“Prosperity without Growth” – Tim Jackson presents his new book

“Prosperity without Growth” – Tim Jackson presents his new book


Hello Tim. Hi Lili. Hi, good to have you in Berlin. Good to be here. I am very happy to have you here, we are chatting about your book. I’ve got it here in German. “Das Update”. I know you can read it in German as well. And it has another title as well of course
“Wohlstand ohne Wachstum – Das Update”. But we’re having our chat in English. Although the book that you will present here in Berlin with us is in German. And so you’re not here for the first time
and this is not the first book with the title “Wohlstand ohne Wachstum” – “Prosperity without Growth”. This is the second edition. In German it’s “Das Update”. So you first started sort of publishing about
this was in 2009 or 2010. So what is new? What has happened that make you write this second edition. Yeah. I mean the first edition in a way was a total
surprise because it was written as a government report and then it just received this sort
of audience all over the world. That was totally unexpected and that I didn’t
really write the book for so the second time around I thought I would write it for all
the people who actually in the end ended up wanting to hear about it and really have a
debate about growth. And it was also I think that so much had changed following the financial crisis we understood more about what had gone wrong in the financial system, we understood more about what needed to be fixed. And one of the most interesting things of
all in a way was that we understood that the economy in its own terms is not going to go on growing the way we thought it would and hoped it would and that conventional economists say it should. It’s actually already beginning to move into
a different state and that is a real opportunity for the kind of work that
I was doing because it sort of puts it more in the mainstream. I wanted to use that opportunity really to
tease out very specifically how the economy should be different, which bits of it should
be different, how we should think about enterprise and investment and work and money in a different kind of way and really begin to lay down the building blocks, the foundations for the economy of tomorrow. That is actually the subtitle of your book,
“Foundations for the economy of tomorrow”. I have many questions about that but you’re also welcome and invited to send your questions that I can then raise and ask Tim here so please send us your questions. We already have one questioner I will later
bring into the interview here. But so when you discuss these foundations for the economy of tomorrow you talk about that we need convincing macro economics for post growth society and economics. So what exactly does that mean? What is that foundation? It kind of means, take these foundations, my four foundations enterprise, work, investment, money that’s great we can think about better ways to do that but we still have to put it together into an understanding of how the
economy actually works and the reality is we’ve got a science of economics, we’ve got a macro economics that really is 60, 70 almost 80 years old it comes from Keynes under the Great Depression and the trauma that economics and society underwent when there was a huge recession. And so our macroeconomics really has as its starting point the idea that we need growth, growth, growth. That’s what will save us that’s what will give us stability. That’s what will allow us to have a financial
system. That’s what will make everything better. And we don’t have the science of an economics that says actually: Guys, your economy is slowing down and you can’t afford to let it grow forever and trash the planet. You need to think about a different economics. So that’s a central call really for us as
economists, as society, as politicians to understand how it might work if it wasn’t
growing forever. So, some would argue and this was actually one of the questions
we got through Facebook here, was “Can we not just invest in more and more and more sustainable technologies?” Yes, we can invest in technology, we should
invest in technology. My starting point really as a scientist was
saying: look you know we’ve got destructive technologies on the one hand like nuclear
power and fossil fuels and we’ve got lovely clean technologies like solar power and wind power. Why don’t we just use those technologies, please. Because they’ll give us the same sort of society they’ll deliver electricity through the pipe. Who cares where the electrons come from. They can do the job for us. But the more I looked to that question it
was clear it wasn’t just a technological question, it was a question of economics. It was a question of the systems in which
you have to fit these technologies. It was a question of the perceptions of politicians and everywhere I looked I kept coming back to this growth question. The fact that actually we drive our economy is harder and harder and faster and faster and that means we actually have to run faster and faster in terms of our technologies. It’s not enough anymore just to have the ability to do renewable technology we’ve got to do more and more of that because the economy is growing and growing and growing. And so I began very slowly somewhat reluctantly to come around to the idea actually that we should question that fundamental idea of growing forever. But you’re still arguing in you book that we need more investment… Different kind of investment… Can you make that more specific? What’s the kind of investment that we need
and what is the kind that we don’t need? You know we’ve had a couple of kinds that we don’t need really. I mean almost all of our pension funds are invested in one way or another in extractive industries digging stuff up out of the ground, putting it into
production processes, putting up the chimney and throwing it away at the end of the day. That’s the kind of investment that we don’t
