RWER issue 57: Ted Trainer
The radical implications of a zero growth economy
For 50 years literature has been accumulating pointing out the contradiction between the pursuit of economic growth and ecological sustainability, although this has had negligible impact on economic theory or practice. A few, notably Herman Daly (2008), have continued to attempt to get the notion of a steady-state economy onto the agenda but it has only been in the last few years that discussion has begun to gain momentum. Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth(200) has been widely recognised, there is now a substantial European ”De-growth” movement (Latouche, 2007), and CASSE (2010) has emerged.
The argument in this paper is that the implications of a steady-state economy have not been understood at all well, especially by its advocates. Most proceed as if we can and should eliminate the growth element of the present economy while leaving the rest more or less as it is. It will be argued firstly that this is not possible, because this is not an economy which has growth; it is a growth-economy, a system in which most of the core structures and processes involve growth. If growth is eliminated then radically different ways of carrying out many fundamental processes will have to be found. Secondly, the critics of growth typically proceed as if it is the only or the primary or the sufficient thing that has to be fixed, but it will be argued that the major global problems facing us cannot be solved unless several fundamental systems and structures within consumer-capitalist society are radically remade. What is required is much greater social change than Western society has undergone in several hundred years.
Before offering support for these claims it is important to sketch the general “limits to growth” situation confronting us. The magnitude and seriousness of the global resource and environmental problem is not generally appreciated. Only when this is grasped is it possible to understand that the social changes required must be huge, radical and far reaching. The initial claim being argued here (and detailed in Trainer 2010b) is that consumer-capitalist society cannot be reformed or fixed; it has to be largely scrapped and remade along quite different lines.
The “limits to growth” case: An outline
The planet is now racing into many massive problems, any one of which could bring about the collapse of civilization before long. The most serious are the destruction of the environment, the deprivation of the Third World, resource depletion, conflict and war, and the breakdown of social cohesion. The main cause of all these problems is over-production and over-consumption – people are trying to live at levels of affluence that are far too high to be sustained or for all to share.
Our society is grossly unsustainable – the levels of consumption, resource use and ecological impact we have in rich countries like Australiaare far beyond levels that could be kept up for long or extended to all people. Yet almost everyone’s supreme goal is to increasematerial living standards and theGDP and production and consumption, investment, trade, etc., as fast as possible and without any limit in sight. There is no element in our suicidal condition that is more important than this mindless obsession with accelerating the main factor causing the condition.
The following points drive home the magnitude of the overshoot.
You may download the whole paper at: http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue57/Trainer57.pdf