Tim Jackson, Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet: London and Washington DC., Earthscan, 2011, xii + 276 pages. (Summary of book review*)
Economic growth is still important for the world’s poorest nations, but Jackson questions whether it makes sense “for the richer nations, where subsistence needs are largely met and further proliferation of consumer goods adds little to material comfort. … How is it that with so much stuff already, we still hunger for more?”
After the 2008 global financial crisis, there was practically universal consensus on the need to get consumption and the world economy growing again. But Jackson believes that this is unsatisfactory. He calls “for a robust, ecologically-literate macro-economics”. Investment is needed to achieve transition to “a sustainable low-carbon economy” involving “transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on renewable energy. But “fixing the economy” is only part of the problem. It is also necessary to address the social logic of consumption. The strategy he proposes rejects the centrality of material commodities as the basis for profitability. It replaces them with the idea of an economy designed explicitly around delivering the capabilities for human flourishing which will have to be delivered with considerably less material input.Jackson maintains that unproductive status competition increases material throughput and creates distress. But I suggest that status competition generates enormous profits, and that it is difficult to see how corporations are going to be induced to abandon these enormous sources of profits.
The book challenges ideas that are restraining progress towards a better world. Powerful interests which now use enormous resources to promote “unsustainable material accumulation and unproductive status competition” would need to be overcome in order to secure this better world. But Jackson fails to identify agents of change capable of implementing the ideas and strategies he proposes. The absence of consideration of the powerful forces which would offer strong resistance to the policies he advocates conveys the illusion that those policies are feasible. I conclude by comparing Jackson’s volume to an exciting and imaginative cookery book which gives elaborate recipes for making delicious omelettes without the need to break any eggs.
*The full review is published in Energy & Environment • Vol. 22, No. 7, 2011, pages 1013-1016