I was introduced to Peter Victor through a webinar supported by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on Feb. 24, 2021.
I have since seen a number of presentations, interviews and book reviews based mostly on his book Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design, Not Disaster published in 2008.
While most of us are used to the idea that economic growth is good, the following is a review of the no (or slow) growth concept. Although Mr. Victor and many others have been writing about their concerns of growth-based economic principles starting in the 1940s it has been an uphill battle.
Their challenge is based on a critical analysis of environmental and resource limits to growth along with the disconnect between higher incomes and happiness, and the failure of economic growth to meet other key economic, social and environmental policy objectives. They point out that shortly after the Second World War, economic growth became the paramount economic policy objective in most countries (mostly focused on GDP and job creation), a position that it maintains today.
Three arguments are presented on why rich countries should turn away from economic growth as the primary policy objective and pursue more specific objectives that enhance well being of the planet and not just human well being. The author contends that continued economic growth worldwide is unrealistic due to environmental and resource constraints. If rich countries continue to push growth, poorer countries, where the benefits are more evident, will lag.
Rising incomes increase happiness and well being only up to a level that has since been surpassed in rich countries. Moreover, economic growth has not brought full employment, eliminated poverty or reduced the burden of the economy on the environment.
The authors point out that the economic crash in 2008 was a wake-up call to the many traditional growth economists. While there are a number of reasons given for the crash Mr. Victor promotes one of the major factors being corporate greed. The richest corporation CEOs were pushing for public money to help them maintain their positions of wealth – power gap advantage.
“Much of contemporary green economic analysis has been enlisted in support of the Green New Deal (GND). Inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, the GND is a government stimulus package designed to promote environmentally sustainable growth and social justice through financial re-regulation and the encouragement of green technological innovation, especially in the areas of carbon reduction and sequestration, energy efficiency, and the development of renewables. Its goal is the creation of a green capitalism.
But there is a rival school of green macroeconomics for which growth is an integral part of the ecological crisis and therefore cannot be the solution to it. Green growth, from this perspective, is a contradiction in terms — a case stated robustly in George Monbiot’s polemical Out of the Wreckage (2017).
In terms of achievements, Victor concedes that people in developed countries live longer and (in some ways) healthier lives. But growth always entails environmental costs such as spoliation, waste disposal, and the depletion of habitat and species. And then there are the social costs, including community breakdown, alienation, overcrowding, and crime. Drawing on Richard Layard’s Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (2005), Victor disputes the connection between income growth and increases in the human sense of well being and goes on to challenge other claimed benefits of growth in respect of full employment and of income and wealth distribution.
I encourage readers to look at some of the book reviews and videos which cover this material especially in light of pressing policy changes needed regarding climate change, deforestation, reduced biodiversity, clean water and air issues and food production. Unlimited growth may be just another name for cancer. Has the human species become a cancerous growth or pandemic destroying planet earth?
Jim Hilton is a professional agrologist and forester who has lived and worked in the Cariboo Chilcotin for the past 40 years. Now retired, Hilton still volunteers his skills with local community forests organizations.