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WEAll’s Knowledge and Policy lead Katherine Trebeck appeared on BBC Radio Scotland on Saturday, 4 May, to debate economic and climate change issues.

The debate focused on the need to move away from growth-oriented economics.

Listen here (from 1:37:20)

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

I write this as I finally get a coffee after a long but exhilarating morning. Actually, a long but exhilarating few years.

This morning a few of us from the WEAll family were sitting in the house that Adam Smith used to live in.

We were there to see the kick off of the first Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) policy lab: Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand coming together to collaborate on wellbeing economy policies.

WEGo is about governments rolling up their sleeves, linking arms, and walking together down a path that sees national success as being defined by the quality of life of citizens rather than the growth rate of a country’s GDP. As the Chief Economist of the Scottish Government said, WEGo is about driving the wellbeing agenda in economic, social, and environmental policy making.

WEAll has been supporting (and sometimes agitating) for this project for many years (even before WEAll was officially formed).

So, sitting back with a coffee after this morning, after these years, and reflecting on the potential of this little project is a nice moment.

We heard the First Minister of Scotland quote Adam Smith and declare that a nation’s success shouldn’t be measured by its gold or silver: that growth is only of value if it makes people’s lives better – it is not an end in itself.

We heard the Prime Minister of Iceland – Katrin Jakobsdottir – say she is personally committed to collaborating with other governments on this agenda and that Iceland is excited by the WEGo project because it is “time to think differently about growth”.

Nicola Sturgeon said she hopes “this event will be the first of many…[because] there is much to gain from working with other countries”.

The governmental engagement in the project is underscored by the support of the OECD – Carrie Exton from their Statistics Directorate described WEGo as “a fantastic project”.

But beyond this, in the context of global divisions, dangerous populism, alienation, Katrin Jakobsdottir looks at WEGo and sees a “light in the darkness” – backed by Nicola Sturgeon who recognised that “if there is ever a right time for such an initiative, it is now…we should seize this [collaboration] with both hands: [this agenda] is the most important overarching thing in my government, because it affects everything”.

Hard to imagine a stronger endorsement for a project rich with potential. It might even be a game changer – setting a new tone for governmental cooperation, leadership, new norms in definitions of success, and working together to deal with the challenges facing today’s world.

Fuelled by coffee, working with such extraordinary and open minded leaders, WEAll might just achieve this wellbeing economy we so urgently need.

Read First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s full speech here.

 

 

 

This article was first published by The Herald here.

Building an economy that works for all – Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

 

In 1983, Reagan declared that “there are no great limits to growth because there are no limits to human intelligence, imagination and wonder”.

When Reagan uttered those words, students were striking against nuclear weapons. Celebrities were singing that aid and charity from the west would “feed the world”. The scientific community was building an evidence base about hydrofluorocarbons, resulting in political agreement to eradicate their use in order to protect the ozone layer.

Today, students strike against inadequate political response to climate change. Celebrities (and companies) are being called out for tax evasion which undermines state budgets for health and education.

And scientists are not only warning against the 6th mass extinction, but building an evidence base that links between economic growth and environmental impact are real, with any decoupling a case of offshoring production, liable to rebound, and frankly – and unfortunately – just too slow to be a solution.

Community groups and scholars are also pointing to mounting evidence that economic growth and equality of opportunity are not, as was recently suggested on national radio, “two sides of the same coin”. How would that claim sound to communities in Scotland who haven’t seen many drips trickling down from Scotland’s GDP growth in recent decades? Or to people turning to food banks after a shift at work because the economic activity on offer isn’t enabling them to feed their families?

Yet, in spite of such realities, thinking from Reagan’s era lives on. Eleven months ago, a 354-page document was published on behalf of the SNP. The “Sustainable Growth Commission” and its recommendations will be voted on by SNP members at their conference this weekend.

The Commission’s report contains useful and progressive proposals – especially its framing of tax as an investment and welcoming the role of migrants in Scottish life.

But questions could be asked of its underlying premise: turning the pages reveals that it means “sustainable” in the “perpetual” sense of the term, not the “taking into account environmental limits and ensuring the economy regenerates the ecosystem” sense.

The latter doesn’t make for such a catchy title, but would chime better with Scotland’s role in pioneering a new way of understanding economic success. Scotland is already recognising the need to make the economy circular and businesses more inclusive. The Government is broadening the notion of national success away from GDP alone via the National Performance Framework and showing leadership in convening the new Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative.

The report also points to New Zealand’s economy of the last decade or so as something to emulate but turns a blind eye to New Zealand’s concerted efforts to move away from previous growth-ist orientation and instead build a wellbeing economy. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says:

“People look [at our GDP] and say ‘you’re doing OK’. But we have homelessness at staggering rates, ones of the highest rates of youth suicide in the OECD and our mental health and wellbeing is not what it should be. We need to address the societal wellbeing of our nation, not just the economic wellbeing.”

These words could apply to Scotland. We should accompany New Zealand in imagining and creating an economy suited to the environmental realities of our age and which ensures the economy works for all, not just the privileged few.

Perhaps the Growth Commission needs another volume, entitled: “From Growth Orientation to Wellbeing: Building an Economy Really Fit for Scotland’s Future”.Writing that would mean updating Reagan for the 21st Century and using our limitless imaginations, wonder, and human intelligence to build an economy that is better than growth.

On Saturday 20 April, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead Katherine Trebeck appeared on BBC Radio Scotland. Interviewed by Isabel Fraser for around 7 minutes, Katherine put forward the case for a wellbeing economy and explained why it’s urgent that we work to change the system now.

Listen here from 13:33  (BBC Sounds)

 

This blog was first published by Carnegie UK

To coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the publication of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, the Carnegie UK Trust is publishing a series of blogs which outline the approach taken to measuring and improving wellbeing by different governments, organisations and initiatives around the world.

The economic model that has become so dominant is called all sorts of things: ‘neoliberal’; ‘market fundamentalist’; ‘overly financialised’; ‘extractive’; and ‘toxic’.

What it is called doesn’t matter so much as how it has strangled our imaginations and our sense of possibility: the current economy is seen as the only kind of economy that we can have, and the mainstream thinking is that to resist it would be to bring society to its knees.

Yet society is already on its knees – seen in widening economic inequalities; in levels of insecurity, despair and loneliness; and in desperate searches for ways to cope, whether at the pill box or the ballot box. Many people fear the loss of their jobs, insecurity in old age and the destruction of their dreams and cultural norms. And, as Martine Durand writing in this series observes, “bitter divisions within society…[are] so vividly demonstrated in a number of recent elections”.

