[MCN] Liberals & the economy: Growth at any cost??

Lance Olsen lance at wildrockies.org
Wed Nov 7 14:04:25 EST 2018

By JAMES GUSTAVE SPETH <https://centerforneweconomics.org/people/james-gustave-speth/>
https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/letter-to-liberals-liberalism-environmentalism-and-economic-growth/ <https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/letter-to-liberals-liberalism-environmentalism-and-economic-growth/>


Ideas coming forward today from cutting-edge environmentalism offer the potential to strengthen the liberal agenda; at the same time, environmental analysis is pointing to some novel policy prescriptions that are definitely at odds with prescriptions regularly urged by American liberals. In both areas, I believe, the new environmental thinking may have something to offer American liberals.

The most important way in which this latest environmental thinking conflicts with the current liberal agenda is on economic growth. Over the years I have read many books by our leading liberals, most recently Robert Reich’s Aftershock, and I attend daily to the excellent online liberal news and opinion summary, “Campaign for America’s Future”; I read and admire both The Nation and The American Prospect. I admire what they’re doing and feel that I’m part of that liberalism. 

So I know that American liberals tend to be strong advocates of economic growth. Indeed, the way the growth issue is perceived in Washington today, those fighting the current battles there have little choice but to adhere to this growth mantra. Yet a growing number of environmental thinkers are urging a different perspective. They see—and, indeed, I see—a world where past growth has brought us to a perilous state environmentally; where we are poised for unprecedented increments in growth; where this growth is proceeding with wildly wrong market signals and without needed constraints; and where a failed politics has not meaningfully corrected the economy’s obliviousness to environmental needs.

In his book Prosperity Without Growth Tim Jackson, a leading British economist, frames the growth issue this way: “During the [period since 1950] the global economy has grown more than 5 times.” The size of the world economy is on track to double and then double again by mid-century. Jackson notes:

This extraordinary ramping up of global economic activity has no historical precedent. It’s totally at odds with our scientific knowledge of the finite resource base and the fragile ecology on which we depend for survival. . . . A world in which things simply go on as usual is already inconceivable . . . . 

For the most part, we avoid the stark reality of these numbers. The default assumption is that . . . growth will continue indefinitely. 

Not just for the poorest countries, where a better quality of life is undeniably needed, but even for the richest nations where the cornucopia of material wealth adds little to happiness and is beginning to threaten the foundations of our well-being.

The reasons for this collective blindness are . . . easy enough to find. The modern economy is structurally reliant on economic growth. . . . Questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists and revolutionaries.

But question it we must. The idea of a non-growing economy may be an anathema to an economist. But the idea of a continually growing economy is an anathema to an ecologist. No subsystem of a finite system can grow indefinitely, in physical terms. Economists have to be able to answer the question of how a continually growing economic system can fit within a finite ecological system.

The only possible response to this challenge is to suggest—as economists do—that growth in dollars is “decoupled” from growth in physical throughputs and environmental impacts. But . . . this hasn’t so far achieved what’s needed. There are no prospects for it doing so in the immediate future. And the sheer scale of decoupling required . . . staggers the imagination.

Jackson concludes, “In short, we have no alternative but to question growth.” And that questioning must begin soon. 

It’s essential that we move soon to resolve the difference between liberals and environmentalists on economic growth.

https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/letter-to-liberals-liberalism-environmentalism-and-economic-growth/ <https://centerforneweconomics.org/publications/letter-to-liberals-liberalism-environmentalism-and-economic-growth/>


Carbon tax - Wikipedia <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax>
A carbon tax is a tax levied on the carbon content of fuels. It is a form of carbon pricing. Revenue obtained via the tax is however not always used to compensate  ...
How Carbon Tax Works | HowStuffWorks <https://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/green-science/carbon-tax.htm>
A carbon tax is one of two market-based options that focus on lowering harmful emissions. Learn about the carbon tax and how a carbon tax can lower emissions.
The Many Benefits of a Carbon Tax - Brookings Institution <https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-many-benefits-of-a-carbon-tax/>
Adele Morris proposes a carbon tax as a new source of revenue that could also help address climate change. She suggests that a carbon tax would reduce the ...
Carbon tax 101: How can a carbon price work if we get the money ... <https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/carbon-tax-101-analysis-brett-dolter-1.4890109>
1 day ago ... Many are asking what the point of a carbon tax is if we just get the money back. This is where an understanding of economics comes in handy.
Carbon Tax Basics — Center for Climate and Energy Solutions <https://www.c2es.org/content/carbon-tax-basics/>
Under a carbon tax, the government sets a price that emitters must pay for each ton of greenhouse gas emissions they emit

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