Read This Book: Prosperity without Growth

Do you recall the
recession, when banks got a big bailout and a dubious public was told that
otherwise the whole thing would collapse? Do you rememberthe contradictory
messages: so many people in debt up to their eyeballs being told they needed to
spend the country’s way out of recession?

Does it hurt your
stomach that executive salaries are dozens or hundreds of times that of

Do you hear the clashing
messages: the economy has to keep growing or we are all sunk BUT we can’t afford
the carbon output of mining, manufacturing, transporting stuff?

Do you wonder how
an economy is supposed to keep growing on a finite planet? Do you wonder what
to think when this doesn’t add up?

When I was
researching the chapter on consumerism for my book, I found the revelations
eye-popping: the disconnect between the revered Gross Domestic Product, or GDP,
and real happiness; the ironies of buying bigger houses and renting storage
units to find places for stuff no one needs; the terrific waste of the consumer
cycle. The advertising aimed at kids. The treadmill of working to buy things we
don’t have time to enjoy. That illness, Affluenza. The
overwork. The increased productivity that never leads to time off.

If you have
questions like I have about a smart economy in an ecologically sustainable and thriving world, you might enjoy this book: Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a
Finite Planet.
The book is a few years old, but rather than being dated, it
rings even more true today than when he first wrote it in 2009.

Jackson is
professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey. He
demonstrates that the current assumptions about how capitalism should work are
just that: assumptions. They don’t have to be the way things are.

Rather, there are
other ways to invest ourselves for stability and flourishing. They include
attention to what, beyond material necessities, truly makes life worth living.
There are other ways capitalism can be structured than the one we know, ways to
ensure stability for all without the relentless search for growth and fast
innovation. Through a lot of charts and graphs—accompanied by what is usually
very plain and sometimes even lyric language—he explains all this.

He sees the seeds
for a new economy in things already emerging—farmer’s markets,
food cooperatives, tool sharing, public spaces, local outlets for
creativity—sectors long on interaction and short on turbodrive, small on the
carbon and big on the human. He sees promise in a world with far more economic equality,
with safety nets, with work that invests in the ecosystem and in the
infrastructures we need—public transit, energy efficient housing, trees.
Sharing of available work. A service economy where people are paid sufficiently
for their services.

He sees this
happening in part through governments putting a price on harmful activities,
and sponsoring needful ones, rather than penalizing pro-environmental behavior
and rewarding corporations that destroy and run. Governments can do much to
strengthen the social capital, and thus the society as a whole, reversing the
relentless privatization that has so damaged our public live.

If this sounds a
lot like Christian theology, this talk about happiness, worthwhile work, reward
for labor, equality and dignity, and ecological prosperity, then it’s not
surprising that one of the book’s many endorsers is the former Archbishop of
Canterbury, the Most Reverend and Right Honorable Dr. Rowan Williams, who said:

In a world of
massive inequality and limited resources, Tim Jackson asks the fundamental
questions of what prosperity really is and how we can invest not just in
material goods but in each other. This is an outstandingly intelligent and
creative contribution to debate.

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