Green quantitative easing – good sense

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Richard Murphy and Colin Hines published the Green QE report, which is summarised below.

In March 2009 the Bank of England began a programme of quantitative easing in the UK – in effect, the Bank of England granted the Treasury an overdraft but to keep the European Union happy had to do so by buying Government gilts issued by the Treasury from UK commercial banks, pension funds and other financial institutions.

There were three reasons for doing this:

  1. To keep interest rates low;
  2. To provide banks with the money they needed to lend to business and others to keep the economy going.
  3. To make sure there was enough money in the economy to prevent deflation happening

No one was sure whether quantitative easing would work, and as we note, no one is sure for certain whether it has worked.

We do however suggest in this report that several things did happen:

  • The banks profited enormously from the programme, which is why they bounced back into profit so soon after the crash– and bankers’ bonuses never went away;
  • The entire government deficit in 2009/10 of £155 billion was basically paid for by the quantitative easing programme. If you wanted to know how the government met its costs, now you do; There was a shortage of gilts available for investment purposes as a result of the Bank of England buying so many in the market. Large quantities of funds were invested instead in other financial assets including the stock market and commodities such as food stuffs and metals.
  • The USA also undertook quantitative easing at the same time as the UK, which meant that despite near recessionary conditions commodity prices for coffee and basic metals such as copper have risen enormously. This has impacted on inflation, which has stayed above the Bank of England target rate;
  • Deflation has been avoided, although the relative role of quantitative easing in this versus the previous government’s reflation policies is unclear;
  • Interest rates have remained low.

However, one thing has not happened, and that is that the funds made available have not resulted in new bank lending. In fact bank lending has declined almost steadily since the quantitative easing programme began.

there is an urgent need for action to stimulate the economy by investing in the new jobs, infrastructure, products and services we need in this country and there is no sign that this will happen without government intervention.

For that reason we propose a new round of quantitative easing –or Green QE2 as we call it.

Green QE2 would do three things. First it would deliver the Green New Deal – the innovative programme for investment in the new economy the UK needs as outlined by the Green New Deal group in its reports for the New Economics Foundation. This would require three actions:

  1. The government would need to invest directly in new infrastructure for the UK.
  2. The government needs to invest in the UK economy, in conjunction with the private sector, working through a new National Investment Bank;
  3. The government must liberate local authorities to partner with the private sector to green their local economies for the benefit of their own communities, and it can do this by providing a capital fund for them to use in the form of equity that bears the residual risks in such projects.

A second round of quantitative easing should involve direct expenditure on new infrastructure projects in the UK.

For example there is a desperate need for new energy efficient social housing in this country, for adequate investment in railways, not to mention a reinstatement of the schools rebuilding programme. Undertaking these activities would give the economy and immediate shot in the arm as well as providing infrastructure of lasting use which would more than repay any debt incurred in the course of its creation.

This is the result of the ‘Keynesian multiplier’ effect. This is the phenomenon that occurs when government borrowing to fund investment takes place during a time of unemployment.

That borrowing directly funds employment.

That new employment does four things.

First it reduces the obligation to pay benefits.

Second, it means that the person in that new employment pays tax.

Third, it means their employer pays tax on profits they make.

And finally the person in employment can then save, which means that they help fund the government borrowing which has created their own employment.

As Martin Wolf, the eminent Financial Times columnist has said in this FT video: “Borrowing is no sin, provided we use the funds to ensure that we bequeath a better infrastructure to the future”.

This is what we believe the programme we recommend would do and this is precisely why it is appropriate to do it now when the cost of government borrowing is so low, a point Wolf and Skidelsky also make.

Borrowing now to spend into the economy is the basis for the first stage of Green QE2 – and of the Green New Deal.

Read the whole report here: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/16569/1/GreenQuEasing.pdf

 

 

 

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Is there ‘simmering anger’ at the disruption unleashed by digital innovation?

