Michael Higgins, the postgrowth president

Not many politicians or world leaders are prepared to talk about the failures of economics. Safer to stay well within the orthodoxy and reassure the markets. One of the exceptions is Michael D Higgins, president of Ireland.

Higgins recently gave a speech to the Think-Tank for Action on Social Change (TASC) in which he critiqued neoliberal economics and its failure to address the things that matter most.

“A fixation on a narrowly defined efficiency, productivity, perpetual growth has resulted in a discipline that has become blinkered to the ecological challenge – the ecological catastrophe – we now face,” he told his audience.

“That narrow focus constitutes an empty economics which has lost touch with everything meaningful, a social science which no longer is connected, or even attempts to be connected, with the social issues and objectives for which it was developed over centuries. It is incapable of offering solutions to glaring inadequacies of provision as to public needs, devoid of vision.”

You can watch the whole speech below, or read the transcript here.

Importantly, Higgins also turns towards how things could be different – a just transition away from fossil fuels. Wealth shared through universal government services. Participative decision-making. Ecologically aware government, and “a more active, participatory, fulfilling version of society than one where citizenship is defined as licence to insatiable consumption”.

“The challenge for all of us here today is to find a way of building, with all our distinctive contributions, an alternative to that hegemonic discourse that casts competitiveness, productivity, efficiency, as the ultimate purpose of economic activity, and inexorable growth in output and trade as an end in itself.”

Higgins doesn’t frame his vision in Christian terms, but it is very much a moral one: people matter. Human dignity matters. Meaningful work matters. Success is best measured in flourishing human lives and experience, not profit. And success is best achieved through cooperation, not competition.

One Reply to “Michael Higgins, the postgrowth president”

  1. Thats just what I think too! (although was never able to wrap it up in such eloquent terms!).


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