The planet is also on her knees – on the brink of the 6th mass extinction with the prospect of catastrophic climate breakdown getting closer and closer.

The root cause of so much of this is how the economy is currently designed – in a way that does not account for nature, in a way that is blind to distribution of resources, and in a way that puts measures of progress such as short-term profit and GDP to the fore.

These are structures that are deliberate – and hence can be dismantled and designed differently.

In the depth of the Great Depression, in 1933, John Maynard Keynes wrote:

The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the War, is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous – and it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed

Today is a time of similar economic inequality to when Keynes was writing and just as then, more and more people are beginning to despise the current arrangements.

Fortunately, today we are not short of ideas as to what to put in its place.

Concepts of societal wellbeing are familiar the world over, even though different terms might be used to describe the central idea of flourishing for all people and sustainability for the planet.

This shared vision for a better way of doing things can be found in the scripts of many religions. It is contained in worldviews of First Nations communities. It can be read in the scholarship of development experts and in research findings about what makes people content. This vision echoes in evidence from psychology about human needs and from neuroscience about what makes our brains react, and, perhaps most importantly, can be heard loud and clear in conversations with people all over the world about what really matters to them.

growing movement is forming around the idea of a wellbeing economy. Academics are laying out the evidence base, businesses are harnessing commercial activities to deliver social and environmental goals, and communities are working together not for monetary reward, but following innate human instincts to be together, to cooperate and collaborate. These efforts will be made easier the more pioneering policy makers embrace a new agenda for the 21st century. We can look to how Costa Rica delivers longer life expectancy and higher wellbeing than the US with just a third of the ecological footprint per person. New Zealand is showing how to design government budgets for a wellbeing economy. Alternative business models like cooperatives show us how success beyond profit can be embraced.

So we’re not starting from scratch. By learning from the many examples and reorienting goals and expectations for business, politics and society, we can build a wellbeing economy that delivers good lives for people first time around, rather than requiring so much effort to patch things up. We designed the current economy, so we all can design a new one: the only limits are our imagination.

On Tuesday 26 March, WEAll Scotland teamed up with Rethinking Economics to co-host an event in Edinburgh discussing economics education and how Scotland can champion a more pluralist approach to economics.

Rethinking Economics is a WEAll member, and comprises an international network of students, academics and professionals building a better economics in society and the classroom.

The event was full of students, civil society professionals, academics and interested members of the public keen to discuss economics curriculum reform.

The panel was chaired by Ross Cathcart from Rethinking Economics, and included:

  • Gary Gillespie, Chief Economic Adviser, Scottish Government
  • Professor Robert McMaster, Professor of Political Economy, University of Glasgow
  • Lovisa Reiche, Rethinking Economics and APEG Member; Economics Student at University of Aberdeen
  • Dr. Katherine Trebeck, Research Director, Wellbeing Economy Alliance

Gary Gillespie kicked off by explaining his background as an academic economist who joined government to try to apply his economics skills to real world issues, particularly health issues in Scotland. Gary was clear that the central objective of the Scottish Government economics directorate is to improve economic and other outcomes for the people of Scotland. He said: “as an academic economist, I used to use policy to show how good the models were, not the other way around!” In later remarks, he stressed the importance of being responsive to the issues of the day, and of the need for economics and other graduates working in the public sector to be motivated by real world concerns.

Katherine Trebeck was clear that economics is at its best when it is pluralist and not “constrained by narrow bandwidths”. She re-imagined the famous Ronald Reagan quote (“the only limits to growth are the limits to our imagination”), saying that our imaginations are presently limited by fixation on growth but can go further. However, it’s not just a question of growth or no growth, but of opening minds – which the university system is particularly well placed to do. She also raised the question of elitism in economics, calling for people from a more diverse range of backgrounds to engage in the topic both as a degree subject and a career.

Robert McMaster explored the interplay between ethics and economics – which, he says, not enough economists are interested in doing. As a Professor who has taught economics at university level for a number of years, he believes that issues start on day one when students are required to focus straight away on “economic scarcity vs. unlimited wants”. He implored the audience to consider that economics, as currently taught, “tacitly condones those who wish to shape our wants”, and ignores power structures beyond market power.

Fourth year Economics undergraduate student Lovisa Reiche had the last word. In her view, economics should be about creating a system that works for as many people as possible. She said: “Economics isn’t all bad: but there are clear problems in the way it is being taught”. For Lovisa, some of the teaching has felt “artificial” and far removed from recognisable human behaviour and values. Frustrated with what she perceives to be the stripping away of relevance from the subject and profession, Lovisa and her fellow students at Aberdeen University have been campaigning for changes – from simple shifts in focus to curriculum overhaul.

The panel coalesced around the notion of the political coming back into economics – though none of them advocate losing the technical rigour of the subject. As Gary summarised, however, “what’s the point of economics if it’s not about addressing the big challenges we’re facing?”

Spirited questions from the audience continued the conversation, and it was clear that nobody wanted the discussion to end! It doesn’t have to: keep up with the work of Rethinking Economics and support the campaign for economics curriculum reform.

You can also find out more about the Scottish Government’s approach to wellbeing economics and the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership here.

Last week, WEAll and the Amp Team Knowledge and Policy lead Katherine Trebeck were the subjects of one of the first features for Emerge. Emerge is a new independent, non-profit media platform which describes itself as “highlighting the initiatives, individuals and ways of thinking that are sowing the seeds of a new civilisation.”

The piece, entitled “Time for an upgrade: a new operating system for the global economy” outlines WEAll’s mission, as well as exploring Katherine’s life and her years of work contributing to the wellbeing economy agenda. With examples of how the wellbeing economy is already being put into practice, the feature has been garnering plenty of interest on social media already.

Read the piece here, and follow Emerge for more content like this.

Image by Robert Ormerod for Emerge

This article was first posted on Open Democracy

A few weeks ago I spoke on a panel at an economics conference alongside an academic who specialises in analysing results from surveys that ask people how they feel. These are the kind of surveys that ask people to rate how happy or anxious they are on a scale of 1-10, which in turn inform the evidence base of ‘subjective self-reported wellbeing’.