 In September, Sathnam Sanghera wrote about a widely reported funeral in Wolverhampton for a 52-year-old man who died suddenly in August. According to the local paper hundreds of people gathered at his former workplace to pay their respects, A “sea” of more than 2,000 people were photographed gathering for his funeral. Then, after the eulogy had been given, the crowd erupted into spontaneous applause.

Who was he? A former footballer for Wolverhampton Wanderers? A local politician? No, he was Raj Kumar, who “just” ran the Ashmore Park Hardware shop for more than 30 years.

He died after collapsing in his shop and according to the tributes left for him the reason he elicited such affection was that he was, very simply, good at what he did. A shopkeeper who advocated for his fellow traders; who helped you out when needed; who always had a nice word even if you were just passing.

The positive reaction to Raj’s passing in Mr Sanghera’s home town contrasted with the adverse reaction there has been in the US to the launch of a company called Bodega.

Named after convenience stores specialising in Hispanic groceries, Bodega is installing unmanned machines in San Francisco’s apartments, offices and dormitories to serve non-perishable food and other items normally found in convenience stores.

Elizabeth Seagran explains: Bodega sets up five-foot-wide pantry boxes filled with non-perishable items you might pick up at a convenience store. An app will allow you to unlock the box and cameras powered with computer vision will register what you’ve picked up, automatically charging your credit card. The entire process happens without a person actually manning the “store.”

Thousands of outraged social media users and tens of US columnists have attacked the idea and Bodega’s CEO apologised online for causing offence, claiming that it was not his intention to put bodegas out of business and that they “didn’t fully understand what the reaction to the name would be”. Sanghera adds that the whole sorry episode was a sobering demonstration of what the funeral in Wolverhampton also showed that:

“People really value their local shopkeepers. It is not just that they sell you Monster Munch and paint, they sometimes proffer credit, provide lonely people with conversation, give shelter to kids from bullies, report suspicious events to the authorities, and can even help with race relations. For many people their local shopkeeper is their only interaction with someone of another race and religion: it is notable that in a radio interview in 2001 Lord Tebbit praised his Asian newsagent even as he attacked multiculturalism”.

The ‘more profound’ operations by Google are making it easier for ‘all sorts of awful people’ to access dangerous material:

  • social networking companies such as Facebook are creating, paradoxically, an epidemic in loneliness and fuelling a rise in fake news that, in turn, is leading to extreme politics . . .
  • Amazon is putting thousands of independent retailers out of business and paying very little tax in the process;
  • dating apps are encouraging even very average blokes to act as though they are Indian maharajahs in the 19th century and also destroying nightclubs
  • and “news” services are killing off local newspapers that bring us news of people like Raj and expose corruption on councils.

Sanghera believes that the intense backlash to Bodega shows the depth of the simmering anger ‘out there’ about Silicon Valley and its obsession with innovation and ends:

“It seems to me that Bodega’s real mistake has been to be explicit (initially) about its intention to disrupt “mom and pop stores”. All this other disruption we have accepted, gradually and thoughtlessly, as a necessary price to pay for services supposedly provided “free” by Silicon Valley.

“Has it all been worth it? By the time the penny drops, and we decide to be furious, I suspect it will be too late anyway”.

Sathnam Sanghera is a journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter @Sathnam

 

 

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Doreen Massey: government policy has been to acquiesce in and feed London’s voracious growth. Is this what we want?

Looking back through a Facebook page I saw with great regret that Professor Doreen Massey had died in 2016. After hearing her speak on Radio 4, I read her book, World City, Polity, 2007, and we corresponded by email several times. I think this photograph shows her warm and lively personality.

Yesterday, following input about ‘shrinking cities’ on WMNEG’s website, and as a belated tribute, some points made in that book will now be shared, selected from five pages of notes made at the time. Several references are relevant to the Grenfell Tower disaster. 

Extracts

In the world as a whole big cities are increasingly dominant and central to globalisation: the shining spectacular projects and the juxtaposi­tion of greed and need reflect their market dynamics.

The World Bank, one of the institutions whose policies have contributed to this massive flow of people into cities, has argued that it is through competitive cities that nations as a whole can develop.

