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22 March 2017

Alternative economist Tim Jackson proposes abandoning the ideology of growth

At the ETUI Monthly Forum which took place on Monday 13 March, Tim Jackson – British economist and author of the best-selling book Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet – presented the main take-aways from the latest edition of his book and called for the paradigm of growth to be cast aside once and for all, and for investment to be redirected towards sectors which promote well-being.

Jackson – who currently holds a professorship at the Centre for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Surrey – served as rapporteur for the UK Sustainable Development Commission, which ceased operations in 2011 but whose publications are often cited by those seeking an alternative to the dominant economic model.

He believes that the financial and economic crises which have reverberated throughout Europe over the past decade have demonstrated that there is nothing more to be gained from an economic system characterised by, as he put it: ‘the collectivisation of losses and the privatisation of profits’.

He added that our current economic model is also an environmental dead end: ‘What we are running out of fast is planet. […] You can’t see progress as an unlimited accumulation of things.’

The British economist expressed his astonishment that debates on the subject continue to be dominated by the ideology of growth, even though ‘mainstream economists’ (Larry Summers, for example) acknowledge the finite nature of the growth-based model.

Jackson expressed his belief that new business models, such as community-based initiatives, were worth investigating, and referred to a pub in a remote and non-touristy area of England which had been saved by local residents.

The economist suggested that most people take too narrow a view of the economy, and that philosophical, moral, ecological, social and other considerations also enter into the debate. In his opinion, participation in the economic life of a society promotes values such as respect, engagement and so on, all of which are impossible to measure using traditional economic indicators, in particular GDP: ‘The care sector has shown very weak or even negative productivity growth in recent years. Evaluating the quality of the work done by nurses on the basis of this criterion alone leads to ridiculous situations in which they are forced to run from one patient to another all day long.’

Although he maintains that these outmoded indicators should be replaced by new alternatives, Jackson does not believe that all of the traditional economic tools should be renounced. He regards money as ‘a social good’, for example, with the proviso that the monetary system should be under the sovereign control of individual states.

He also called on the trade union movement to take a critical approach to the growth discourse: ‘I am far from convinced that growth will allow us to reduce inequalities. I am more inclined to believe the opposite.’ Discussing the growing problem of health inequality, he noted that ‘Someone who moves from west London to the city’s East End will see their life expectancy drop by six years.’

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