Category Archives: Economy

Having more, or living better?

This human community is in danger due to climate change which is related to the accumulation of riches by countries and social groups…. We have to change the belief that to have more is to live better”.
Evo Morales Ayma, President of Bolivia, 22 December, 2012

To see what this means in Manchester, see our reports, Living Well and In Place of Growth:

Morales image

Evo Morales speaking on climate and accumulation at the celebration of the December solstice.

“But we need growth to deal with poverty and fix environmental problems” – or do we?

Another video featuring the author of this blog (see these previous ones)


Two videos

Two recent video interviews with the author of A Green Deal for the  Manchester-Mersey Bioregion:-
1) 1970s and now (ecological crisis and eco-action)

2) Steady State and “decoupling”

Reclaiming the language of austerity

Reclaiming the language of austerity:  an ecological, people’s recuperation of the cuts discourse.

We’re all in this together.
Yes we really are, because we all depend on the ecosystem to make our life possible on the surface of the earth.  Nobody can buy their way out of the crisis and in the end, nobody can make the crisis hurt some and not others.  The ecological crisis makes us equal again and it requires action for and by all.  That isn’t to say that some should not lose more than others: the millions living on less than £5 per day have nothing to give up and a lot to gain  from a fairer and sustainable system but those who consume disproportionate resources will lose that privilege, and justly so.

How do you sell austerity?  Because it is a kind of austerity that is needed.  We have to reduce drastically the throughput of resources, reducing the exhaustion and extinction of the and the production of their polluting end products to levels that are consistent with the rate of replacement or substitution (inputs) and safe absorption (outputs).  But that kind of austerity does not mean that people should endure poor housing, that old and disabled people should not get enough help and care, that people should work for longer, or indeed that people should be unnecessarily idle.  By and large, these things have nothing to do with the necessary, real, ecological austerity but everything to do with the strategic austerity imposed by the rulers of a system that forces people to pay for the failures of a false economy disconnected from the real real economy that provides food and air and water, the conditions for life on earth.

We’ve been living beyond our means
Oh yes, the system has.  It has squandered its resources on the production of horrible trinkets, trinkets that break or decay very quickly, trinkets that offend against the harmonious living in community with one another and with the earth’s systems.  It has wasted its resources to produce millions of tons of effluent which has meant we are beyond the safe operating limits of the natural systems that sustain human life.  And while doing this it has condemned millions to poverty, exclusion and fear, increasing want as it increases false needs.  But we have not been wrong to expect comfort, fairness and freedom from want, illness and idleness.  To construct a system that satisfies these needs is not to live beyond our means; it is to live fairly in accordance with them.


Steady State Manchester

“Together we have to prepare for the post-growth economy. We’re already in it, it’s just we don’t know it yet.
We – together – will produce a report on local prosperity, justice and climate safety and Manchester. We will do this by the end of October 2012.Doing that will be fun, it will be challenging and it offers fantastic opportunities for learning and for connection. And after that, the real work starts…

The next public gathering is on Thursday 19th July, from 6.30pm to 9pm (drop-in) at Madlab, 36 Edge St, Northern Quarter.”

Bolivia on the Green Economy

Spot on Solón!
New York, April 20th, 2011

For the Green Economy, capitalism’s mistake is not having fully incorporated nature as part of capital. That is why its central proposal is to create “environmentally friendly” business and green jobs and in that way limit environmental degradation by bringing the laws of capitalism to bear on nature.

In other words, the transfusion of the rules of market will save nature. This requirement of the Green Economy is absolutely wrong


Read the whole statement.

Also see Bolivia’s input to the UN Rio+20 document (in English -after the first page)  (in Spanish – I’m looking for a translation) president Evo Morales comments and  Bolivia’s reservations re the final Rio+20 statement.

Traditional coca production in La Yungas, Bolivia: “coca sí, coacina no!”.

The right sort of market – agrobiodiversity in La Paz

More on the rebound effect

The denialism of progressive environmentalists, – article by Bill Blackwater.

This is very relevant to the last post.  It examines in some technical but readable detail the nature of the rebound (or Jevons) effect, which means that even if absolute emissions reductions were achievable through technological innovation associated with economic growth, the result would be a rebound  in energy use that would wipe out these improvements.  It also makes the important point that improved energy efficiency is only relevant to one of the planetary limits (global warming / climate change) and not to the others (such as nitrogen pollution, fresh water availability, etc etc etc).
It appears in the Marxist journal, Monthly Review, but (if you’ve yet to be convinced by the power of neomarxist analysis) don’t let that put you off.   The article clearly summarises a report by two authors ( Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger) associated with the ‘clean growth’ tendency who amass evidence (and a taxonomy) for the rebound effect but then conclude that growth is still possible.  The article offers a critique of this inconsistency but is perhaps of most value in offering a very clear summary of the rebound  / Jevons argument.
Read the article.

Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics.

Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics.

(read this as a Word document (with appendices): Manchester City Council and Steady State Economics

Manchester City Council’s Economic Scrutiny Committee has commissioned a report on Steady State Economics.  This is potentially a very positive move- few councils and government bodies are taking the need question of ‘limits to growth’ seriously despite the overwhelming evidence of these limits (from the early 1970s onwards) and the clear evidence that the planet has passed and/or is passing several of the planetary ecosystem limits after which irreversible and damaging change is probably inevitable.

Unfortunately, the report which is now available, is disappointing.

1)  The report appears to dismiss the concept of steady state economics from the outset and therefore does not review the growing body of work available (see the Appendix 1  for some of these sources).

2)  The report fails to address the critical question about mitigating the effects of growth.  As the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission (disbanded by the current government) showed convincingly in its report Prosperity Without Growth, improved efficiency of resource use comes about with growth (because of innovation in technology) but these improvements are only relative.  That is to say the proportion of emissions in relation to GDP reduces, but the problem is that while GDP is increasing, the absolute level of emissions (and resource use) also increases, although it is falling relatively.  The net effect of growth then is continued increasing ecosystem damage.  The report discusses these relative reductions but fails to consider the critical issue of absolute emissions.  Nor does it consider the Jevons paradox – that increases in efficiency do not produce reductions in resource use, but further stimulate resource consumption.

3) The report makes reference (in a rather obscurantist way) to endogenous growth theory.   This is contrasted to neoclassical economic theory.  But all this is really saying is that government intervention can promote growth.  The argument is not relevant to the question of a closed loop or steady state economy.

However, the idea of endogenous development is an interesting one since if taken seriously the idea of economic development (rather than growth) from within the region is relevant to the strategy of (relative) de-linking of the local economy from the global economy.   There is some discussion of these topics in the GreenDealManchester paper ‘Getting Started on the Economy”.  Not surprisingly this is incomplete work – this is difficult stuff, trying to construct alternative approaches in the face of an economic orthodoxy that is the lifeblood of the current system.  De-linking is implicitly ruled out by the report

4)  The council report is clear that there would be very tricky issues were it to promote a steady state economy (SSE):

“…even it were desirable there are no realistic prospects of developing an SSE in Manchester – as international and national policy is not geared to this goal, making any meaningful impact minimal, and seriously disadvantaging the city’s economic performance, to the detriment of its residents.”

But we need to counter this by asking “Is growth a realistic prospect anyway?” (see Appendix 2).  There has been very little growth since 2007 and there seems little prospect of the healthy (sic) 3% growth rate returning.  The city therefore needs an alternative strategy which as has been argued elsewhere would emphasise ‘good living rather than continued consumption’, increased equality, and changes in the way we live in Manchester.   Of course this cannot be done unilaterally and in isolation, but isn’t Manchester meant t be a leader, an innovator, a tail-blazer, a pathfinder – a place where tomorrow happens today?


The challenges of a Steady State Economy are considerable, but the council report does not provide a basis for a serious consideration of the limits to growth, nor of the strategies that would need to be adopted to manage an economy with closed-loop and steady state features in these very challenging times of zero growth.

Earth at tipping point – official

Yesterday the UNEP again warned that the earth is at tipping point.    The report reiterates what we already know, that several planetary boundaries have been crossed and others are at the point of being crossed.  That means disaster of course.  It is good to have this reminder from a highly respected body, but will the governments it addresses take any notice (other than the few like Tuvalu and Bolivia that have taken the question of ecological justice seriously)?

See: Morning Star short article.   UNEP pess release and link to the report. Background on Rockstrom’s concept of planetary boundaries: Wikipedia  Nature. Ecology and Society Rockstrom video and transcript.

Click to see diagram to illustrate where we are in terms of current limits.

See this Oxfam paper that combines Planetary Boundaries with foundations for adequate human development – really useful framework.

Living Well in Manchester.

A new short pamphlet from the Irwell Group looks at the zero-growth option for Manchester’s economy in the light of economic recession and the spectre of runaway climate change.  The old approach of trying to get 3.5% growth for ever is not going to work, and if it did the results would be increased inequality and climate suicide.

Go to the Irwell Group site: