By Michael Bastasch
More than 200 academics signed onto a public letter calling on governments to eschew economic growth in order to plan for a “post-growth economy” based on wealth redistribution.
“For the past seven decades, GDP growth has stood as the primary economic objective of European nations,” 238 academics wrote in public letter published by The Guardian on Sunday.
“But as our economies have grown, so has our negative impact on the environment,” they wrote. “We are now exceeding the safe operating space for humanity on this planet, and there is no sign that economic activity is being decoupled from resource use or pollution at anything like the scale required.”
“Today, solving social problems within European nations does not require more growth. It requires a fairer distribution of the income and wealth that we already have,” the academics wrote.
The letter echoes the 1960s-era “population bomb” fears. Back then, academics, like former White House science czar John Holdren and biologist Paul Ehrlich, argued out of control population control would outstrip the Earth’s ability to support humanity.
Ehrlich and Holdren predicted the world would eventually move, like it or not, to a “no-growth” economy where famine, hunger and poverty would run rampant until the population stabilized.
Those predictions turned out to be wrong as humanity’s physical and material well-being has increased substantially since then as population growth exploded.
However, hundreds of academics are echoing the Malthusian fears of the 1960s, and calling for governments to prepare for a “no-growth economy” where gross domestic product (GDP) is not a concern.
“If current trends continue, there may be no growth at all in Europe within a decade,” the academics wrote in their letter. “Right now the response is to try to fuel growth by issuing more debt, shredding environmental regulations, extending working hours, and cutting social protections.”
“This aggressive pursuit of growth at all costs divides society, creates economic instability, and undermines democracy,” they wrote.
Copenhagen Consensus Center president Bjorn Lomborg, also known as the “skeptical environmentalist,” called the academics’ demands “silly,” especially the argument “that degrowth can improve our quality of life.”
“The claim that no-growth or de-growth would be good for us is simply wrong,” Lomborg tweeted on Monday.
The claim of running out of ecological space or earth (e.g. ecological footprint) is simply wronghttps://t.co/l8UxvSrPG0
— Bjorn Lomborg (@BjornLomborg) September 17, 2018
The academics called for policies that emphasized wealth redistribution and environmentalism over those that add to the material well-being of a country. The letter, however, does not address population growth.
“Resource use could be curbed by introducing a carbon tax, and the revenue could be returned as a dividend for everyone or used to finance social programmes,” academics wrote in their letter.
“Introducing both a basic and a maximum income would reduce inequality further, while helping to redistribute care work and reducing the power imbalances that undermine democracy,” they wrote. “New technologies could be used to reduce working time and improve quality of life, instead of being used to lay off masses of workers and increase the profits of the privileged few.”
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