Creating global prosperity without economic growth


The ‘new vision’ is not so new: Let’s act on it

by Janet Newbury on 9th October 2015

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This article was originally published on Policy Note.

David Suzuki recently asserted that we have failed “to imagine a better way” than our current economic paradigm. He criticized all candidates in the upcoming federal Canadian election for making economic promises that continue to rely on growth. And he cited numerous reasons for calling this approach into question: income inequality, quality of life disparities, climate change, threats to democracy, and fleeting happiness.

I believe he makes a strong and important argument. And I agree: one of my biggest disappointments in the current campaign period is the steadfast commitment to a broken system by all parties. Rhetoric about ‘sustainable growth’ is simply that. We know what sustainability requires of us, and it means overcoming our addiction to the production-consumption cycle upon which growth relies. This is not to say that we don’t all need fair wages and enough money to live well. But a growth model economy – as we’ve seen this year in Canada – requires endless growth in order to be deemed healthy. This is a serious problem.

We have to start identifying ourselves as citizens, not consumers. Suzuki presents a compelling case that illustrates how doing so does not have to lead to hardship; it will actually enrich our lives and our societies in meaningful and measurable ways.

Jasper Lakes and Mountains, Canada

However, by inviting us to imagine something different, I think he presents a scenario in which we have more work cut out for ourselves than is actually the case.

People all over the world have been doing this work for a long time now. Let us not forget that despite being actively suppressed, Indigenous teachings persist thanks to the strength and sacrifice of generations. As Suzuki suggests with his reference to steady state economics and de-growth, there are also already working theories, and economic models. There is a vast body of evidence to support the notion that different economic models can (and do) contribute to greater equity and wellbeing that is sustainable. There are even precedents for actions and policies based on these ideas that can help guide us. Small scale though some of them are, they exist!

I do not believe the primary challenge ahead of us is to imagine possible alternatives to this system that enslaves so many. What we must do now is in fact take the leap, make some commitments, and join the flow of what is already under way and has been for some time. So we don’t have to start from scratch. But maybe the reality feels even scarier: we actually have to start.

As with many significant social justice movements throughout history, this exciting flow of ideas and actions is unfortunately not often part of mainstream conversations – as Suzuki rightly points out about the federal candidate debates about our economy. Indeed, this is perhaps why the media response to the Leap Manifesto is what it is (at the moment, anyway). But if the rich foundation upon which the manifesto has been built was more widely understood and appreciated, then perhaps committing to it would not feel like such a stretch to so many.

Recognizing the context that surrounds and the history that supports ideas like Suzuki’s or the Leap Manifesto (as examples), we might all become less cautious about considering alternatives to our dismal status quo as plausible – not just as ideas, but actions. Indeed, we would perhaps be more likely to see the implausibility of maintaining our current course of action.

How might we contribute to this re-contextualizing of seemingly radical ideas?  I think there are endless possibilities and for each of us they will differ. However, here are a few strategies to consider:

  1. Although we all, understandably, tend towards our own friendly circles, I think we would do well to take an uncomfortable step beyond them. This may mean something as simple as attempting to cross-post a blog to a site with a new audience. It may mean learning to speak across differences so we don’t get stuck in our own disciplinary silos. And – most difficult of all – it may actually mean listening more openly with a willingness to be changed.
  1. As urgent as it feels to focus on critiquing what is currently on offer, we can nourish our own souls and also encourage greater civic participation by starting with what already works well. This is the basis of asset-based community development. The most certain way to alienate people is to tell them everything that’s wrong. And of course it’s also a sure fire way to lose significant traces of our own hopeful histories from which we can learn a great deal. Particularly, we need to learn from and honour Indigenous knowledges that have been determinedly showing another way all this time.
  1. Working in isolation can be demoralizing and lead to crises in confidence that can prevent great actions from really taking off, so I’ve added a small list of resources below. I invite you to take a look and follow up those that intrigue you. Of course there are many others, so please share them in the comments section. We may end up finding connections with and resources for some of our own initiatives or passions this way, and supporting the good work of others.  What might happen if we successfully mainstream these conversations?

My hunch is that if we honour those whose work precedes ours and celebrate the successes (big and small) of those who are taking real steps towards what Boyle and Klein refer to as a moral economy, we will find that we are not alone.  Heck, maybe our leaders will even join us once they realize others have already taken the first steps.

These (and many other) resources might interest you:

  1. Cities for People
  2. Soul of the Community
  3. How to Create Good Jobs in BC
  4. The Body Economic: Why Prosperity Kills
  5. Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics
  6. Shareable and The Sharing Solution
  7. The BC Cooperative Association
  8. The Community Economies Collective
  9. The Post Growth Alliance
  10. Groundswell Community


Image credit: Jasper Lake and Mountains, Canada. From Public Domain Images, Creative Commons. 

This post was written by

avatar Janet Newbury has a PhD in Child and Youth Care, teaches at the University of Victoria, and is actively involved in various community-based initiatives in Powell River, BC. She lives on the West Coast of Canada.

Janet has written 24 posts on Post Growth Institute. Contact Janet

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