29 May, 2020
Throughout nature, organisms grow until they reach maturity, where they have found their niche and are optimised to the conditions around them. They have stopped growing but certainly haven’t stopped developing, existing in a steady equilibrium.
What if economies developed in the same way? This is the idea at the heart of The Economics of Arrival – that growth is a means to an end and an economy has ‘arrived’ once this growth gives it the resources and wealth needed to be able to provide all its citizens with a high quality of life. Once it reaches this stage, priorities should shift towards the challenge of putting that wealth to work, making it more sustainable for the people it serves and the environment on which it relies.
The book does a great job of helping us understand the uneconomic growth many industrialised societies are seeing, and portraying growth not as a commodity or something that simply has quantity (bigger equalling better), but as something that has quality too, determined by how it has been generated and how it is distributed. The revelations are powerful – for example, no economy currently sits within the safe operating area between meeting basic needs and not breaching ecological limits. Meanwhile, a government review in Scotland found that 40% of the country’s public spending was “devoted annually to alleviating social problems and tackling ‘failure demand’ – demand which could have been avoided by earlier preventative measures.”
Identifying the issues inherent to current economic and socio-political systems is an important first step but this book isn’t simply an attack on growth, as much as it is an invitation to a conversation on what a ‘grown-up’ economy should look like and how we can work together to get there. This aspiration is the focus of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance where one of the authors works. The authors do not claim to have a blueprint or fully fleshed-out replacement, but instead showcase the myriad case studies supporting more sustainable and equitable societies – from the businesses embracing pro-social business through employee ownership, the circular economy through products-as-a-service, or catalysing the sharing economy, to the countries exploring better ways to measure progress such as the Genuine Progress Indicator.
The challenges are big, but this is a book that manages to still inspire optimism and energy for a more prosperous future.
By Patrick Bapty