Global cities are defined by their elite – the rest are invisible.

London is a political, institu­tional, economic and cultural power. Its influences and its effects spread nationally and globally but it increasingly overshadows everywhere else. National government policy accepts and also feeds its voracious growth.

Forces in the financial City took the lead in advocating and developing the deregulation that lies at the heart of globalisation; it is a command centre, place of orchestration, and significant beneficiary of its continuing operation.

Despite talk of `national sovereignty’, the first thing Margaret Thatcher did on coming to power in 1979 was to lift restrictions on for­eign currency exchange, to be followed in the mid-1980s by the deregulation of the City (the so-called Big Bang). A whole gamut of deregulatory and commercialisation policies, in pensions, housing, health care and education consid­erably increased the market for City activities.

Thatcherite policies benefited the private sector, financial services, the middle classes, London and the South East at the expense of the public sector, manufacturing, the old industrial regions and the working classes.

The colonisation by private capital of industries and services formerly provided by government – the utilities under Thatcher and Major, signifi­cant parts of the welfare state, especially health and education, under Blair – led to London’s reinvention and resurgence.

Policies of competitive individualism and individual self-reliance have been promoted –  people have been encouraged/required to take much greater financial responsibility for their own housing, pen­sions, health care and education. Previous notions of mutuality have been abandoned and the idea of the public good has been system­atically undermined.

The world’s biggest interna­tional financial centre

From the mid-1960s the City took advantage of an offshore status manufactured by British taxation policy . . . and became an off­shore extension of New York, creating a major market in eurodollars which now makes it the world’s biggest interna­tional financial centre. It has been a lucrative subservience, for some: out of this that the new elite has been born.

The emergence of the new elite includes those involved in business services as well as finance: real estate, renting and business activities. Advertising, research and development, accounting, auditing and taxation, legal serv­ices, market research and consultancy, personnel recruit­ment, renting of machinery and technical consulting, investigation and security have grown rapidly as part of London-global-city.

For the ultra-rich few, this country is now a vir­tual tax haven and princes, tycoons and oligarchs are making it their home. Others are attracted by the lucrative opportunities in the City – more than one in 10 professional staff in the City of London come from coun­tries outside the EU and the US, including the plunderers of Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. A report on French people working in the UK found 69% of them in London and half of those are working in finan­cial services in the City.

 The pattern of British chief executives’ pay is now openly modelled on the American lead

Directors paid 113 times more than the average UK worker in 2005 are awarding each other their increments. Over the last five years the average salary of a chief executive in Britain’s leading companies, including bonuses, has more than doubled, just as American remuneration has grown – bearing little relationship to company performance. This has resulted in levels of inequality far higher than in the major economies of continental Europe.

Such high salaries make London the most unequal city, and London and the South-East the most unequal region in the UK.This inequality of the extremes is character­istic of the `Anglo-Saxon’ version of neoliberalism and it is growing.

The exuberant, champagne-swilling claim of the success of London’s reinvention is, however, almost always hedged about with a regretful caveat – `but there is “still” poverty too’. The success and the poverty of London are the com­bined outcome of politico-economic strategies, establishing a two-tier society, corporate greed and the privatisation of need in the capital and at national level.

Some facts are indisputable. Inequality between rich and poor, the glaring starkness of class difference, is more marked in London than anywhere else in the country

  • Unemployment in Inner London is higher than in any other subregion in England, while Outer London hovers around the national average; on almost any index there is an enormous geographical variation between boroughs.
  • London has the highest incidence of child poverty, after housing costs have been taken into account, of any region in Great Britain.
  • The gender pay gap is wider in London than in Great Britain. London has local authority areas with both the highest and the lowest rates of means-tested benefit receipt in the country.
  • Nearly a quarter of London’s children (24 %) are living in households dependent on Income Support’ whilst the rate for Great Britain as whole is 16 %, and London’s rate is the highest of any region.
  • Poverty is common among pensioners, too; in Inner London, a quarter of people aged sixty and over are on Income Support  – only 15 % in Outer London and in Great Britain.
  • Homelessness and overcrowding are higher in London than elsewhere. The differ­ence in life expectancy, is stark even between the boroughs of London.
  • On average, women in Kensington and Chelsea live nearly six years longer than women in Newham; and men in Kensington and Chelsea (again) live nearly six years longer than men in Southwark .

