. It’s a journey towards sustainability, and here are a few things we can do right now that will set us on the right path:
Talk about it
Even if they think it in private, and I’m sure many of them do, no politician wants to come out against economic growth. They wouldn’t get re-elected. I’ve heard friends who work for charities or development agencies say “of course that’s just my opinion. If that was ……..’s official position, we wouldn’t have a seat at the table.” We need to break through that forced silence.
The wider the gap between the rich and the poor, the harder it will be to move towards a stable economy. The more equal a society, the more people trust each other, and it will take some serious national unity of purpose to overcome the growth dilemma. The government is discussing an equality bill at the moment that will compel all government departments to prioritise equality.
Following directly on from the point above, we have a unique opportunity to cap wages and bonuses at the moment. Public outrage is high enough to push through something that would otherwise be politically difficult, and cap bonuses or even introduce a maximum wage. That’s not an absolute maximum wage, but a percentage – the highest paid person in a company wouldn’t be allowed to pay themselves more than 20 times the salary of the lowest paid staff member, for example. This prevents runaway wages at the top end, and reduces inequality.
Currently the Gross Domestic Product is the only universally accepted measure of success of an economy, but it only measures economic activity, rather than happiness or environmental responsibility. It pitches the economy against the health of society and against the health of the environment, always putting the economy first. Until we broaden our set of goals, this will continue to happen. The Happy Planet Index is one alternative, where the economy fails if doesn’t provide sustainability and quality of life. Interestingly, Nicolas Sarcozy has a working group looking at options for alternatives to GDP for France.