Better than growth – new goals for a grown-up economy

better-than-growthBetter Than Growth was a report published by the Australian Conservation Foundation in 2010. It describes eight areas of focus for a delivering a ‘better than growth’ economy. It’s a useful angle, because it’s a more positive articulation of the problem than ‘postgrowth’ or ‘degrowth’, and it suggests that it’s not about moving backwards. Rather, the work of growth is done in a country like Australia, and it’s time to move on to other goals.

As one of the highest consuming countries in the world, Australia does actually need to reduce its footprint rather than level off where it is. Still, it is helpful to present goals for the economy. An abstract and never-ending ‘less’ isn’t really much more useful than the endless ‘more’ of GDP. It’s important to have a vision for what we want society to be, not just what we want to avoid.

“For Australia, the critical economic challenge is no longer how to increase the production of goods and services” says the report. “Many of the things that Australians desire – leisure time, vibrant communities, a thriving natural environment, a sense of purpose and wellness in our lives – will not flow automatically from a growing economy. We need a new approach: not one framed in opposition to economic growth, but one that is actively better than growth.”

Here are the eight points the report identifies, many of which we would share at JiE:

  1. Better progress – a shift to human flourishing over economic growth will need new metrics beyond GDP, and that capture what really makes life most worthwhile.
  2. Better work – the report focuses on work hours and leisure time, but we could talk about job security, worker’s rights, fair wages and many other aspects of providing work with dignity and just rewards.
  3. Better production – switching from the ‘take-make-waste’ approach to a circular economy, as groups such as Tearfund and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation have been campaigning for.
  4. Better consumption –  shopping keeps the GDP wheels turning, but consumerism is wasteful and unrewarding, piling up debt and landfill. Freed from the growth imperative, we could develop a healthier relationship to possessions and remember that a person’s worth isn’t in what they own.
  5. Better markets – subsidies for fossil fuels would feature highly in a top ten of human folly right now, distorting the market against clean energy and a safe climate. Better markets would not just create a level playing field, but tilt it in favour of the outcomes we need.
  6. Better business – current corporate structures incentivise short-term thinking and private profits. New approaches would support long-term thinking and rein in the high executive pay that drives inequality.
  7. Better taxation – the report suggests a Pigouvian approach to tax, applying it to make polluting industries more expensive and cleaner ones cheaper. We also support Church Action for Tax Justice and their call for fairer taxation.
  8. Better regulation – Environmental and social damage should be priced in or regulated out, say ACF.

Many of these points are picked up in our own vision for a fair and sustainable economy, which you can read here if you haven’t already.

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