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Prosperity Without Growth (1)

20 July 2010

Like biologists, economists in the West are not a group regarded highly by the general population. Quite opposite, in fact. The reputations of the people in these professions are even worse in China, since the former are trying to push the government to force Chinese people into consuming GM rice before any credible evidence to prove it is save for long-term use being presented for public scrutiny, while the latter keep promoting full privatisation and market economy which are blamed by the dissatisfied in the community as the cause for the increased gap between the rich and the poor.

When some Chinese economists perching on important key positions, such as the head of a school for management at one of China's leading universities, are still lobbying for China to develop an unchecked free market and unrestricted consumerism, as which are what they learned in the West decades ago, and as they don't seem to know anything else, in the Western world, the general consensus in the fields of economics and of the general public has already shifted away from this economic model that is considered as being unsustainable. And some pioneering economists have joined the movement to search for new ways of living our lives in the new century.

Here we present one of such brave attempts made by Professor Tim Jackson, the head of UK Government's Sustainable Development Commission (英国的'可发委' - 可持续发展委员会 - 跟中国的‘发改委’反其道而行之。这究竟唱的是锡剧呢还是京剧呢?是可喜呢还是可惊呢?). The following is the excerpt from his book titled Prosperity Without Growth and our Chinese translation:

The Transition to a Sustainable Economy

Growth has delivered its benefits, at best, unequally. A fifth of the world’s population earns just 2% of global income. Inequality is higher in the OECD nations than it was 20 years ago. Far from raising the living standard for those who most needed it, growth let much of the world’s population down. Wealth trickled up to the lucky few.

Fairness (or the lack of it) is just one of several reasons to question the conventional formula for achieving prosperity. As the economy expands, so do the resource implications associated with it.

A world in which things simply go on as usual is already inconceivable.

This report sets out a critical examination of the relationship between prosperity and growth. It acknowledges at the outset that poorer nations stand in urgent need of economic development. But it also questions whether ever-rising incomes for the already-rich are an appropriate goal for policy in a world constrained by ecological limits. In short, this report challenges the assumption of continued economic expansion in rich countries and asks: is it possible to achieve prosperity without growth?






The Age of Irresponsibility

The banking crisis of 2008 led the world to the brink of financial disaster and shook the dominant economic model to its foundations. It redefined the boundaries between market and state and forced us to confront our inability to manage the financial sustainability – let alone the ecological sustainability – of the global economy.

The market was not undone by rogue individuals or the turning of a blind eye by incompetent regulators. It was undone by growth itself.

This model was always unstable ecologically. It has now proven itself unstable economically. The age of irresponsibility is not about casual oversight or individual greed. If there was irresponsibility it was systematic, sanctioned widely and with one clear aim in mind: the continuation and protection of economic growth.





Redefining Prosperity

Prosperity has undeniable material dimensions. It’s perverse to talk about things going well where there is inadequate food and shelter (as is the case for billions in the developing world). But it is also plain to see that the simple equation of quantity with quality, of more with better, is false in general. When you’ve had no food for months and the harvest has failed again, any food at all is a blessing. When the American-style fridge freezer is already stuffed with overwhelming choice, even a little extra might be considered a burden, particularly if you’re tempted to eat it.

Prosperity has vital social and psychological dimensions. To do well is in part about the ability to give and receive love, to enjoy the respect of your peers, to contribute useful work, and to have a sense of belonging and trust in the community. In short, an important component of prosperity is the ability to participate meaningfully in the life of society.




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