You can hear the rising chatter: the bubbling of ‘back to normal’, the stimulus packages, the business resurrection plans, the recovery that everyone is longing for, and at the heart of it the sense that economic growth is the answer. But is it? Perhaps the biggest sacred cow, so deeply embedded culturally as to be unquestionable, is ready to be de-pedestalled?
In this second episode Dougald and Ed hold a conversational space around challenging the idea that whatever form the recovery takes it has to ‘sound like growth’.
We start by reviewing some of our respective reading of the last week:
- ‘The Machine Stops’ by E.M.Forster – a prescient parable from 1909 in which humanity resides underground, it’s needs met by an all powerful machine, which then stops, with destructive and transformative consequences (1.40)
- ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ by Robin Wall Kimmerer – the (literal) grassroots sleeper hit that became a New York Times best-seller, celebrating science, soul, soil, indigenous wisdom and spirit. Especially the idea of ‘The Honourable Harvest’ (4.52)
- ‘A Paradise Built in Hell’ by Rebecca Solnit – compelling stories of post-disaster communities recovering with joy and in unexpected collaborative ways, versus Hobbesian views of people and ‘elite panics’ (10.11)
15.44 ‘Is green growth possible?’ Can 3% annual growth ever be sustained? The virus has pushed us where we never expected to be with a third of the economy gone, it will require a huge effort just to get back where we were. The problem of ‘Jevon’s paradox’, the choice between a post-1918 pandemic that led to the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the terror of the thirties, or the post-1945 settlement of the social contract that created the NHS, Arts Council etc? Or is this ‘Death Star Economics’? Growth does not mean security and wellbeing, we are revaluing societal roles radically.
23.44 Beyond the technical, monetary questions – is there an emerging ‘insider willingness’ to face reality? A sense of a boiling/breaking point? How to question the economic growth assumption? This is NOT about sustainability – maintaining this system for the 1 in 7 people on the planet who enjoy it, while making a false promise to the other 6. Is it about ‘negotiating the surrender’? We have realised that whole chunks of the economy can disappear overnight, a wild thought experiment has become reality.
28.40 Pause or Reset? The lobbying to ‘own the settlement’ with a rapid return to business as usual has begun. Some interest from Benefit Corporations, but still not ‘steady state economics’. Now the commercial and political realities have changed can we talk about ecological limits FIRST? Amsterdam’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ recovery plan looks interesting.
34.42 Mutiny? Is there a shadow leadership movement ready to address this paradox of infinite growth?
38.08 The invitation: How do we offer the frame for this ‘bravest of all conversations’ beyond the previous suicide trajectory? Can we raise the volume of the quiet whispers?
38.58 Permission for the impossible: Only the impossible is interesting. We need leadership to hold the space to tackle this most sacred of cows as a great unifying idea, not that the machine has stopped. How do we start that impossible conversation – beyond growth?
41.00 Pandemic as portal: We conclude with Arundhati Roy’s much quoted Financial Times piece, and reflect on the caution needed around messianic, millenarian or quasi-religious transcendence:
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
- ‘Why growth can’t be green’ by Jason Hickel
- ‘Death Star Economics’ Ed’s piece on Darth Vader’s return to growth plan
- Kate Raworth’s ‘Doughnut Economics’ and Amsterdam’s plan for a ‘Doughnut Recovery’
- When businesses might need to die, Ed’s piece on ‘The Fossil Fuelneral’
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— Ed & Dougald