I’m convinced that a postgrowth economy is pretty much inevitable, and that it is only a matter of time before it is taken seriously at the highest levels. An economy that doesn’t require endless growth is still a toxic subject to British politicians, but not so in France. Last week saw a conference called An Innovative Society for the 21st Century. It was organised by the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, with the personal backing of President Hollande.
Speakers included postgrowth voices such as Andrew Simms, and Dan O’Neill of the Campaign for a Steady State Economy, alongside French MPs and civil servants. The conference heard arguments from both sides, so it is not an endorsement of postgrowth perspectives in any way. But the idea that the pursuit of growth is no longer a legitimate goal for developed economies is certainly no longer taboo.
What’s particularly interesting is that while Hollande is a socialist, he is building on the work of his center-right predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy. It was Sarkozy who brought in Joseph Stiglitz to head up a commission investigating better metrics than GDP to measure economic performance and social progress.
Along with politicians, mainstream economists are increasingly prepared to discuss the topic. Lord Stern was among the speakers. He is still in favour of growth in the short to medium term, but acknowledges that it can’t continue forever. Jeffrey Sachs also spoke, and from Dan O’Neill’s write up, it seems he may have completed his transition to the postgrowth side of the fence. He’s hinted before that economic growth isn’t everything, but has sounded increasingly skeptical of late. His recent paper with Johan Rockstrom was pretty close, but according to O’Neill he has crossed the Rubicon entirely and told the conference that they “all countries need to pursue a new model of development.” I look forward to him developing this idea, as he’s a high profile figure and his contribution would be very valuable.
If someone was to organise a similar conference in Britain, do you think we’d get David Cameron along? I’ve got a book on my shelf here that in which he says that “the pursuit of wealth is no longer – if it ever was – enough to meet people’s aspirations; that overconsumption of the world’s resources cannot satisfy our most inborn desires; and yes, that quality of life means more than quantity of money.” That was written in opposition of course, where it’s a lot easier to say these things, but perhaps there’s hope yet.