The results from these surveys certainly matter, but they do not depict the whole story of how a society is doing. To put it simply, you could report being very happy in an economy that is doing a lot of damage to the environment, becoming more unequal, or failing to ensure everyone has their basic needs met. But that’s another story.

What was interesting (and irksome) was his response to my suggestion that we need a new economic system. A system that does not see nature as simply an input to the production of things and a waste sink at the end of the production processes; but one that enables people to collaborate and build strong communities; that attends to reducing the inequalities that separate people from each other. In response to this, the academic declared that this was “fluffy bunny stuff”, and that I was being naïve.

This was not the first time I have been called naïve. As with this panel, every previous instance has been from a man older than me who seems to pride himself as a defender of the current economic system. The naïve insult is hurled to give the impression that to even think that things might be done differently is daft, and that serious and sensible people do not talk about changing the economic system.

My fellow panellist told the audience that if they “look at the data” they will see that things are fine in the UK, that the welfare state is working well, that people are naturally competitive, and that inequality doesn’t matter.

The problem is that just as only looking at how happy people say they are does not provide the whole picture; by only looking at selected pieces of information, defenders of the status quo effectively turn a blind eye to the mounting evidence against it.

There are many examples of this. For example: data is often subject to the tyranny of averages, as is the case with GDP per capita which masks the extent of inequality. Moreover, looking at headline employment statistics misses that many of those in work are not earning enough to live on and are turning to food banks. And while average subjective self-reported wellbeing in countries like the UK might be relatively high compared to other countries around the world, it misses the growing number of people self-harming or feeling stressed or lonely.

Furthermore, those who say that we are in an era of unprecedented prosperity conveniently disregard the impact that the creation of this ‘prosperity’ has had on the natural world. And even if, when pushed, they recognise that the environment matters, they tend to point to ‘green growth’ or casually say that things are fine due to the potential of decoupling CO2 from GDP growth. But that again ignores other aspects of environmental breakdown, and that decoupling is often achieved by offshoring to other countries – like a child sweeping their toys and books under the bed in order to tell their parents their bedroom is tidy.

As my intellectual hero Maja Gopel says, the burden of proof now sits with those who claim the current economic system is working fine or – perhaps worse – that it is the best we can do.

The defenders of the status quo need to explain why ‘keeping calm and carrying on’ will sufficiently attend to the interlocking crisis: how it will give people a sense of control over their lives; how it will ensure they are optimistic about the prospects of their children; how it will stop the world plunging into dire climate change; how it will bring people together rather than push them apart behind gated communities and twitter bubbles.

Fortunately, those of us working on building a wellbeing economycan do this. We can explain how a new economic system which is geared up around the purpose of human and ecological wellbeing will attend to these questions, and how it will be better for current and future generations. That, of course, doesn’t mean that shifting to such an economy will be easy, it just means the possibility is there.

Returning to that panel.

As an Australian, from a country where rabbits were introduced and did great damage to native flora and fauna, I’m not the biggest fan of bunnies.

But in the context of asking who really is naïve in discussions about the economy and the future of society and the world, then I am proud to be a fluffy bunny.

By Katherine Trebeck, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead

Image by Joe Brusky, CC BY-NC 2.0

This blog was first published by CUSP

The last century has seen unprecedented economic and social progress for many people in many parts in the world. In light of climate change, and social and economic instability, the challenge is now to make ourselves at home with this wealth, to ensure, in the interests of equality, that everyone is included.

By KATHERINE TREBECK and JEREMY WILLIAMS

In 1890 the political economist Jean Charles de Sismondi published Nouveaux Principes dEconomie Politique. It was a powerful work of humanitarian protest against an economy that saw wealth accumulation as an end in itself. Wondering if economic expansion looms too large in the political imagination is by no means a new idea, and in the 130 odd years since de Sismondi wrote about it, the problem has only become more acute.

Financial wealth can be a major tool in human development and emancipation. The 20th century saw decades of steady growth in the industrialised world, and unprecedented economic and social progress along with it. Between the economic collapse of 1929 through to the late 1970s, growth was accompanied by policies to close the gap between rich and poor. It was a time of economic equalisation, as union rights expanded and workers enjoyed a greater share of the wealth through their wages. Women entered the workforce in large numbers, reducing gender inequality. Levels of education rose, improving job quality and raising wages for low skilled workers. Progressive tax regimes were implemented, and social welfare programmes expanded. While poverty and hardship have not been eliminated altogether in industrial economies, many people are richer, healthier and better cared for today than previous generations could ever have imagined.

Having come this far, it is troubling to consider how much of this progress is threatened by climate change, inequality, environmental decline and extreme politics. After all these gains, the next generation may see achievements slipping away. Others, still on the outside of that progress, may find the door closing on them as competition for resources and the mounting damage of climate change begin to erode gains as fast as development can proceed.

Wealthy economies still pursuing growth are like a man in an orchard with an armful of apples, who can’t stoop to pick up any more without dropping what he’s already carrying.

Of course, it’s easy to say that a country has ‘enough’ wealth and resources, but that doesn’t imply that everyone has what they need. Wealth may be distributed very poorly—the richest 10% of households in Britain own more wealth than the first eight deciles put together.

Neither does it feel like an age of prosperity. The number of people on zero hour contracts has quadrupled since the financial crisis, and earnings can feel insecure and precarious. The little victories of consumerism are short lived. Our prized possessions rapidly lose their gloss – the iPad 4 came out just eight months after the iPad 3. We’re always one more purchase away from happiness, the advertisers tell us: just a gym membership short of physical perfection, one insurance policy short of the peace of mind we long for. But satisfaction through consumption is a false promise, and it marginalises those who can’t afford to participate.

De Sismondi argued that the world needed a new set of principles for the political economy, and that remains true today. One of those principles is what we call ‘Arrival’—the possibility that GDP-rich countries can reach a point of maturity where they have enough wealth and resources to provide a good life to all their citizens. Having arrived, they can refocus from quantity to quality, ensuring that everyone is included. We call this ‘making ourselves at home’.

We would argue that many of the world’s richest nations have indeed arrived and could be considered ‘fully grown’. The task now is to pay more attention to distribution and inclusion, pursuing improvement rather than enlargement. This would not be a mythical end of progress, but the beginning of a new chapter. J M Keynes hinted at this when he described a future people who would be free to cultivate ‘the art of life’, once the ‘means of life’ had been secured. With the survival priorities taken care of, they could look to other forms of progress, such as increased leisure time, more participative democracy, or a shift from consumerism to ‘experientialism’.

