Economic development not economic growth.

People who should know better are forever banging on about ‘economic growth’ as being something which we should make a priority. Really? How’s that going to work? We keep on doing more stuff, which begets more stuff, which begets more stuff… so… you really don’t need to be more than about four years old to realise this means:

  1. a lot more work – and  you can bet it’s going to be us who have to make / do all this shit,
  2. a lot more waste since the easiest way to increase profits is to make a low quality product which is built only to last just long enough for the guarantee to expire,
  3. we run out of things we actually need, like oil, since we consume it all making plastic fucking wrapping for all the fucking stuff, and sitting in traffic jams in a commute to a job we don’t fucking want so that we can go and make more fucking shit in order to “drive economic growth”. Which brings us back to (1).

Perpetual economic growth is neither possible nor desirable, and growth is already causing more problems than it solves. Hmm… what to do.. what to do..?

A ha! How about instead of churning out more and more, we just focus on making stuff better and better?  More time. More craftsmanship. More skill. More pride. More enjoyment. More beauty. More contentment of a job well done.

But that’s not realistic… all those ‘more’ things won’t pay your bills, and you need money to live. It pays to be realistic and pragmatic, and you need cash today.

You’d better go to work this week in order to deal with today’s reality. But what about next year’s reality? And the year after that?  How can we get to a point where we’re making things genuinely better, not chasing our tails because we have bills to pay?

The reality is that the next twenty years will be completely unlike the last twenty years. The world population has near doubled in your lifetime. We have an economy which no longer serves our needs and works against our interests – like causing us to run out of the stuff we want. One thing that we know for sure is that when we’re confronted by fucked systems is that we change them. It may take a long time for us to realise how fucked things are (see Russia, Egypt, slavery etc), but when we do, a lot of change happens very fucking quickly (see Russia, Egypt, slavery etc).

Acknowledge the reality that within a pretty short period of time, things are going to be quite different. More is happening faster. In order to be able to handle it with the dignity, wisdom, and elegance which becomes such fine people as ourselves,  we need to start looking further ahead. The question we need to answer is: How can we transition to an economy which keeps us thriving and happy, whilst being long-term sustainable, before we’re suffocated by the competing needs of the other 8 billion people who have all suddenly realised they want cars, TVs, and lightbulbs, too?

It turns out that it’s much easier than you might think, and both are coming your way pretty fast. If you listen to the news, you’ll spot two trends which are growing quietly in the background (albeit muted by the howls and death throes of the old economy as it stumbles from crisis to crisis…) These two trends are the steady-state economy, and natural capitalism.

A steady-state economy is characterised by limiting resource use and waste production, a stable population, limited inequality, monetary reform, changing the way we measure progress, secure full employment (look at the link between revolution and youth unemployment), a balanced economy, improved global cooperation, a change in consumer behaviour, and engagement with politicians and the media. We’re getting closer to this state every day.

As for natural capitalism: we used to have the gold standard as a foundation for money, right? Having a reasonably finite amount of stuff gave value to the notes we used to represent it, and the economy still worked a treat: roads were built, health services prospered, lots of people had good jobs, and lots of people went to dig big holes to look for gold.

What would happen if money had its foundation in the capacity of the Earth to support life? Ok it’s a litte more esoteric, but it can still be measured easily enough. For almost everyone, money carries on as bits of paper and numbers in bank accounts; but instead of digging for gold, we could create wealth by planting forests, or building wind farms. In order to get richer, faster, you have to improve more things, quicker, for more people. You’ll have spotted this trend in carbon credits, offset forest planting, and the number of social enterprises which are popping up all over the place.. making things better is big business, and it’s only getting bigger.

So here’s a tip: if you’re not working towards the new economy yet, you will be soon. The sooner you do, the better off you’ll be.