People are trapped in poverty because of the high cost of living, and the cost of getting to work Those currently dependent on benefit find that loss of entitlement to benefits, particu­larly housing benefits can com­pletely erode gains from entering employment.  The higher cost of housing, transport and childcare are important factors in explaining the pattern of disadvan­tage in the city.

Within the UK the old ‘North-South divide’ has widened and has increasingly taken the form of an ever-­expanding London versus the rest of the country

The New Labour government & London-centred private capital share an understanding of London/the South-East as the golden goose of the national economy – the `single driver’ of the national economy – which lays golden eggs for everyone.

There is an insistence that encouragement to `the regions’ must in no way be allowed to challenge, question, or in any way restrain the growth in London and the South ­East of England. Her Majesty’s Treasury, in a joint document with the Department of Trade and Industry, argued that `attempts to address regional differentials must be done by a process of levelling-up, not levelling down … whilst regional economic policy must aim to strengthen the indigenous growth potential of all regions, the focus should be on the weakest regions, without constraining growth in the strongest’ .

Brain drain

London’s growth over recent years and as planned for the future, requires labour with degree-level qualifications. It is demand for this kind of labour that dominates the net increase in employ­ment in the capital. London does not provide all of this and in consequence draws in professional people from abroad and from the rest of the country.

Many workers come from Eastern Europe and the global South. London is dependent, for instance, on nurses from Asia and Africa. These countries can ill-afford to lose such workers, and they have paid for their training. So India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, South Africa are subsidizing the reproduction of London. It is a perverse sub­sidy, flowing from poor to rich. It is, moreover, a flow that is both fuelled and more difficult to address as a result of the increasing commercialisation/privatisation of  health services.

It is a brain drain that has a double effect. In London the dominance of demand for this kind of labour makes it more difficult for Londoners without those qualifications to find work and, through the influx of higher ­paid workers, increases the pressure on prices and therefore inequality within the capital. From the regions and nations of the North and West it drains a stra­tum of the population that could be significant to their eco­nomic growth.

(Yet) Gordon Brown has told the regions that their regeneration should be led by the knowledge economy and Alan Johnson, when minister for manufacturing, repeated the refrain that low skills are part of the regions’ problems. In other words, the regions are blamed for the losses they incur through feeding London’s demand.

Arguments that London is a ‘successful’ region which must not in any way be chal­lenged rest on a crucial assumption. This is that London has achieved its present position through its own efforts. As the hegemonic terminology has it:  to do anything to disturb London’s trajectory would be to buck market forces.

London’s transnational financing and service-providing roles have not, however, been the main driver underlying the city’s growth since the 1980s, nor do these functions represent the major ele­ment of London’s export base. London’s main export market is in fact the `rest of the UK’ (RUK) which takes 28.5 % of all London’s exports, compared with 12.33 % going abroad. For financial services, the comparable percentages are RUK 39.88 % and interna­tional 31.46 % and, for business services, RUK 32.89 % and international 12.08 %.

This data contradicts the notion that London, in eco­nomic terms, is floating free from the rest of the UK econ­omy into an international arena of its own. It directly contradicts the conclusion that in a globalised economy London does not need the markets of northern Britain. As a London School of Economics study puts it, `the London economy is still closely integrated with the overall UK econ­omy’.

Despite the facts, however  . . . there is also some resentment: an argument that London has been subsidising the rest of the country and can afford to do so to the same extent, voiced in a report for the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) entitled The London deficit – a business perspective provides an example:

The London economy is the largest and most successful regional economy in the UK. It has often been suggested that its success has been to the detriment of other UK regions, drawing highly skilled people away from other areas. The reality is more complex. As will be seen from this report, the UK’s progressive taxation structure ensures that London contributes a greater proportion of total income raised from taxation in the UK than any other region. In short, London subsidises the rest of the UK, enabling the nation as a whole to benefit from the capital’s success. 

The fig­ures for London, however, usually include expenditure on the bulk of the national Civil Service. But this service operates over the country as a whole and should not appear on London’s balance sheet. The presence of so many Civil Service jobs and functions within London also contributes significantly to London’s economic growth and helps to influence the drawing up of national economic policy.

From Doreen Massey’s conclusion: “In the United Kingdom, London increasingly overshadows everywhere else and government policy has been to acquiesce in and feed its voracious growth. Is this what we want? The question is rarely heard in democratic debate”.

This book followed her pamphlet advocating Decentering the Nation: a radical approach to regional inequality, written with Ash Amin and Nigel Thrift, Catalyst 2003, on which notes also were made.

 

 

 

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Professors Minford and Scott Cato: whose assessment will prove to be more accurate?

The BBC and other media outlets report the views of Patrick Minford, Professor of Applied Economics at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University.

In his report From Project Fear to Project Prosperity, to be published in the autumn,  he predicts that a ‘hard’ Brexit will offer a ‘£135bn annual boost’ to economy around a 7% increase in GDP.

Minford, lead author of the introductory nine page report from Economists for Free Trade says that eliminating tariffs, either within free trade deals or unilaterally, would deliver trade gains worth £80bn a year. He has expressed the view that the British economy is flexible enough to cope with Brexit. The four elements in his calculation are listed in the Guardian as:

  • free trade, either via free trade agreements with the EU and the rest of the world, or if those are sticky via unilateral moves to remove our trade barriers
  • UK-run pragmatic regulation to replace the EU’s intrusive single-market regulation of our whole economy
  • our net EU contribution and
  • the cost to the taxpayer of the subsidy paid to unskilled EU immigrants, which we estimate at £3,500 per adult.

MEP Molly Scott Cato (left, speaking in the European Parliament), who read Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, giving up her professorial chair at the University of Roehampton after election, says that Patrick Minford’s  modelling is based on the UK unilaterally removing all restrictions and tariffs and trying its luck in a global market. According to LSE economists who have analysed his work, this would mean a massive fall in wages and the “elimination” of UK manufacturing.

Minford views the EU as a costly protectionist club, but in reality, Scott Cato continues, the single market eases internal trade and reduces costs: “In the real world, proximity, common standards, and rapid movement of components matter, hence the importance of the customs union. UK manufacturing is largely foreign-owned and revolves around assembly of components manufactured elsewhere in the EU. Ironically, this makes it even more important that we stay in the customs union, to ease the passage of components across borders”. She ends:

“Minford’s work is indicative of the whole Brexit project: based on the illusion that the UK has some manifest destiny that allows us to stand alone in a globalised world. It is high time this phony economics was sent into retirement”.

 

 

 

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Paul Hohnen: a better physically connected Europe could deliver multiple benefits

In the Financial Times today, Paul Hohnen* writes about the ‘hard realities of climate change’ showing across Europe, with the historic drought in Italy and Spain being only the latest example. He continues:

What seems increasingly clear is that Europe, with or without Britain, needs to invest hugely in climate abatement and adaptation infrastructure.

 A better physically connected Europe, in the form of enhanced inter-country electricity grids (for sharing surplus renewable power) and upgraded water catchment and distribution systems, could deliver multiple benefits.

In addition to reducing the risks to food, water and energy supplies, now and in the future, a grand European project to become collectively more resilient to energy and water stress could be just what is needed to give Europe the new and positive shared narrative so urgently needed. Not to mention the jobs, economic growth and technological innovation involved.

The EU’s enormous political and economic achievements over the past six decades are at risk on multiple fronts, including the environmental.

An ever closer power and water infrastructure union would help demonstrate why the European project is as relevant as ever.

