What if development has a destination?

Jeremy Williams, author and content editor for Joy in Enough, introduces his book The Economics of Arrival.  

The ‘global race’ was a favourite phrase of David Cameron while Prime Minister. “Britain is in a global race to succeed” he told the Confederation of British Industry. “We need to throw everything we’ve got at winning in this global race.”

Despite the repeated use of the phrase in speeches and on Twitter, Cameron never explained much about this race. It was against other countries, and it involved economic growth. But there was no obvious starting point and no pre-determined end. And as far as I’m concerned, a race without a finishing line is not a race. It’s just people running.

Cameron’s was a glib metaphor to emphasize Britain’s supposed competitiveness, but it’s always worth probing the language politicians use. A race with no finishing line goes on forever, with no-one ever winning. There is no rest or reward. It is all effort and no victory. Sounds exhausting.

Is that how we picture Britain’s future? Or is it possible to imagine a way of life that leads us somewhere, to a point where the striving stops and we can enjoy a sense of achievement?

arrival fcThat’s what Katherine Trebeck and I argue in our new book, The Economics of Arrival. We suggest that economic growth is a means and not an end. Growth, used well, can get us to a point of maturity. It can lay down infrastructure, increase wealth and resources, and provide enough for everyone.

Once fully grown, the priorities of the economy can change. It can move from quantity to quality, from enlargement to improvement. That’s a task that we call ‘making ourselves at home’. It involves a different set of questions: how can we make the economy more inclusive? How can we distribute work so that nobody is overworked, and everybody has a chance to work if they want to? How can we increase democratic participation? What can we do to ensure industry and energy operate within the planetary boundaries? And how will we steward our wealth for future generations, and share with those who don’t yet have what they need?

This is familiar territory to supporters of Joy in Enough, but not to most politicians. The idea of an end to growth is still anathema, even if it comes at the expense of the environment, or with mounting debt, inequality and stress.

Because growth is seen as a good thing, the idea of ‘postgrowth’ or ‘degrowth’ are threatening. However necessary they may be, we need a more positive narrative for the end of growth, and that’s what Arrival offers. It’s the joy of enough. It’s the finishing line, and the end of the running. We made it – now what’s next?

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