Despite its historical roots, this remains a provocative idea. The forces acting against such a shift are formidable. Political success is measured in GDP growth. The economy collapses into recession and job losses without it. International institutions ascribe voting rights or places at the table on the basis of economic power. And there’s our own psychology to contend with—there is a human tendency to think of more as better, and growth as good. Keynes warned that it would be hard to adjust.

So did J K Galbraith. “To have failed to solve the problem of producing goods would have been to continue man [sic] in his oldest and most grievous misfortune” he wrote. “But to fail to see that we have solved it and fail to proceed hence to the next task would be fully as tragic.”

It would be tragic enough if society failed to notice and appreciate the abundance it already has. But it could be worse. By pursuing the goals of the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st, despite them being ostensibly met, the economic models of developed countries may begin to undo the hard work of previous generations. To abuse that abundance, and in so doing pass on a poorer future to future generations—not to mention the ongoing injustice of so poorly sharing the benefits around the world today—constitutes a huge betrayal of the opportunities and possibilities of today’s world.

Katherine Trebeck is a researcher and member of the CUSP Advisory Committee, she works as the Policy and Knowledge Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. Jeremy Williams is a sustainability writer and activist who blogs at makewealthhistory.org. Their new book, The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a grown-up economy, is out now from Policy Press.

Mural by Akarat (and Hoax), Bristol. Image courtesy of scooj.org, 2015

We, Professor Robert Costanza and Katherine Trebeck, are thrilled to invite you to contribute to a special issue of the journal Sustainability  that we are guest-editing.

The title of the special issue is: Toward a Sustainable Wellbeing Economy.

And we are keen that everyone  submit an article. You can find more detail about the special issue here: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/special_issues/Toward_sust_wellbeing_economy

In a nutshell, it is devoted to articles that address the theme:

 What are the characteristics of a Sustainable Wellbeing Economy and how do we get there?

While it is about describing the problems with our current system, we also want to showcase solutions to make the transition to a better, more sustainable and desirable world.

It is open access so you and WEAll can share the pieces far and wide!

Do note that research articles, review articles as well as short communications are most welcome. More detail is on the website.

Next steps?

If you have any questions or are ready to submit, please contact: Josep Milà at josep.mila@mdpi.com

Deadline is 31st August 2019.

We are looking forward to seeing an article from you for this important special issue.

Bob and Katherine

This blog was first published by Radical Ecological Democracy

‘A people are as healthy and confident as the stories they tell about themselves’ wrote Nigerian poet Ben Okri. ‘Sick storytellers can make nations sick’.

Our age seems to be an era of sick stories.

Not just the stories that appear on our TV screens or social media threads, but the deeper stories about how and why things are the way they are. These stories are the terrain in which our imaginations for a better world walk. If they are narrow and flawed, full of blindspots and miscalculations, our ideas for a better world will be narrow and flawed and full of blindspots and miscalculations.

The story of infinite growth on a finite planet is a sick story. So is trickle-down economics, or the rising tide that lifts all boats. Yet these stories pervade much of the public imaginary. They inform the articles of faith held by politicians in capital cities around the world, the policy advice offered to so-called ‘developing countries’ by international agencies, and the metrics that so often rank the success of a country and thus the prowess of its leaders.

These dead-end stories must be countered with another story, a better story.

The story of Arrival

A new story is found in the twin concepts of ‘Arrival’ and ‘making ourselves at home’. Arrival is a recognition that economies do not need to grow forever and ever. That there comes a time when no ‘more’ is needed, enough wealth and resources have been accumulated. From here the benefits of any growth to date start to tail off and pursuit of more and more risks causing harm and damage to people and planet.

Allowing a new story to be imagined would recognize that the benefits of growth are not only beginning to tail off in many respects, but pursuit of ever more growth is often driving more problems that require yet more resources to fix. This is called ‘failure demand’ in social policy terms. It also speaks to the notion of defensive expenditures used in ecological economies and underpins the concept of uneconomic growth in respect to the economy writ large.

The idea of Arrival does not imply that all problems are solved. It does not suggest that everything is resolved and everyone has what they need. It is the idea that a society collectively has the means for this.

Rampant inequality is forcing people to question the foundations of our societal existence, and explore new economic and political options.

Ours is still a world where some use toilets that flush by waving your hand in front of them while almost a billion people have to defecate in the open air. A world where an investor was prepared to pay over $450 million for a single painting while 1.1 billion people do not have access to electricity. Where Rolls Royce imagines driverless cars with silk ‘thrones’, while a billion people have no access to an all-weather road. Divide global food production by population and you get 2,870 kcal per day each – enough to feed everyone with room to spare, but one in nine is undernourished.

Addressing such inequalities is a story of distribution, and that makes it a story of politics.

Beyond blindspots

Blindness to the downsides of growth has consequences at planetary scale. Both non-renewable resources and the earth’s capacity to absorb economic effluent are wearing out. The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that almost 60% of fish stocks are ‘fully fished’, and land-based wildlife is faring little better. The increase in CO2 levels in the atmosphere has gone from 280 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution to over 400ppm today. The number of weather-related disasters has tripled in the last 30 years, with climate change shown to be a key factor.

Many in the poorest countries may never reach a point of Arrival, if economies and people in countries that industrialised first leave nothing for them. What a tragedy it would be if, in the rush for more, the fruits of progress rotted before everyone had a chance to enjoy them.

Making ourselves at home

Getting a sense of what making ourselves at home would entail is a matter of listening. There are clear commonalities from different corners of scholarship, religious texts, and more popular songs than one could mention. The answer is also innately within us as human beings. Whenever people are given time and space to reflect or when they are surveyed about what matters most to them, they point to things that are rarely connected to mountains of money. A suite of evidence also tells us that people are not happiest when they are consuming, but when spending time socializing and engaged in meaningful activity. Not when working longer hours to make more money, but when they are in nature, learning, and undertaking fulfilling activities. This is revealed in emerging research in neuroscience, epidemiology, and psychology. Neuroscience, for example, tells us that cooperative behaviour activates the reward areas of the brain, which suggests that human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to enjoy helping others, cooperating, and being kind. In fact, life expectancy; voice; government accountability; climate and natural capital are more important than GDP per capita in predicting mean levels of life satisfaction in 79 countries.

Research in neuroscience has indicated that human beings are hard-wired to cooperate with each other.