*Mr Hohnen was trained as an international lawyer, closely involved in the 1992, 2002 and 2012 UN sustainability summits, as well as in a wide range of climate change and other global treaties. He worked from 1975 to 1989 as an Australian diplomat at the OECD in Paris (global economic, development and environmental issues), at EU institutions in Brussels, and in Fiji and Sri Lanka. He was with Greenpeace International (1989-1997, as Head of Climate Policy, later Director, Political Division), and Strategic Director of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). An independent consultant since 2004, his clients have included government ministries, intergovernmental agencies, business and non-profit organisations.

Read his views on the broader canvas in Reasons to be both hugely disappointed and very excited

 

 

 

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Universal basic income (UBI)

Amazon has revealed its latest plan to automate American workers out of existence with its futuristic machine controlled grocery store.

According to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research, the use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies was responsible for 88% of the 7 million factory jobs lost in the United States since peak employment in 1979.

The Economic Security Project (ESP) – a coalition of over 100 technologists, investors, and activists – has announced that it is committing $10 million over the next two years to explore how a “universal basic income” (UBI) could ensure economic opportunities for all.

Elon Musk, the iconic Silicon Valley futurist, predicts “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income or something like that, due to automation.”

With political uncertainty across the Western world highlighting rising levels of economic inequality, many others across the political spectrum are considering adopting UBI in the future, giving everyone a guaranteed minimum payment. In the 21st century to date there have been pilot projects in America, Canada, Namibia, Uganda, Kenya, Brazil, Holland, Finland, Italy and Scotland, described briefly in Wikipedia.

UBI – one of three main economic reforms?

James Robertson shared news (scroll down to 4.The Practical Reforms) of a meeting of the North American Basic Income Guarantee Congress at which there was co-operation between supporters of two of the three main reforms in total money system reform – land value taxation and basic income. Alanna Hartzok, General Secretary of the International Union for Land Value Taxation, expressed a hope for future meetings at which supporters of all three policy proposals could discuss the relationship between reform of the money supply, introduction of land value taxation and the replacement of welfare payments by a citizen’s income.

UBI – life enhancing?

Just as Green parties everywhere have said for many years, Elon Musk expects that UBI will enhance life with ‘ownwork’: “People will have time to do other things, more complex things, more interesting things and certainly have more leisure time.” Others, however, believe that without the need to pay for rent and basic necessities, people will not be motivated to work and will not make good use of their basic income and free time. Cynics will – and do – dismiss ‘the happiness agenda’ (Layard, Norberg-Hodge) and the recent Landmark study which found that most human misery in the Western world is due to failed relationships or ill-health rather than money problems and poverty.

If accompanied by a more comprehensive education?

The findings indicate the need for a broader education, giving some concept of good marital and parental relationships, an understanding of the country’s social and taxation systems and the development of expertise (until the Plain English Campaign succeeds) in interpreting official forms and negotiating online applications.

Increasing apprenticeships and retraining for those who become redundant is worthwhile but far more input is needed. The Sure Start focus involving parents and children from the earliest days was working very well until funding was cut by the coalition government in 2011, instead of building on its success.

Harrow mothers campaigning after 4 Sure Start centres had been given notice to quit

There are now 1,240 fewer designated Sure Start centres than when David Cameron took office – a fall of 34 % according to figures obtained by the Labour Party in a Freedom of Information request. The North East and London have seen the biggest fall in numbers, with over 40% of centres closing. The closure rate is increasing countrywide and councils have listed other centres which may well have to go this year.

Compensating for the cost of UBI

A total audit would balance the expense of an enhanced Sure Start programme and the cost of UBI over time, by quantifying:

  • reduced expenditure on the NHS and prison service due to the improvement in mental and physical health
  • and lower expenditure on policing and social services due to less stressful household and neighbourhoods, diminishing the intake of legal and illegal drugs and reducing crime.

So, in the foreseeable future, will 3D printers and robots take care of the necessities? And will basic income lead people to begin to improve relationships with each other and the rest of the natural world?

 

 

 

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Fioramonti: growth is dying as the silver bullet for success – this may be good thing

In May, Lorenzo Fioramonti*, Professor of Political Economy, University of Pretoria, wrote an article for The Conversation, republished in Quartz. He opens: “GDP as a measure of growth fails to account for damages caused to the environment by industrial activity”.

