2107. Development without growth

Provocation 240 Development without growth

With climate change (and problems with oceans, governance, population) we need serious thinking, including economics.

If it is true that we must cut co2 7.5% per year and we are still dumping more, not less, then we are in the situation where we are either killing ourselves or must do something we can’t and wont. Any serious cut would cost jobs, lots of them, and cascading effects from there. The jobs proposed in GND are mostly energy and resource intense, and hence counter productive.

So, rethinking.

Aristotle wrote (in his book named either Coming to Be and Passing away, or more literally On generation and Corruption) that we can grow without development (adding water to wine) or develop without growth. A value creating rearrangement of what we have would be an example.

Would this be a model for no growth? Well, a value creating rearrangement is growth still. Who owns that new value? But if we did the rearranging without any further extraction (or dumping trash into the ground or into the atmosphere) we would be acting in the spirit of what he proposed.

But it would be hard. Repairing housing would take tools and materials, nails, piping. Insulation would be even more based on extractions. Bill McDonough has developed a design and development practice around making sure that the trash from any process be 100% useable as input to another project. “Cradle to cradle”.

If we did this really well: well thought, well managed, could we actually do the cut in co2? Economics, by modeling this process, could seriously help. Economics is mostly an analysis of input output input output…. , or, in the old Marx vocabulary MCMCM.. but tends to be limited to circles among the capitalists and the workers and consumers, avoiding the details for income and consumption, not noticing that the workers are the consumers, and willing to drive down wages thereby limiting consumption in a self destructive circle. Economics also avoids the obvious, that the input output circle includes the earth so that we go from earth to product to earth to product…

With the no growth approach is that many assets lose their value. For no growth to work the high earnings of the 1% up need a new model, not forthcoming from economics (I don’t see it in the AEA program abstracts.) Lots of resistance and politics at play.

Imagine that we have a four tier income regime.

Annual salaries starting with Yang’s $12,000 per year and then jobs limited to the following annual salary in 4 steps:


In such a regime would people not work hard to move to the next level and appreciate the value of the work they were doing? Perhaps voted to move up by the whole workplace or community. Be aware that cars, planes, yachts, big houses, would be very limited under any serious co2 cutting regime so the rich would have to have already given up much of what money is currently used for. Obviously this is very sketchy, but it would be terrifically helpful if it could be fleshed out.

Changes in social accounting might make this easier. In the old material culture mind-body favored body, things, fixed assets. Mind was treated as an artifact, without causal consequences. In the emerging economy digital favors mimd and the old feeling for stuff is dissolving. In the old economy change was difficult. In the new economy change is programming. Anything can change quickly in the digital culture.

For cradle to cradle https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_McDonough

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