A Viable Future

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A Viable Future? Explorations in post-growth from Steady State Manchester


Nine years ago we formed Steady State Manchester. Since then we have produced many articles, pamphlets, reports and blog posts, exploring the post-growth alternative, practically and conceptually. Nine years on, degrowth has become more widely known about and discussed. It has yet to achieve hegemony but those who make reasoned arguments for the feasibility of continued economic expansion on a finite planet are increasingly embattled. The body of work that we have produced has, as its main focus, the implications of a post-growth approach to economy and society at the meso-scale, that of the city region, or better, the bio or eco-region. What would it mean to adopt that approach and how feasible would it be, given that we are still inextricably linked with a global economic super-system? There is no simple answer and we have explored a number of dimensions to this question. Sometimes our work has extended beyond that meso-level, to more fundamental questions: Can growth be decoupled from environmental destruction? What is the role of money and could reforming it be part of the needed policy-mix? What social safety net is required in a shrinking economy and what policy instruments might help equitably constrain the expanding material economy? Our small group has become established as a serious voice in our city region and we have made many international contacts. Our work has been syndicated by other websites and media resources. Some of it has been presented at conferences and events nationally and internationally and some has appeared in book chapters, journal articles and publications of other campaigning organisations. However, it remains scattered. We therefore thought that it would be worth bringing together a selection of our work, as a resource for the wider movements in degrowth, post-growth, climate activism, ecological economics, political economy, community psychology, urban studies, social and public policy, and political activism more generally. The book is divided into twelve sections. Each has an introduction to its chapters, contextualising and, where necessary, bringing the topic up to date. The book finishes with a postscript, rhetorically asking if there is a Viable Future. It also considers our impact as a group, questions of scale and issues that got insufficient attention in the previous selections.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: A Viable Economy and Society as seen from Manchester 1

Section 1: The Viable Economy and Society 6

The Viable Economy and Society 7

Section 2: Social analysis of present day realities. 54

After peak capitalism: the livelihood challenge 55

Putting the ‘social’ into sustainability science. 83

Invisible workers, invisible systems. 97

Section 3: What about a Green New Deal? 101

Six problems for Green Deals 103

Section 4: The decoupling question 110

Less levity Professor Stern! Economic growth, climate change and the decoupling question. 113

Absolute decoupling in some economies? 118

Section 5: Money, exchange, credit and investment 130

The Viable Economy – and Viable Finance 131

We need to end growth dependency, but how? Monetary reform would make at best a minor contribution to the task. 142

The Political Economy of Economic Growth. An analysis and response to Positive Money’s 2020 proposals. 159

Section 6: Carbon emissions – Manchester as a case study. 181

Section 7: Another false solution: the “circular economy” 194

The circular economy: is it the solution to resource depletion and pollution? 195

Section 8: Plans and visions: the spatial dimension 198

Done deals: citizens and urban planning 199

People’s Spatial Framework: A Letter from the Future 221

Section 9: Policies 229

Viable Greater Manchester 231

Does housing financialisation deliver a Viable Economy for Greater Manchester? 271

Section 10: Economic development 277

Job creation after Covid-19: the participatory economy: 278

Re-focussing the economy in times of climate emergency and economic exclusion 281

Could the Covid-19 pandemic be a portal to a Viable Society and Economy? 285

Section 11: Social welfare 293

Women work at the heart of community solidarity: informal networking and universal basic income. 294

Universal Basic Income: Is it the only cornerstone of a just society? 307

The social policy conundrum: An authentic third way? 320

Section 12: Strategy and politics 329

Sustainability: Utopian and Scientific 331

Degrowth and the British Labour Party. 345

Postscript: A Viable Future? 361

About the authors 373

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