Making ourselves at home means allowing humanity to determine economics, rather than the other way around.

An economy that has Arrived and is focused on making itself at home will be one that enables people to build good, healthy lives. Using resources in a smarter, fairer way (rather than wasting or hoarding them) means getting things right for people in the first place, rather than having to constantly repair the damage created by an economy set on growth at all costs. It will not harm people and the environment, and so will avoid having to deliver expensive down-stream intervention to fix the damage caused by the growth-ist economic model. We see it in the cooperative businesses such as John Lewis, whose partners live longer than employees of comparable, but non-coopertive businesses. We get a glimpse of it in initiatives such as the Edinburgh Remakery that is teaching people to repair their gadgets and furniture rather than throwing them away and purchasing more. It can be inspired by enterprises such as Ishack in South Africa which is providing jobs and training while installing micro-energy generation. In politics there are also pioneers of this new agenda: New Zealand is launching a wellbeing budget and Wales has appointed a Future Generations Commissioner

New initiatives like “Edinburgh Remakery” are an attempt at questioning the logic of incessant and endless consumption.

The current regime of late, last minute, downstream intervention which seeks to cure and heal is an approach to progress and development that demands more resources, more effort, more political agreement, and more patience than is really needed. It is an inefficient approach to delivering good lives sustainably. And it is bumpier, has more distractions and diversions and flimsy political bridges to cross than the route economies could be taking.

The alternative is avoiding the collateral damage created by the growth economy in the first place. This can be done by attending to distribution, focusing on how resources are shared and what is done with resources in terms of how they impact the natural world. This means taking a long-term perspective and applying measures and goals that align the purpose of institutions and businesses with the needs of people and planet.

Safer routes home

For those economies that do not yet have the ability to meet the basic needs of their citizens, any reading of the journey of GDP-rich countries reveals a cautionary tale. If development is taken to be a linear and one-size-fits-all process, this risks everyone following in the dirty and alienating footsteps of the GDP-rich nations. But if the world can imagine that other routes to development are possible, then there is no need to follow.  Countries that are trying, even if imperfectly, to chart a different course show the ideas are there – just look at Ecuador’s National Plan for Good Living and its constititon that talks of vivir bien, Bolivia’s National Development Plan or Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness.

Instead, the story can be one of ‘leapfrogging’: learning from the failures of GDP-rich nations and bypassing them altogether – for example, building renewable energy, circular economy industries and employee ownership from the start.This means pioneering a better path to Arrival – a gentler path that is more conducive to making oneself at home when the time comes, and one that is less harmful for people and planet along the way. That doesn’t diminish the role of growth – low income countries do need morein order to boost the standard of living of their citizens in a material sense. Like laying the foundations of a house, growth is necessary here, and of course it needs to be good quality and shared well.

Renewable energy could help low income countries address their socio-economic needs and leapfrog the fossil-fuel based developmental path.

Importantly though, for this growth to happen in places and communities where it is needed, GDP-rich countries need to make room – quite literally in an ecological sense. GDP-rich countries shifting towards making themselves at home can facilitate the Arrival of others.

From new stories to system change

Arrival and making ourselves at home fundamentally offer a success story in which fighting for survival could be over if the economy were to engage with a new challenge: building ourselves a lasting home in this place of plenty.

Embracing this story shouldn’t be seen as an easy option – simply dreaming it into being. Aspects of it will be difficult. Shifting gear, from an economy based around pursuit of growth to one making the most of what it already has, will encounter resistance. It will be susceptible to regression and mistakes. It will be an ongoing project. It seeks to transform a system built on an ideology that itself took several decades to emerge. Re-focusing on making ourselves at home represents a deep cultural shift, let alone an economic and political one. The progress narrative runs deep and is constantly reinforced. Mainstream, marketised and corporate conceptions of a good life are currently defined by a capitalist system that defaults to constant expansion. Dominant Western institutions and ideology have come to suggest that this is even inherent in human nature, using a blend of free market doctrine and misappropriated Darwinism. But that is a reductionist philosophy, a modern construct premised on the discredited notion of ‘rational economic man’.

While there are many instances of businesses, projects and policies that show what making ourselves at home entails, going beyond simply tallying up good examples demands tackling the thorny, but ubiquitous question of ‘how?’. Insights come from systems thinking, from political science, from behavioural science, and from movements and change agents themselves. They suggest that with sufficient agitation, amplification and attention a shift to an economy that makes itself at home is not an idealistic dream, but a possible alternative to the current state of affairs.

So sharing a new story is just the first step…

This blog was first published by CLASS (Centre for Labour and Social Studies)

Humanity is a long way from where it was 100 years ago. There has been so much good news to report as people have lifted themselves out of poverty and prosperity has spread around the world. Many people are able to live the kinds of lives their grandmothers could only dream of.

But, people are now also beginning to have nightmares about the lives their grandchildren will face.

Material progress has been a mixed blessing, and it has brought profound social, political and environmental problems. A lot of the apparent progress is revealed to be horribly skewed when one looks underneath the headline figures, takes account of distribution, and is a little more ambitious for anything beyond the most minimal of daily incomes.

Some of those challenges are reaching critical turning points – climate change is certainly one such looming catastrophe that is showing its face in unseasonal and record temperatures and more extreme weather patterns. Persistent poverty alongside inequality and its corrosive effect on democracy is another, seen in the widespread disenchantment with political systems and the rise of more extreme politics, born out of a sense that the ‘system’ isn’t working for everyone.

This is a key and unprecedented moment in history. Yes, the last few decades of growth have brought immense benefits, but those gains have been unevenly shared and are at risk of slipping away as the environment and society come under increasing pressure. The fruits of growth are rotting on the vine as economies remain geared to the pursuit of yet more growth.

The answer to this crisis is not to hark back to the past, whether that be a stalled vision of socialism or an imagined simpler time.

Neither is it necessary to imagine some further destination, either a techno- or eco-topia just beyond the horizon, if we simply press down on the accelerator a little further.

Humanity already has what it needs in a materials and wealth sense. ‘Enough’ is impossible to define, but many nations have arrived in a place where they have more than enough to meet basic material needs and secure a good life for all their citizens. The reality is, however, one of a world which is patently terrible at sharing and cherishing those riches.