In his new book “Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth” he points out that the “growth first” rule has dominated the world since the early 20th century. No other ideology has ever been so powerful: the obsession with growth even cut through both capitalist and socialist societies”.

Edited extracts

He asks: “What exactly is growth? Strangely enough, the notion has never been reasonably developed” and presents a view beyond that limited to an increase in overall wealth (common sense): “Growth happens when we generate value that wasn’t there before: for instance, through the education of children, the improvement of our health or the preparation of food. A more educated, healthy and well-nourished person is certainly an example of growth”. He then outlines the paradox: “our model of economic growth does exactly the opposite of what common sense suggests”. Here are some examples:

  • If I sell my kidney for some cash, then the economy grows.
  • If a country cuts and sells all its trees, it gets a boost in GDP. But nothing happens if it nurtures them.
  • But if I educate my kids, prepare and cook food for my community improve the health conditions of my people, if a country preserves open spaces like parks and nature reserves for the benefit of everybody, it does not see this increase in human and ecological wellbeing reflected in its economic performance.

But if it privatises them, commercialising the resources therein and charging fees to users, then growth happens.

Preserving our infrastructure, making it durable, long-term and free adds nothing or only marginally to growth. Destroying it, rebuilding it and making people pay for using it gives the growth economy a bump forward. Keeping people healthy has no value. Making them sick does. An effective and preventative public healthcare approach is suboptimal for growth: it’s better to have a highly unequal and dysfunctional system like in the US, which accounts for almost 20% of the country’s GDP.

Wars, conflicts, crime and corruption are friends of growth in so far as they force societies to build and buy weapons, to install security locks and to push up the prices of what government pays for tenders.

The earthquake in Fukushima like the Deep Water Horizon oil spill were manna for growth, as they required immense expenditure to clean up the mess and rebuild what was destroyed.

Disappearing growth

However, Fioramenti brings the good news that growth is disappearing; economies are puffing along- even China, the global locomotive, is running out of steam. And consumption has reached limits in the so-called developed world, with fewer buyers for the commodities and goods exported by developing countries.

Energy is running out, particularly fossil fuels, and global agreements to fight climate change require us to eliminate them soon. Measures to mitigate climate change will force industrial production to contract, limiting growth even further.

The future of the climate (and all of us on this planet) makes a return of growth, at least the conventional approach to industry-driven economic growth, politically and socially unacceptable.

Fioramonti continues: “Decades of research based on personal life evaluations, psychological dynamics, medical records and biological systems have produced a considerable amount of knowledge about what contributes to long and fulfilling lives. The conclusion is: a healthy social and natural environment.

As social animals, we thrive thanks to the quality and depth of our interconnectedness with friends and family as well as with our ecosystems. But of course, the quest for wellbeing is ultimately a personal one. Only you can decide what it is. This is precisely why I believe that an economic system should empower people to choose for themselves. Contrary to the growth mantra, which has standardised development across the world, I believe an economy that aspires to achieve wellbeing should be designed but those who live it, in accordance with their values and motives”.

He points out that even the International Monetary Fund and mainstream neoliberal economists like Larry Summers agree that the global economy is entering a “secular stagnation”, which may very well be the dominant character of the 21st century – an apparently disastrous prospect for our economies, which have been designed to grow – or perish.

But it is also a window of opportunity for change. With the disappearance of growth as the silver bullet to success, political leaders and their societies desperately need a new vision: a new narrative to engage with an uncertain future.

This article is part of a series to be published following the release of Lorenzo Fioramonti’s new book: Wellbeing Economy: Success in a World Without Growth (MacMillan South Africa). Lorenzo Fioramonti does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above. The idea that the economic “pie” can grow indefinitely is alluring. It means everybody can have a share without limiting anybody’s greed. Rampant inequality thus becomes socially acceptable because we hope the growth of the economy will eventually make everybody better off.

 

 

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