need. And then there’s another kind that we don’t
need the kind that led to the financial crash. So instead of the finance sector investing
in the real economy the finance sector was busy financing the finance sector. It was like a gambling casino where everyone bets on the value of commodities and the existence of the future. That’s another kind of investment we don’t
need. Actually what we need with investment is to reframe the idea of investment as our commitment to the future which is really what investment kind of means. That commitment to the future has to be in the technologies like renewable energy and resource efficiency. And the circular economy and the protection of ecosystems and habitats and the building of communities. The kinds of investment that lays down the
foundations for prosperity tomorrow. So if we do all of these good investments. Does it matter if our economy continues to
grow or not? Is that a relevant question for you? It’s a very central question – particularly
in the second edition of the book. I mean ultimately I don’t think it does matter if we stay within the limits of the planet, within those resource limits and within the
climate change targets and without trashing biodiversity. If something is growing into the future, maybe it’s not even the GDP in the conventional way anymore. Of course that’s okay particularly if it means that we’re growing in maturity or we’re growing in understanding or we growing in empathy
or care for each other. Fantastic. The question is: can we get that conventional growth that all the economists expect out of this different economy? And on the investment side – my answer in
the book is I’m not absolutely sure as you say say we’re investing in different things, maybe they’ll bring a little bit of growth with them. On the question of what kinds of economic activities that we have though I think it does point to definitely a lower growth society and possibly even a degrowth society because I put a lot of emphasis on services rather
than material stuff. I put a lot of emphasis on the time that people spend in delivering those services and the quality of those services and that’s exactly
what’s gone missing in our growth based society. We’ve focussed on growth assumed it will deliver us a better quality of life and we’ve forgotten to focus on quality. In fact we’ve been frightened to focus on
quality just in case that hits growth and means that we don’t have growth that’s the
wrong way round. We should concentrate on what matters. Please do join us in this debate and ask a
question. Send your questions and I will raise them
with Tim. Meanwhile: Tim, you just said degrowth. And that’s a key word of course. And there’s a growing degrowth movement in Germany, in Europe, possibly throughout the world although it has different titles and
headings and formations in different parts of the world. Do you feel that your arguments are partly controversial in the degrowth movement? Do you feel it because it’s not the same message that the degrowth movement has been giving right or is it? Are you part of the degrowth movement? I would say in a sense I am I. There’s a couple of French sociologist because the degrowth movement is very big in France. “Décroissance” sounds much better in French and and the French sociologists talk about the impact of “Prosperity without growth” on the degrowth movement in France. And they talk about it in a very interesting
way because they sort of say there was this split between those people who were talking about sustainable development and how conventional that was and then degrowth which is this radical opposition to the entire model and how that split had begun to divide the debate. And then when “Prosperity without growth”
came along nobody could figure out which side of the divide it actually sat on. And to some extent it did the job of pulling
those sides back together again that actually within the degrowth debate it was possible
then to think again about economics and the economic models that you could build that
would make things better. And on the sustainable development side you could once again legitimately begin to question growth and that that’s a fundamental, that’s,
that’s a really important thing to be able to do. Am I a degrowth person? Actually the degrowth community is very, very broad and I think somewhere in the middle I would fit. We got a question from our listeners here
on Facebook. Somebody who wants to know whether you think that growth is part of our economic DNA. Yes, it’s definitely part of the economic
DNA. Has been for 70, 80 years, it has been since
the Great Depression and the concerns about a declining economy. And it sits in the very first lines of economic textbooks that our needs as human beings and wants are insatiable and so you know we’re
forever we’ll be wanting to grow to get a better quality of life and it sits in the DNA of
the way that we, we think about companies and profit maximization in companies, the way
that we think about the fiduciary duties of companies to increase the value of shares
for their shareholders. That idea that the whole thing is about getting bigger and bigger is written in certain ways into the DNA of the economy and of companies. There is a question coming which is exactly the one I wanted to ask now. So what’s your plan to get from A to B – so from where we are now. How do we get out of that? What’s your vision? Is that more of a reformist approach of small steps or is that more revolutionary? Transformational? There are different ways of asking that question. So are you saying am I for revolution or
transformational reform? I suppose, you know, between reform which is you sit there and
you tinker at the edges of legislation and revolution where you just tear everything
down and throw everything away, there’s something which I like to think of