Writing almost a century ago, John Maynard Keynes foresaw a future time of abundance of the sort our world now has. But he also wondered if humans would find it hard to adapt. Survival has been a primary goal since time immemorial. So Keynes was thinking ‘with dread of the readjustment of the habits and instincts of the ordinary man [sic], bred into him for countless generations, which he may be asked to discard within a few decades’.

That insight describes the challenge of today – to avoid squandering this prosperity and to ensure it is shared a lot better than the current regime allows – individuals, societies and economies will have to change their habits. And by habits, think of the questions we ask, the priorities we make, the ways people balance their time, their spending, their energy, the ways businesses price and pay, the policy decisions politicians take, and the overriding purpose of the economy.

Changing these habits and re-configuring the associated processes, assumptions, policies and so on is about getting better at making ourselves at home with what we have, rather than trying to cram in more. Instead of growing more fruit that is unevenly distributed, the invitation is to savour what has already been grown – and to share it better with those who have too little.

In the industrialised world, the great challenge is not to remain competitive (after all, who do we want to lose that competition?), or to increase efficiency or production. The task is to shift gear without derailing, to reimagine progress beyond more of the same – the way so many thinkers, activists, entrepreneurs, and a handful of politicians already are.

There is plenty more to do, infinite opportunities for progress – but what comes next is improvement, not enlargement. The challenge is to make ourselves at home in the world.

By Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams, co-authors of ‘The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy.’

In conjunction with the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Fair Work Committee, and Scotland’s Futures Forum, WEAll Scotland held a seminar on the idea of Scotland as a wellbeing economy.

The seminar was chaired by Gordon Lindhurst MSP, convener of the Committee, and featured a presentation from Dr Katherine Trebeck, Policy and Knowledge Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland, on the concept of and reasons for a wellbeing economy, and the work of WEAll Scotland.

Listen to this podcast to hear what happened at the seminar.

 

Other members of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance Scotland also participated, with Peter Kelly from the Poverty Alliance and Andrew Cave from Baillie Gifford providing perspectives on why their organisations are involved.

Read more here.

 

Photo credit: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

This blog was first published by Rapid Transition Alliance

The breakdown of the climate will only be averted by rapid and radical action, but political courage and imagination are blunted blocked by narrow definitions of success. In their new book, The Economics of Arrival, Katherine Trebeck of the Rapid Transition Alliance member organisation, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, and Jeremy Williams propose a new story:

Countries come in all kinds of political colours and stripes, legacies and histories, with important or marginal roles in global affairs. But whatever their stage of development, their governments (almost) all operate with one central measure of success: economic growth measured by GDP.

If the economy is growing, then the country is doing well, is the assumption. Wealth is increasing, so presumably people are being lifted out of poverty, jobs are being created and citizens are enjoying greater freedom, so the thinking goes.

If only it were so simple. Indeed, if it were, it is likely that many of the challenges facing the world wouldn’t be as acute.

The Economics of Arrival is out now.

Of course, in lower income countries, growth has a vital role to play. Where people don’t have enough to meet their basic needs, more is obviously necessary. Used well, economic growth can unlock opportunity and build out the infrastructure and services that people need. But is it such a legitimate goal in GDP-rich countries?

Previous generations in Britain would look at envy at our time, when poverty could be eradicated by fairer distribution – by sharing its great wealth better. In a sense Britain has arrived in the place its ancestors hoped for. Yet the central purpose of government remains economic growth, not better sharing of our bounty. Growth was the government’s “number one priority” according to Gordon Brown. David Cameron boasted of a “relentless focus on growth” and Theresa May promised to “drive growth up and down the country”, which makes it sound like a bus.

When growth is universally viewed as positive, expansion goes unchallenged and the downsides are ignored: the business media celebrate a rising housing market despite growing numbers of low earners and younger generations who are priced out. High levels of new car registrations are reported as good news regardless of the implications for traffic, CO2 emissions, air pollution and personal debt. Supermarket firms open new branches and increase their market share, but in GDP metrics no heed is paid to dying town centres or bankrupt farmers.

Most of us would agree that we want thriving town centres, clean air, low congestion, a stable climate, affordable homes and equal opportunities for young people. Some of the solutions to those problems are compatible with growth, and some aren’t. Anything that may result in lower economic growth is off the table.

Take the example of aviation, which should not be expanding in an age of climate change. The trade-off was starkly expressed in the airport town of Luton recently: “I quite take on board the air quality point being made”, said the council leader in a debate about pollution. “But we’re not going to not grow the airport… We’re not going to stop economic growth. It’s not going to stop, is it?”

There’s a striking powerlessness in that statement – ‘it’s not going to stop, is it?’ Like a runaway train or an avalanche.

The unstoppable demands of growth are apparently a given. It’s common wisdom, part of the guiding mythology of our time. But it’s a story, a shorthand way of making sense of the world: the economy will grow, and we will all be better off as the rising tide lifts all boats.

But what if we took growth to its logical conclusion? All growth leads somewhere. Nothing grows forever, but proceeds to maturity. If we prize economic growth, shouldn’t we look forward to a point of ‘arrival’, at which the economy is fully grown?

This Arrival would be something to celebrate. It would be the fulfilment of hopes, and the start of a new purpose. It would defuse the drive for more that slows down genuine solutions. New priorities would emerge beyond growth: inclusion, participation. Industry and business would focus on the resources it already has rather than extracting more, creating a regenerative circular economy. Politics would look to the wellbeing of citizens to measure their success. Having arrived in a place of plenty, nations could now make themselves at home.

To see what this might look like in practice, we can look at cooperative and employee-owned businesses that know that creating good workplaces and decent incomes are as important – or more important – than profits and expansion. We can see cities using participative budgeting or community planning processes to give residents a voice. There are businesses finding new opportunities in sustainable materials. Democratic forms of energy are emerging in the confluence of renewable technologies and community business models. The internet is facilitating a shift from consumerism to ‘experientialism’, and opening up all kinds of spaces for shared ownership or exchange. Governments are experimenting with new metrics. From Vivir Bien in Latin America to the traditional notion of ‘Nuka’ in Alaska or the ‘sufficiency economy’ in Thailand, people are drawing on older and more holistic visions of success.

Many of these are isolated examples, and they need to be amplified, scaled up and championed. But there’s no question that all the tools we need for a fairer and more sustainable world are already out there. A transition is possible – and necessary too. Without some sense of Arrival, of enough, the richer countries of the world risk throwing away all the gains so far. Prosperity would be eroded by debt, inequality, climate change and extreme politics. The hard work of previous generations would be wasted, leaving a poorer future for those who come after us. And that would indeed be a tragedy.

