Friday, October 17, 2008

Redefining Prosperity

The economy is currently geared, above all, to economic growth. However in recent years, two other objectives have moved up the political and policy-making agenda: sustainability and wellbeing.

SDC’s project on Redefining Prosperity aims to map out the relationships between these three aims – growth, sustainability, wellbeing – and ask what issues are raised. Do we have to choose between these aims? Can we combine them? What sorts of policies or approaches would we need to have?

These questions go to the heart of what sustainable development is about. Does it mean sustainability plus economic growth? Or is it about finding a compromise or balance between some sustainability and some growth? Or does development mean something different from growth? Does it mean progress towards increasing wellbeing? And is it possible at all to define and promote wellbeing?

The project is divided into four main parts –

1. Visions of prosperity looked at different views put forward about what prosperity means. Economic growth, measured by increases in Gross Domestic Product, which basically means total national income in a year, looks attractive because it links closely with the assumption that most individuals aspire to increase their income. Researchers, on the other hand, have identified “alternative visions of prosperity” , which can be more compelling. Can government policy aims be revised to better reflect individual wants and hopes?

Background papers

» Scope of work package one: "Visions of Prosperity"
» Summary report of the seminar on Visions of Prosperity, 26 November 2007
» Presentation from Prof Tim Kasser on Values and the Environment
» Presentation from Prof Avner Offer on "A Vision of Prosperity"

Opinion Pieces

Tim Kasser – Values and Prosperity
Avner Offer – A Vision of Prosperity
Zia Sardar – Prosperity: a Transmodern Analysis
Hilde Rapp – Fulfillment and Prosperity: a Neo-Gandhian vision

2. Economy Lite looked at the idea of decoupling – separating economic growth from the damaging environmental impacts it normally has. Can that link be broken, with cleaner, more efficient technologies? Is there any evidence that decoupling is already taking place in Europe and North America? Or is that an illusion created by the fact that we are increasingly importing manufactured goods from Asia and Latin America, giving them the environmental burden of our consumption? Does that mean decoupling for real is impossible, or are there still ways of achieving it?

Background papers

» Scope of work package two: Economy 'Lite' - Can 'Decoupling' work?
» Summary report of the seminar on Economy ‘lite,’ 18th March 2008
» Presentation by Prof Paul Ekins on Policies to Achieve Dematerialisation
» Presentation by Steve Sorrell on Can China’s economy be sustainable?

Opinion Pieces

David Woodward - The Commodities Boom
Guy S. Liu - Can China’s Economy be Sustainable?
Paul Ekins - Policies to Achieve Dematerialisation
Frederic Bouder - Can decoupling work?

3. Confronting Structure was about taking the arguments against continuing growth seriously and thinking through the consequences. If the economy no longer grows, or grows at a much slower rate, what happens to – unemployment, tax revenue, the ability to repay debt and pay interest, company profits and economic competitiveness? Can we imagine any government pursuing this line of thinking? Or will they be forced to because of economic pressures creating long-term recession?

Background papers

» Scope of work package three: Confronting Structure
» Summary report of the seminar on Confronting Structure, 24th April 2008
» Presentation by Miriam Kennet on The practicalities of implementing a lower growth economy

Opinion Pieces

Derek Wall - Prosperity without growth, economics after capitalism
Miriam Kennet - Framework Paper
Peter Victor - Managing without Growth
Feasible Transition Paths towards a Renewable Energy Economy
Herman E Daly - A Steady-State Economy

4. Wellbeing Policy looked at the evidence about what contributes to people’s wellbeing, and asked - what follows? Should we wish for a set of economic policies designed to promote wellbeing? If so, would it differ greatly from economic policies intended to promote growth? What would the key differences be? Would there be a different approach to work and to the importance of the unpaid activities which keep community and family life going? Would the planning system give greater priority to local democracy and quality of life?

Background papers

» Scope of work package four: Policies for wellbeing and policies for growth
» Summary report of the seminar on Growth and wellbeing, 8th April 2008

Opinion Pieces

Kate Soper - Exploring the relationship between growth and wellbeing
Paul Ormerod - Is the concept of 'wellbeing' useful for policy-making?
Jonathan Rutherford - Well-being, economic growth and social recession
John O'Neill - Living Well Within Limits: Well-Being, Time and Sustainability

Redefining Prosperity is planned to result in a major report from the SDC this winter.

Background Papers

» Redefining Progress - SD Panel Consultation 2006
» Wellbeing section of SD Indicators in Your Pocket - DEFRA
» Innovations for a Sustainable Economy - Tom Prugh (Worldwatch Institute)

Download Defra wellbeing research:

  • Influences on personal wellbeing and its application to policy – download
  • International evidence of the effectiveness of wellbeing focused policy interventions - download
  • Exploration of the relationship between sustainable development and wellbeing (A) - download
  • Exploration of the relationship between sustainable development and wellbeing (B) - download
  • Wellbeing: international policy interventions - download (annex)