Steady State Manchester at Manchester Policy Week

I was one of the panel for a question time session on “An Economy for All” on day five of University of Manchester’s Policy Week, organised in conjunction with CLES and chaired by CLES Chief Executive, Neil McInroy (1). Each panellist gave a three minute introduction. I was asked specifically to address the ecological dimension. This is what I said.

I want to try and broaden the idea of “An Economy for All” by suggesting that the “All” should also include people living in fragile environments (places like the Ganges delta or precarious shanty towns in Central America, those on the front-line of climate change), people who have not yet been born, and also living things that are not people.

Because we are living in a state of extreme ecological malaise whereby the very systems that make life possible are being destroyed by human activity.

These systems are being progressively destroyed as a direct consequence of human ‘economic’ activity, whereby our ecological footprint by far exceeds the available carrying capacity of the planet: that’s the real deficit. That means that globally our footprint is a third bigger than the minimally sustainable level while in the UK the footprint is twice the available capacity.

For dominant economic models, the environment is just an afterthought. Yet without the environment, there is no basis for economic activity, since it is the source of its inputs, and where it puts its wastes.

The invisibility of the environment to conventional economics leads to a naïve, misplaced optimism that technology and markets will come up with solutions to ecological problems.

As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report has shown(2), it is ‘good old’ economic growth that is responsible for the most immediately threatening increases in greenhouse gas emissions that threaten runaway global warming And climate change is just one of the ‘planetary boundaries’ that humanity is crossing, or approaching.

The conventional emphasis on growth (narrowly defined in terms of GDP) leads to various kinds of delusion that the impacts can be resolved, for example by improved energy efficiency, that growth can be disconnected from the flow of materials from extraction to pollution, despite the complete lack of evidence that more than a relative decoupling is possible. And conventional economics has a further sting in its tail when it tries to convert the ecosystem into monetary value, commodifying the natural world, displacing forest dwellers, and bolstering carbon emissions through trading and financial speculation in them.

We therefore need to be not just economically and socially viable, but also ecologically viable.

An economy,

  • Based on production and consumption for need: a frugal abundance.

  • Providing more security for us all because the environment is protected from further destruction.

  • Resilient to climactic and other ecological shocks.

  • An economy that practices stewardship of the natural world that we depend on.

But those are relatively abstract ideas. What does it mean in terms of practical policy?

We can prioritise certain areas for action – and you’ll notice a synergy with what the other speakers are emphasising.

  • Increase equality – since those on high incomes lead more carbon intense lifestyles – spending their surplus on luxury goods, travel and so on; and because in a post-growth economy, inequalities can no longer be masked by the illusion that the cake is growing.

  • Relocalise the economy – using a guiding principle of subsidiarity – that which can be produced locally should be. Start with things like food and textiles, building what I call the Replacement Economy .

  • Tackle the nexus of credit, debt and investment – so that the wealth of the local economy is invested for local prosperity rather than profit-seeking globally – e.g. via a regional green development bank, or, given the appetite for city economic sovereignty, through a Greater Manchester Pound (on the model of other parallel currencies like the Bristol Pound, creating money that can be spent into the local economy).

  • At the same time stop chasing inward investment and building trophy projects, hoping for crumbs off the BRICs table, but focus on the real local economy.

  • Tackle the culture of consumption – not by blaming citizens for their consumption patterns, but by building a culture that has real alternatives to the assertion of fragile identity through largely passive consumption.

  • Change the conversation, emphasising indicators of local economic well-being, like the recirculation of money and the distribution of wealth and income – rather than statistics like GDP and GVA.

Thank you

These ideas and more are explored in our forthcoming pamphlet The Viable Economy launching on 9 December but available here electronically before then.

I also contributed to a workshop on access to information on the Tuesday – read the text here.

1) The panellists were:

Prof Danny Dorling, The University of Oxford
Mark Burton, Scholar-Activist, Visiting Professor, Manchester Metropolitan University and member of the Steady State Manchester collective
Angela Rayner, Labour PPC for Ashton and a Unison steward (NHS)
Sandy Lindsay,  MD of Tangerine PR and Board member of Forever Manchester-community foundation for Greater Manchester

2) See http://report.mitigation2014.org/spm/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for-policymakers_approved.pdf

3) This idea combines Modern Money Theory with the practice of alternative local currencies. See Guinan, J. (2014). Modern money and the escape from austerity. Renewal, 22(3-4), 6–21. and Lewis, M., & Conaty, P. (2012). The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy. New Society Publishers.

Mark Burton

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3 Responses to Steady State Manchester at Manchester Policy Week

  1. eljubilado says:

    Reblogged this on Uncommontater and commented:
    Another contribution to Policy Week by me – posted on the Steady State Manchester sit.

  2. Pingback: Of Devolution, Power and Inequalities – a report from Manchester Policy Week | Steady State Manchester

  3. Pingback: Policy as contestation | Uncommontater

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