The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a grown-up economy is out now from Policy Press.

This blog was first published by Open Democracy

In 1890 the political economist Jean Charles de Sismondi – whose work has been described as a humanitarian protest against the dominant orthodoxy of his time – published Nouveaux Principes d’Economie Politique. This was a powerful and poetic rage against an economy focused too much on wealth and its accumulation as an end in itself.

Rather than heeding his warning, that misplaced focus has become all the more acute.

Of course, monetary wealth can be helpful when used thoughtfully. The last century saw unprecedented economic and social progress. From the economic crash of 1929 to the 1970s, the industrialised world enjoyed a sustained period of economic equalisation as the gap between rich and poor declined. Union rights expanded, and gender inequality fell as women stepped into new roles in society and the economy. Workers enjoyed a higher share of the global economic pie via increased labour share. Education raised skill levels, boosting job quality and remuneration. The tax system became more progressive, and a lot of the revenue was spent on social welfare. Many people in many places are richer and better educated than ever before and can look forward to longer lives.

Looking at this progress, what would surely alarm de Sismondi is that so many aspects are now threatened by climate change, inequality, extremist politics, and environmental degradation. Having achieved so much, the next generation may see achievements begin to slip away. Others, who can only dream of the living standards of the rich world, find themselves shut out as competition for resources and the consequences of climate change erode economic gains as fast as development can proceed. In the rush for more, the fruits of progress risk rotting before everyone has had a chance to enjoy them.

De Sismondi would also surely be dismayed at how much of this damage to people and planet is driven by the pursuit of a narrow definition of ‘progress’.

In the rush for more, the fruits of progress risk rotting before everyone has had a chance to enjoy them.

Many countries have more than enough material and monetary resources, but do not operate in a way that appreciates them or shares them very well. Economic inequality is higher than it has been in decades, levels of loneliness and anxiety are rising as trust in each other and in institutions is declining.

In the GDP-rich world we may be living through an age of prosperity, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like it. Life feels insecure and precarious. Small victories are short lived – the iPad 4 came out just eight months after the iPad 3. Advertisers tell us that the route to wellbeing and happiness simple  and just one more purchase away. Not only is this a false premise, it is an agenda that marginalises those who, even in GDP-rich countries, cannot afford to participate in consumerism.

Just as de Sismondi thought when he wrote his Nouveaux Principes, today the world needs a new set of principles for the political economy. GDP-rich countries need to recognise that they have more than enough wealth and resources but are poor in terms of efforts to share and cherish them.

So they have arrived in the sense of having sufficient material foundations for a good life and the priority now is to make themselves at home – a very different task from that of pursuing more and more without regard to quality or distribution.

The forces acting against such a shift in gear are enormous – political success is so often measured in GDP growth and the structure of the economy itself is designed around it: in current configurations, crisis ensues without growth. Even in our minds there are barriers: the cognitive bandwidth that shapes how people think about the economy and the expectations they have of themselves have become saturated with a sense that more always equates to better.

John Maynard Keynes warned that survival has been a primary goal since time immemorial, and so adapting to a new context of prosperity is a big readjustment. Like Keynes, JK Galbraith saw an end to the ‘economic problem’ and that in its place a new challenge was emerging, but:

“To have failed to solve the problem of producing goods would have been to continue man [sic] in his oldest and most grievous misfortune. But to fail to see that we have solved it and fail to proceed hence to the next task would be fully as tragic.”

If in the rush for more society failed to notice the abundance that humanity has created, this would be tragedy enough. But there is a bigger risk. By pursuing the goals of the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st, despite them being ostensibly met, the economic models of developed countries may begin to undo the hard work of previous generations. To abuse that abundance, and pass on a poorer future to future generations – not to mention the ongoing injustice of inequality around the world today – constitutes a huge betrayal of the opportunities and possibilities of today’s world.

Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams are co-authors of The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy, published by Policy Press.

This blog was first published by SDG Transformations Forum

Politics and the art of living together

Ours is a world where:

Fixing these inequalities will need a better story of shared prosperity, a shared prosperity that is a matter of politics in the sense of how Aristotle described it – the art of living together. This better story is the focus of our new book, The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy. 

The inequalities are a product of an economic system that is underpinned by a legitimizing story. It’s a story that pervades much of the public imaginary, telling us that things must be this way, that we are all better off when the rich do well. It informs the articles of faith held by politicians in capital cities around the world, the policy advice offered to so-called ‘developing countries’ by international agencies, and the metrics that so often rank the success of a country and thus the prowess of its leaders.

The art of living together, has, in the past, seen monetary wealth used thoughtfully to deliver unprecedented economic and social progress. From the economic crash of 1929 to the 1970s, the industrialised world enjoyed a sustained period of economic equalisation as the gap between rich and poor declined, even through the tragedies of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Union rights expanded, and gender inequality fell as women stepped into new roles in society and the economy. Workers enjoyed a higher share of the global economic pie via increased labour share. Education raised skill levels, boosting job quality and remuneration (and raising wages for low skilled workers as their labour became more valuable). The tax system became more progressive, and a lot of the revenue was spent on social welfare. Many people in many places are richer and better educated than ever before and can look forward to longer lives in a fairer and more tolerant world.

However, many aspects are now threatened by climate change, inequality, extremist politics, and environmental degradation. Having achieved so much, the next generation may see achievements begin to slip away. Others, who can only dream of the living standards of the rich world, find themselves shut out as competition for resources and the consequences of climate change erode economic gains as fast as development can proceed. The story of progress as economic growth is faltering.

The possibility of Arrival

If humanity is to ensure it can live together into the future, it needs to embrace a new story found in the twin concepts of ‘Arrival’ and ‘making ourselves at home’.

Arrival is a recognition that economies do not need to grow forever and ever; that there comes a time when enough wealth and resources have been accumulated, albeit if still far from being shared sufficiently.

After Arrival the benefits of growth start to tail off and turn negative. Pursuit of more and more risks causing harm and damage to people and planet and requires yet more resources to fix. This is called ‘failure demand’ in social policy terms. It also speaks to the notion of defensive expenditures used in ecological economies and underpins the concept of uneconomic growth in respect to the economy writ large.

A new story is due – one about making ourselves at home.

Making ourselves at home

Describing what “making ourselves at home” entails is, in fact, a matter of listening.