as transformation which says you don’t ever stop asking the most fundamental questions and you don’t ever stop questioning your own assumptions about those things. So it’s really it is radical but it isn’t about just tearing down for the sake of tearing down. It’s about change and providing the architecture of change. And then at the second level of answering
that question – what’s the plan? What’s the architecture of change? I think you take those bits of the system
which are broken. You take enterprise and profit maximization and you shift it, you change that vision around so that enterprise becomes about purpose and about service. You take work which has become a sort of form of wage slavery which diminishes people’s quality of life and you’re saying no, work is about our ability to participate in society and you build the institutions the structures that allow people to work in
a better way. Investment same thing, money system same thing, and all of those fundamental building blocks you start to change from inside out and
transform the system. And do you feel like we already have a plan
of what the future economy will look like? Do you think we need such a master plan, a very concrete vision of what it will look like? I think there’s beginning to be a sort
of a vision, so it was really interesting during the recent election in the U.K. actually to
see a lot of language around the idea of let’s have an economy that works. And that was an economy that works for everyone. So it was a call for a vision of a different kind of society, an inclusive society that looks after the poorest in which we judge how good we are as a society by looking at those who are least well off. We don’t govern for the rich and the minority and the financial elite, we govern for ordinary
people. And that’s the beginnings of a different kind of vision that’s the beginnings of a different way of saying actually this is what economics is for. It’s not for chasing after growth, it’s for
looking after people. That doesn’t mean to say of course there’s
no room for variation and it doesn’t mean say that every answer is already given. On the contrary I think you know we’re working at the answers. We can’t see it all clearly. And that makes it frightening but it also
makes it kind of exciting because there’s a lot to play for within that vision. You started this work advising the U.K. government. In between then and now the Brexit decision happened. And how does this debate fit into current
debates in the UK? I mean the Brexit debate… I mean we could do the “no growth” bit quite easily: You know if you trash your market and you piss off your trading partners and
you remove yourself from a political movement that has brought nations together over a certain number of years then, you know, you can probably trash your economy quite
well but that’s not the prosperity bit of it. I think what the Brexit debate tells us though, it gives us an understanding of is the failings of that existing model, the failings
of some of its institutions, the failings of money systems, the poverty, the real poverty and insecurity that came out of a broken system and the first reaction to that was
a left wing politics of people saying actually enough is enough. Give me a different system and then people
got even more scared. And they began to be scared about the wrong things in a sense. The people they felt were taking their jobs
from all over the rest of Europe. The openness of borders that they felt as
though they’d never agreed to, or all the regulations coming down the line from Europe because they were stopping us getting on with our job of growing the economy. And I think this is what Brexit and
the politics of today really tells us. It tells us how badly broken that system is. Can we pull that out of the ashes? Can we rebuild those relationships? We have to kind of hope that we can. But it’s definitely become a more difficult
task. There’s a question coming in about jobs. Are there any jobs without growth. That’s a very good question. If you ask a conventional politician they’d
say no. They say almost in the same breath they say jobs and growth, jobs and growth, jobs and growth. If you don’t have growth you can’t have jobs. It’s like a mantra in the political mind
that growth equals jobs but actually it’s one of the questions that I look at really
closely in the book – it just isn’t true. It all depends on what kind of growth. Turns out you can have growth without any
jobs at all. And what kind of jobs. And it turns out you can have a lot of jobs
without a great deal of growth. In fact ironically that’s one of the things
that we’ve shown since the crisis, is that our employment level in the UK is higher than it’s ever been since records began. Even though we have a declining economy. So yes, you can have jobs without growth. You have to think about what those jobs are. They’re not necessarily the conventional manufacturing, which is all about the linear throughput of materials from the ground to production
processes to shops to people’s lives to the rubbish dump. There are more jobs around services, around care, around craft, around building things that last, around creativity and artistic
expression, around culture. And that’s the really, the really amazing thing to me: If you think about the economy in that way, it has much more employment in it. It’s a more job rich economy even though it
doesn’t grow so fast. I agree and that’s a very positive vision. But there is a big worry about jobs being
lost not because we have less growth but because we have new technologies coming in, new digital technologies – algorithms taking over jobs. Robots, artificial intelligence, all of that
and that impacts some other factors you just mentioned including the care sector. So how do you factor that in? Yeah, the robots are coming and they will
either save us or ruin us depending on who you believe. And I think where we’re standing, I mean we’re standing in a debate that has been had before. The idea that technology will take all the jobs away was a fear in the industrial revolution. It was a fear again in the 1960s, 70s. It’s a fear now, and it’s a very legitimate fear now. There are some things where you would want those jobs to be taken away because they’re not very pleasant, they’re not very nice. They’re not even safe sometimes and so the idea that we use technology to improve the quality of our working lives I think is a
really strong one. But there are also places where it doesn’t
really substitute for human interaction, the time that we can give as people to the
service of other people. And And of course, yes, use technology in the
care sector to make that job easier. But does that mean taking away our doctors and nurses and our carers and our social workers? I don’t think it does and I think we have
to be very wary of any vision of the economy and any vision of work which suggests that
there won’t be time for people in the service of other people. There will always be that need. So we’ve so far mostly kept in the European
space with this discussion. But this has become a global debate, right, and this is being picked up and there is interest from people, governments, scientists, academics in countries in the global south as well. One of the reactions we often get at the Heinrich Böll Foundation when we talk to people in Latin America, in Asia, in Africa about the
need for a post growth society, the answer we get is “But that’s for you, you know, rich countries maybe,
but definitely not for a country like Nigeria.” This is all about growth. We need growth in order to develop, etc. How do you look at this question? I’m really sensitive to that point and actually it’s is the starting point for “Prosperity without growth”. The starting point for
the book is that there are countries where absolute poverty is really unforgivable in
the 21st century and it’s also clear when you look at the evidence that those are the
places where growth brings a better quality of life, undeniable better quality of life. Infant mortality plummets as you bring countries out of poverty and life expectancy rises from 50 years to 80 years as your income goes from nothing to ten thousand, fifteen thousand dollars per capita. That’s the place where growth really makes
a difference. So it’s very understandable, very defensible
for poor countries to say actually we need to improve those material conditions but there is nonetheless, and this to me was really surprising, interest from those poor countries in this
kind of work. There’s a recognition that actually we don’t
find those things at any cost. We don’t grow at any cost. We actually grow in order to improve the quality of life of our citizens and not as one minister from Ecuador told me at a U.N. meeting, not
so that we can become a consumerist society. He said to me very explicitly “If that’s what it means to grow then we don’t want to grow”. They’ve put this concept of “buen vivir” in
place in Ecuador as the heart of their constitution – “buen vivir” – “Wohlstand” – “living well”
is exactly the heart of the idea that there’s a different way to do things and that’s even
in one of the poorest economies in the world. A good life for all. So just a final question before we have to
close this chat for now. You’re presenting this book tonight at
6:00 p.m. at the Heinrich Böll Foundation to mostly German audience. Is there anything specific that you think
Germans – we in Germany should be thinking about? Just pick one I’m not going to make it your export industry. I know how politically sensitive that all is. I think this in a sense the debate about degrowth in Germany has been fantastic. You know it gets more press interest, more
reception, more intellectual interest here than it did in the U.K. which is where the
report originates. That’s really kind of strange but it’s also
really exciting particularly as I think know one of the roles that Germany has played, along with France perhaps, is this leadership role in Europe – in a Europe that still can
make a difference to the way we think about prosperity. It’s also of course been a Europe which has
created some of the institutions that have stood in the way of that prosperity. But to have a stronger vision of prosperity,
a stronger vision of “Wohlstand” at the heart of Germany, at the heart of a European politics that would be fantastic. Great. So if you want to hear more and see more of Tim tonight at 6:00 p.m. He’s presenting his book “Wohlstand ohne Wachstum” – “Prosperity without Growth” – The second edition, the update tonight at 6:00 p.m. And if you’re not in Berlin and can’t come
to see us here there is also a livestream available on the Heinrich Böll Foundation
website. So you can not follow us on Facebook but on the Böll Foundation website. And I look forward to seeing you again. Thank you so much, Tim! Thanks!

2 thoughts on ““Prosperity without Growth” – Tim Jackson presents his new book

  1. I liked the interview. I was hoping for more details on possible ways that this can come about but I think I have an idea. Would love to talk to you or Tim Jackson about this work. Thanks for bringing this issue to the internet. Be well. 😉

  2. The problem with "green and clean" technologies sold as rejecting "zero carbon emissions" is that the process of their production is very polluting. solar panels, electric cars, smartphones needs rare materials whose extraction engenders extremely high carbon emissions, soil desplacement but of course on other continent. Children works in these mines to extract the material. And we cannot recycle the batteries, motors that we will be again incinerated or burried or thrown in the sea.

    Green "grown" is a lie for me, we are not able norr ready to question growth… but we already we see that growth doen't mean well-being, even less for everybody

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