Summary of Prosperity without Growth

John Bermingham summary of Tim Jackson


1.      Economic growth not lived up to its promise to deliver prosperity

         a.      Higher incomes supposed to mean better choices, richer lives and improved quality of life for all

2.      Growth delivered benefits unevenly

         a.      1/5 of world earns just 2% of income

         b.      Bottom billion people earn just $1.00 a day

                   i.       Perverse to talk about things going well while a full billion of people in developing world do not have adequate food, shelter and health

         c.      Western middle class income stagnant (even before recession)

3.      Growth stressing environment/resources

         a.      Last 25 years, global economy doubled

         b.      60% of ecosystems degraded

         c.      Climate change, fuel insecurity, collapsing biodiversity, global inequality

4.      Business as usual (environmental degrading growth) can’t continue

         a.      In part because population will grow from 6.8 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050

         b.      Global economic growth is 1/3 due to population growth and 2/3 due to economic growth per person


5.      Connections between financial collapse and ecological unsustainability

         a.      Can’t manage financial and ecological sustainability of global economy

         b.      Growth imperative motivated loosened regulations of financial sector, loosened credit and encouraged more consumption

         c.      2008 financial crisis shows our current model of economic success is flawed and that prosperity w/o growth is not just a dream but a financial and ecological necessity

                   i.       Why does financial meltdown show that a growth economy is not financially possible?


6.      Growth can’t deliver us from our problems

         a.      If get us out of financial crisis, just puts us on long term financial/ecological unsustainability


7.      Need to redefine prosperity (not tied to growth)

         a.      Quantity is not quality; more/bigger is not better

         b.      Alternative visions of human flourishing with reduced impact on env

         c.      Includes food, shelter, clothing, but also ability to give/receive love, enjoy respect of peers, contribute useful work, sense of belonging/trust in community

         d.      Gross Domestic Product (GDP/GNP) no measure of well-being/happiness

         e.      Fair/lasting prosperity can’t be separated from scale of global population and planet’s resources per person

                   i.       Ignoring these limits condemns our descendants and fellow nonhuman creatures to a planet of poverty


8.      Possible for humans to flourish and consume less

         a.      Not easy to achieve

         b.      Best prospect for lasting prosperity


9.      Reasons to think growth is necessary for prosperity

         a.      Perhaps prosperity w/o growth impossible

         b.      Economic growth and material opulence may be necessary for

                   i.       Flourishing: Humans need wealth to show rank (???)

                   ii.      For health, education; tends to rise with higher economic activity

                   iii.     For economic and social stability, which suffers w/o growth

         c.      Economic growth necessary for jobs:

                   i.       Competition spurs use of new tech, which increases labor productivity (more output with less work)

                   ii.      As long as economic growth offsets increased productivity not a problem

                   iii.     If it does not, people lose jobs

                   iv.     With less $ in economy, output falls, public spending is curtailed and ability to service pubic debt is diminished

                   v.      Recession looms

                   vi.     Growth essential to prevent collapse

10.    So perhaps it is both true that continued growth is unsustainable and impossible, but de-growth is unstable and unacceptable


11.    No clear model exists for avoiding unemployment without consumption growth

12.    Such models include

         a.      “Work-time” policies (fair sharing of work)

         b.      Shifting away from fossil fuels

                   i.       Because they make workers too efficient?

                   ii.      Decrease the productivity of workers/work as a way to keep people employed in shrinking economy?


13.    (Enough) Decoupling of growth from resource use is not a realistic possibility

         a.      Decoupling: continued economic growth but continually declining material throughput (use fewer natural resources and produce less waste)

         b.      Relative decoupling happens (need fewer resources for given output)

                   i.       Today, 33% less energy required to produce a unit of economic output than 30 years ago

                   ii.      Amount of carbon emitted per dollar output down 23%

         c.      Absolute decoupling is not happening: When resource impacts decline in absolute terms–what we need if economic activity is to remain within ecological limits

                   i.       Can’t find evidence of this

                   ii.      Past 30 years improvement in energy efficiency offset by increase scale of economic activity

                   iii.     Since Kyoto (1990) global carbon emissions from energy use up 40%

         d.      For everyone in the world to live as Europeans do and have a stable climate, carbon emissions would have to be 120 times lower than they are today (6 grams per dollar output rather than the 770 grams today)

         e.      What is needed is increases in resources efficiency that is greater than increases in economic growth

         f.       Delusional to think capitalism’s ability to produce efficiency will be sufficient to stabilize climate and protect against resource scarcity


14.    Iron cage of consumerism

         a.      Material goods are symbolic--a way we communicate with each other our status, identities and feelings

         b.      Novelty allows us to explore our aspirations

         c.      Restless desires of consumers perfect complement for restless innovation of entrepreneurs–together they drive growth

15.    Addressing logic of consumerism is vital

         a.      Material goods so deeply implicated in fabric of our lives

         b.      Just asking people to resist consumerism will fail

         c.      Need to dismantle perverse incentives and damaging social logic that lock us into unproductive status competition

         d.      New structures for people to flourish and participate meaningfully and creatively in social life in less materialist ways

         e.      Examples? Sports, education, the arts, politics


16.    Less materialist society will enhance life satisfaction

         a.      More equal society will lower importance of status goods

         b.      Less growth driven economy will improve people’s work-life balance

         c.      Enhanced investment in public goods will provide lasting returns to the nation’s prosperity


17.    New green economy is desirable, but not enough

         a.      Investment in energy security, low-carbon infrastructures and ecological protection will provide jobs and tech innovation and economic recovery

         b.      But this is just a different kind of economic growth

         c.      What is needed is a very different economy one that is plausible in an ecologically-constrained world

18.    Better (green) technology alone is not enough to get us out of our problems


19.    A sustainable economy will be different

         a.      Distributional equity

         b.      Specified levels of resource throughput (use and emissions)

         c.      Protection of critical natural capital

         d.      Need to re-negotiate

                   i.       Balance between consumption and investment

                   ii.      Public/private sector spending

                   iii.     Nature of productivity improvements

                   iv.     Conditions of profitability

                   v.      Role of government

Questions on Prosperity without Growth


1.         Describe the inequality that exists despite huge economic growth.

2.         What is the population of the earth now? What is it projected to be in 2050?

3.         Explain why gross domestic product (or gross national product) is or is not a good measure of well-being; make sure you explain the reasons some think it is not.

4.         What are some reasons for thinking that humans could flourish even while consuming less, that a less materialistic society will enhance life satisfaction?

5.         What are some reasons for thinking economic growth is necessary for prosperity. Why is it plausible to think it important for economic growth to outpace growth in worker productivity?

6.         Why might one think that consumption growth is necessary to avoid unemployment? What are ideas for avoiding unemployment while decreasing consumption/economic activity?

7.         What is meant by “decoupling growth from resource?” What is meant by “material throughput?” What is the difference between relative and absolute “decoupling” and why is relative decoupling not enough?

8.         Do the author’s think we should ask people to resist consumerism?

9.         What are some examples of meaningful participation in social life that is not materialistic and do not involve significant consumption.

10.       Do the authors advocate a shift to a green economy and green technology as the solution to our economic and environmental problems?

11.       In what ways will a sustainable economy be different than our current economy, according to the authors?