There are clear commonalities from different corners of scholarship, religious texts, and more popular songs than one could mention. The answer is also innately within us as human beings. Whenever people are given time and space to reflect about what matters most to them, they point to things that are rarely connected to mountains of money.

A suite of evidence tells us that people are not happiest when they are consuming, but when spending time socialising and engaged in meaningful activity. Not when working longer hours to make more money, but when they are in nature, learning, and undertaking fulfilling activities. This is revealed in emerging research in neuroscience, epidemiology, and psychology. Neuroscience, for example, tells us that cooperative behaviour activates the reward areas of the brain, which suggests that human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to enjoy helping others, cooperating, and being kind. In fact, life expectancy; voice; government accountability; climate and natural capital are more important than GDP per capita in predicting mean levels of life satisfaction in 79 countries.

An economy that has Arrived, and is focused on making itself at home, will be one that enables people to build good, healthy lives. Using resources in a smarter, fairer way (rather than wasting or hoarding them) means getting things right for people in the first place, rather than having to constantly repair the damage created by an economy set on growth at all costs. It will not harm people and the environment, and so will avoid having to deliver expensive down-stream intervention to fix the damage caused by the growth-ist economic model.

By: Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams, authors of The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy.  Katherine is also an At-Large SDG Transformations Forum Councillor.

This week, as the World Economic Forum gets underway in Davos, Oxfam has unveiled its latest report on the global inequality crisis. They revealed that just 26 people hold more wealth than  the poorest 3.8 billion people in the world.

These shocking figures have generated a buzz of global conversation around what we can do about the situation – and we’ve been part of it, making the case in the media for a wellbeing economy.

WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead Katherine Trebeck has given interviews and written op eds for a number of media outlets – check out the coverage at the links below:

HuffPost
BBC Radio Scotland 
The Herald
The National
Holyrood Magazine

Film-makers Martin, Nick and Kim are creating a film with the working title ‘Wellbeing Economies’ featuring Katherine Trebeck and Lorenzo Fioramonti. Find out more about the film on their website here.

You can subscribe to updates on the film on their website.

They joined Katherine in South Korea to capture her contribution to the conference and the launch of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) initiative. Here’s their latest short video report on what happened there:

On Sunday, 13 January 2019, WEAll Knowledge and Policy lead Dr. Katherine Trebeck was interviewed for a long-form segment on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme.

Katherine discusses her new book The Economics of Arrival, the need to build a wellbeing economy, and the work of WEAll. Listen from 30 minutes in to hear her interview.

Listen here

Blog by WEAll’s Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams to mark the launch of their new book “The Economics of Arrival: ideas for a grown up economy” on 15 January 2019. Blog originally published on Policy Press.

As we enter 2019, there is one thing that all the commentators and punters seem to agree on: no one can really predict what will happen as the months unfold.

What form will Brexit take? Will Trump’s trade wars lead to hostility between nations or will he pull off a peace deal with North Korea? What will the gadget be that people flock to? Will 2019 be the year that plastic bags increase to 10p each in the UK and plastic straws become a thing of the past?

“So many of the factors that shape one’s life are determined in realms beyond your control.”

Against these multilayered uncertainties is the uncertainty that the majority of people have been dealing with for some time: so many of the factors that shape one’s life are determined in realms beyond your control. In boardrooms that decide your pay and hours. In algorithms that shape political decisions. In weather that is more extreme due to the pollution and emissions of the richest. In navigating social interactions charged with pressure to look a certain way, own certain things, or even to pose and pout in a certain way.

It is no wonder that more and more people are grasping for something different, whether it is apparently simple solutions offered at the ballot box or stepping outside the mainstream into alternative lifestyles.

This individual searching is mirrored in the economy writ large, which also needs to find a different direction. It needs a new project that recognises that the growth-oriented economy of the 20thcentury has delivered, but that now, many parts of the world are entering a period where growth is bringing a diminishing suite of benefits and often even increasing harm. The institutions and policies that once rendered growth positive (such as progressive taxation, collective provision of health services and education, or labour market arrangements that balanced power more equally between workers and the owners of capital) are being eroded. This is leaving the benefits of growth to be enjoyed by fewer and fewer people. Pursuit of ever more growth is often driving increasing problems that require yet more resources to fix.

“The pursuit of more poses ever greater risk for people and planet – and yet it, the idea of growth, has a stranglehold on our political and economic systems.”

The pursuit of more poses ever greater risk for people and planet – and yet it, the idea of growth, has a stranglehold on our political and economic systems.

It is time for such economies to recognise that they have arrived.

‘Arrival’ is about adequacy, being able to meet basic needs. It is primarily a material notion, a matter of having the resources to deliver a good life.

It confronts the ostensibly forbidden question of whether development has a destination.

Crucially, however, having enough resources collectively does not necessarily mean everyone individually has enough. Arrival does not imply that everything is resolved and everyone has what they need. Rather, it is the idea that a society collectively has the means for this.

“Failure to share the world’s harvest, both within and between countries, is one of the most enduring frustrations and tragedies of our time.”

Failure to share the world’s harvest, both within and between countries, is one of the most enduring frustrations and tragedies of our time. It is the cause of so many of the challenges and uncertainties that people, politicians, businesses and communities are wrestling with as 2019 unfolds.

Perhaps 2019 will be the year in which people recognise that growth has reached a point where a high standard of living could, theoretically, be universal.

Realising that possibility demands a new project – using resources in a smarter, fairer way, rather than wasting or hoarding them; focusing on the quality and distribution of economic activity and material resources. That is the task of ‘making ourselves at home’.

Once the delusion of growth as both an end in itself and the best of all possible means is discarded, discussion can then turn to what sort of economy we can create, to making better use of what has already been accumulated and, perhaps more than anything, ensuring it is fairly distributed.

Many aspects of this ‘grown up’ economy are already in existence – and indeed flourishing. From pro-social businesses to the ‘remakeries’ that are popping up in high streets. From policy makers creating incentives for the circular economy, to the city mayors using participatory budgeting.

Making ourselves at home is an economy in which there is scope for continuous improvement. Science and technology will advance. Human creativity and imagination are boundless. The economy will remain dynamic.

What changes is the ultimate goal. Making ourselves at home is an ethos of qualitative improvement that is a very different system-wide goal to the sometimes meaningless, sometimes harmful, and sometimes unnecessary, pursuit of more.

 

the economics of arrival_fcThe economics of arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.