Some snips from an interview about steady state economics with Rob Dietz, the Program Director of the Post Carbon Institute and co-author of Enough is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources.
You can think of steady-state economics as a sustainable alternative to mainstream or neoclassical economics, which assumes perpetual growth of production and consumption. So steady-state economics is the study and practice of how to maintain an economy with a stable level of resource consumption and a stable population. Such an economy keeps material and energy use within ecological limits, and the unsustainable (and unrealistic) goal of continuously increasing income and consumption is replaced by the goal of improving quality of life for all. In short, the focus is enough rather than more.
Tara, not Tina then.
Let’s start by establishing working definitions of the terms “widespread prosperity” and “resource sustainability.” Widespread prosperity means that everyone is able to meet his or her basic needs for physical health and sustenance, plus some standard of comfort. No one lives in poverty, and daily life offers opportunities for fulfillment and enjoyment beyond toil just to stay alive.
Widespread prosperity is nicely aligned with left wing values.
Resource sustainability entails three operating rules: First, we use renewable parts of nature, such as trees and fish, no faster than they can regenerate. Second, we minimize the use of nonrenewable resources, such as fossil fuels and minerals, and find renewable substitutes over the long term. And third, we emit pollutants no faster than ecosystems can safely assimilate them.
Widespread prosperity + resource sustainability = green politics.
On what aspects need to remain steady and which can grow,
… it is important to consider what’s on and off the list of things to hold steady in a steady-state economy. Only a few items need to be held steady: The number of people, the total quantity of artifacts, and the quantity of material and energy flowing through the economy. In contrast, the list of items that can evolve is long. It includes knowledge, technology, information, wisdom, the mix of products, income distribution and social institutions. The goal is to have the items on this second list improving over time, so that the economy can develop qualitatively without growing quantitatively.
Looking at what can be done in a covid world,
An unplanned, unmanaged recession causes struggles and tough times, especially for those with lower incomes and less secure living arrangements. It’s hard, therefore, to talk about the positive consequences of such a thing. One way that makes sense is to view the COVID-19 recession as a harmful event that we don’t want to repeat and that we can learn from. The big question is how to go about avoiding a repeat of past mistakes. Doing the same thing as before – trying to coax more growth out of an already overgrown economy – makes no sense. We’ll continue to experience more environmental and social breakdown and more recessions. As proponents of degrowth frequently mention, there’s an acute difference between enacting fair policies that intentionally contract the economy over a set time period versus waiting for the next recession to blindside us from some disruption caused by consuming and polluting too much.
Changing to steady state requires regulation that require businesses to adapt to the new market, as well as systems that promote business models better suited to such an economy,
How can the private sector be brought along to support a steady-state economy?
One method of engaging the private sector is to enact steady-state policies, such as scientifically sound caps on resource use and emissions, and then let businesses cope and adapt. With such a policy, businesses would have to be much more efficient and careful with their use of materials and energy, but they would have the flexibility to respond in their own ways. There’s a certain hands-off appeal to this approach, but there are also good reasons to be more proactive. If we want to tamp down the growth imperative in the overall economy, then it makes sense to tamp it down in individual business – doing so means favoring business structures that work well in a non-growing economy (for example, cooperatives, nonprofits, and benefit corporations instead of typical shareholder-owned corporations).
In the end it’s about values,
How about businesses themselves? Would this require a complete rethinking of their purpose and raison d’être?
Much of business culture is about making money, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If businesses have social and environmental goals built into their DNA, they are far more likely to find innovative ways to stay in business while serving a public purpose. We all need to make ends meet, but we also all need meaning and purpose in our lives. The places where we work can be held accountable for achieving both of these aims.
Full interview at Resilience.