As part of the Hay Festival 2021, economists Danny Dorling and Tim Jackson discussed their respective books, Slowdown and Post Growth: Life After Capitalism, with the writer, and Senior Strategic Advisor for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, Dr Katherine Trebeck. Dorling and Jackson emphasised a reformed economic outlook that breaks out of the simplified, Cold War-era dichotomy of capitalism and socialism in order to tackle issues like climate change and systemic inequality, which are only just beginning to be addressed in matters of policy – and arguably not nearly enough.
The COVID-19 pandemic serves as a backdrop to this discourse. The speakers pointed out that inequality has spiked during the pandemic, and will continue to do so during large global disasters, giving the example of the cholera epidemics of Victorian Britain. Dorling mentioned that, in Oxford, council housing residents were eight times more likely to die due to COVID-19 than their wealthier counterparts.
One of the key points raised by the speakers is that it is thus no longer feasible to measure progress in terms of GDP. In a world that is significantly richer, more connected, and more peaceful than ever before, progress must become more complex than we presently conceive it. The vision of the world as moving along a linear and steady line of economic growth is outdated, and perhaps even delusional, as our resources increasingly dry up. Moreover, our aim, as Dorling articulated it, should be not to reject a growth-based model of free-market economics, but to transcend it. The question is no longer philosophical or thought-provoking; it is existential and closely tied to our material realities.
In this sense, both Slowdown and Post Growth are a break from the past philosophies of economic phenomena. But in another sense, they return to ways of being that humanity has left behind. Jackson points out that post-growth economics is not a new idea; in fact, it was echoed by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, who preached that “he who knows that enough is enough will always have enough”. Post Growth, according to Jackson, is a history of ideas. His vision of prosperity is predicated on balance [between…?], which is lacking in the economic ideas being explored and acted upon today.
The relevance of a discussion such as this is doubtless, especially at a time when the debate about the future is pertinent, yet more characterised by uncertainty than ever before. This event propels the viewer into a future that is hopeful, and worth imagining. While much of literature paints a worrying prediction of future years, be it through climate change fiction or sci-fi, it is not every day that readers are shown a clearly defined way forward out of the conundrums of the present. This discussion between Dorling, Jackson, and Trebeck in particular has a hopeful tone that serves not only as polemic but also remedy, to problems that are both known and yet seem unimaginable.
Image: Wikimedia Commons