22. 09. 2009

Sarkozy launches crusade against obsession with growth

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I can’t help it, but I love seeing the Treasury discomfited. Through my nine years with the Sustainable Development Commission they set up so many barriers to promoting more sustainable economic growth, did so many foolish things, and missed so many opportunities, that I can’t help but feel a little bitter. They were particularly obstructive in terms of the work the Commission did on economic growth, seeking to open up the debate about the completely irrational way in which the pursuit of GDP has come to dominate all economic policy debates. The Commission’s report, ‘Prosperity Without Growth?’ was met with a combination of disdain and indifference that only the Treasury is capable of. The Commission was told, in no uncertain terms, that this just wasn’t the kind of advice that the UK Government needed. So I had particularly good reason to celebrate the publication of a new report, authored by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen on the 'Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’, commissioned personally by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, questioning the continued obsession of nations with conventionally measured economic growth. “For years, statistics have registered an increasingly strong economic growth as a victory over shortage – until it emerged that this growth was destroying more than it was creating,” said Sarkozy, endorsing the report. “The crisis doesn’t only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so”. President Sarkozy has instructed France’s national statistics body to update its gathering and reporting of economic statistics in line with the report’s recommendations. Better yet, he will invite other world leaders to join his crusade against what the report describes as “GDP Fetishism”. “France will put this report on the agenda of all international meetings, including next week’s G20 Summit,” Sarkozy said. I fear he’ll get very short shrift from Gordon Brown, who will see it as an irritatingly Gallic distraction from the serious business of getting the global economy back on track. Inconveniently, that’s precisely the same track that has caused such devastating damage to the Earth’s life support systems that sustain us, has unleashed what could still prove to be irreversible climate change, has left between one and two billion people living in conditions of dire poverty, and has ruthlessly promoted private greed and avarice over social wellbeing and community cohesion. In other words, exactly the kind of growth-based economics that “destroys more than it creates” – to paraphrase the French President.

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24. 09. 2009
Len Jones

forget GDP as a measure of how 'well off' or confortable we are, how about measures of Gross Domestic Happiness as a measure of how Society is developing? Coming away from conventional economics and departing from graphical representations as to how the world works would be a start. Politicians and Economists have to realise that the world is a messy place and that inappropriate measures lead to inappropriate responses. Sustainability concerns us all, if we are happy within ourselves and content, not too greedy and come off the consumer bandwagon, realise we are all in this together etc we will all be happier and so will the environment. When the world learns to think for itself and not be forced to keep an eye on irresponsible measures such as GDP then we will all ( literally) breathe easier.

29. 09. 2009
Chris Bennett

Most people find change very difficult. The Treasury is led and staffed by old school classical economists and accountants who got to their senior positions by toeing the old school line. It will take an age to get them to change.

That is not say that the battle should not be joined, but it is to say that it will take a generation to bring in to effect, unless there is a mighty crisis.

Well, there is a mighty crisis, but many people will not recognise it. Many are in denial, especially those who have won their way to the top by operating to conventional values. Whether its in the fossil fuel industries, the power industries etc. I have met so many senior people who still do not recognise the environmental problems we have, perhaps because they do not want to believe that they have played a part in causing the crisis.

The same phenomenon has happened over MPs' expenses. For the most part, they do not realise the anger in the country and deny their involvement.

How to overcome this massive hurdle? Firstly, we have to accept that reason and logic do not apply, especially if we accept the need to move fast. Simply consider Jonathon's sad note on the response of the Treasury to the SDC's excellent report, 'Prosperity without Growth?'. Secondly, accept that direct action, in its antagonistic form, only serves to force the old school in to entrenched positions and slows down the process of change.

So I advocate simply, independent action, as much as possible ignoring the current political structures, albeit making use of those that help the cause in UK. There is widespread awareness of the issues amongst the general populace and plenty of goodwill. Much of business is trying to find new opportunities and feels constrained and confused by the UK government. We need to harness this goodwill through high profile practical activities at local, national and international level.

You may say that the UK government has created many initiatives. Indeed it has. But they are highly constrained and, unavoidably, work to Treasury rules.

You may say that our many excellent voluntary sector organisations, such as Greenpeace and FoE are already there. But they have a long history and are seen by many, if not most, as agents of conflict, rather than constructive change, however wrong that perception may be. Anyway, their important role as challengers of the status quo must not be compromised.

So, with some regret, I have to say a new grassroots organisation harnessing all the goodwill of people and business is the only real option for the UK.

I'm working on it!

Best wishes to all.


30. 09. 2009
Jed Bartlett

If you found this article thought provoking, I recommend you read

The Age of Consent by George Monbiot

Capitalism as if the World Matters by Jonathon Porritt

If you 'don't read' then watch The West Wing!

15. 01. 2010
Christopher Doll

This is biggest obstacle to getting on sustainable pathways. It needs to be recognised in government and in society but humans are obsessed with growth as a proxy for progress.

A big problem is the electoral cycle. It can be counterproductive for tackling long term problems like climate change and transitions to sustainable development. With regard to the economy, the focus is on getting the numbers point in the right direction in time for an election. The changes required are fundamentally longer but society and government only like short term achievable goals as anything else seems like dithering and failure.

These are perceptions that need to be changed.

18. 02. 2012

I cuhagt your presentation on the BIF6 live stream, and wanted to say that I thought it was really a great talk. I enjoyed it very much.(although it kept going in and out-what was the advice you gave the innovators near the end?)

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