Add It Up

I received an email today from Rob Dietz, Executive Director of The Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE). CASSE has now officially launched their new website! More great news: they have completely re-invigorated their blog, now known as The Daly News.  Herman Daly, the award-winning economist and incisive writer who developed the concept of the steady state economy, will kick off the new blog on March 1.

In addition to Professor Daly, the core rotation of authors at The Daly News includes Brian Czech (wildlife biologist, ecological economist, and author of Shoveling Fuel for a Runaway Train), Brent Blackwelder (former president of Friends of the Earth and founder of American Rivers), and Rob Dietz (environmental scientist and executive director of CASSE). (There is even a rumor that yours truly might be privileged enough to post along side these greats as a guest contributor!) You can access the blog on CASSE’s website or via RSS feed.

CASSE has also released an entertaining animated short called Add It Up that tells the truth about pursuing perpetual economic growth. The animation, produced by film students at the University of Southern California, is available on CASSE’s website and YouTube, as well as here:

For more information about these resources and other news about the steady state economy, please read the most recent edition of CASSE’s The Steady Stater newsletter (pdf)

Points of Progress

I’m going to start a new serious in this blog, “Points Of Progress,” a once-monthly report of things happening in our world, policies, articles, and practices in-line with the steady state economy, that are worth some time to read about –  the good news, the promising results. This stems from the many articles I have been scoping through on google reader (a great RSS feed tool, for those of you interested in getting updates via rss).

Through the 50-100 posts I receive daily, I manage to pick out a handful of good ones and post on twitter (follow me), but some of these deserve some recognition on this blog. This monthly report is for the exciting things happening I just don’t have time to post about in-depth. Here are some cool things happening in the world:

Maryland’s New Alternative Metric: The GPI

Herman Daly‘s home state has just instituted their version of the Genuine Progress Indicator. This alternative to the grossly inadequate GDP takes into account 26 factors, from incorporating the costs of crime to the costs of ozone depletion. The state is using the GPI as a tool to education the public and policymakers on the balance between costs and benefits of decisions regarding resource use.

As Governor O’Malley said, “The GPI will help us ensure that our economic growth will not come at the cost of our natural resources, and that they both support our progress toward a sustainable future and a better qualify of life for all Maryland families.”

21 Hours: Work Less, Live More

Part of the many policies of a steady state economy, adjusting the work hours for increases in efficiency is a policy that could revolutionize our society. Not only does this policy fight unemployment head-on by making more work available, it frees up time in our weeks to do something really important – live.

The new economics foundation’s new report, 21 Hours: Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century outlines how the average time worked in Britian, 21 hours, should  be the new standard. As nef explains, “A ‘normal’ working week of 21 hours could help to address a range of urgent, interlinked problems: The average overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

The IMF Rethinks Macroeconomics

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has not only recently acknowledged that macroeconomic policy may have “exacerbated the recent financial crisis,” but also has begun to rethink those policies.

Olivier Blanchard, the IMF’s chief economist, published a paper, “Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy” (pdf), stating that better economic policies might include increased government involvement, higher inflation, and help for the poor. The IMF’s typical policy of telling governments that less intervention and low inflation were powerless to prevent the “Great Recession.” Great news for those of us hoping for changes in the IMF and World Bank.

Degrowth Conference 2010

Contraction Might Be Good For Us
Contraction Might Do Us Good

In just over a month another gathering of minds will discuss the many aspects of an economy not devoted to growth for growth’s sake. The 2nd Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equality will take place March 26th through 29th in Barcelona, Spain.

Whilst I would love to be in attendance, I can neither afford the plane ticket (nor do I like the idea of so much plane travel) or the associated costs of attending. However, Donnie Maclurcan, a prominent steady-stater we’re trying to get working with us on Post Growth, will be attending as well as at least one member of CASSE.

The goal of the conference is to “develop clear policy proposals and strategies for action on degrowth and define the key open questions and research agenda.” They are hoping to create a publication from the conference and publish articles in scientific journals – I hope they do just that.

Degrowth is an interesting movement, a step most likely necessary in transition to a sustainable economy, it is one oriented towards the contraction of the physical size of the economy as a means of creating social justice and ecological sustainability. It is focusing on people instead of technology for the prosperity of society.

To learn more about the Degrowth movement, please check here, hereherehere, and here.

The Robin Hood Tax

Taking inspiration from economist James Tobin, the new UK campaign for a “Robin Hood Tax” is a great example of the type of social movement for economic reform we need across the world. A global Robin Hood tax is a crucial part of transition from a growth-based economy to one that is people-based. This type of financial policy can be instuted to actually help eliminate poverty and hunger, fight climate change, and put social equality into a system that rewards greed instead of good.

By taxing a minuscule amount of each financial transaction (we’re talking half a percent – 0.5%) you could raise up to $500 billion or more a year, reduce speculative investing (the kind that promoted the recent Great Recession), and put the banks in check (those guys we just bought out with taxpayer money that made $5 million bonuses).

Check out the video here:

Decoupling Demystified

Vinyl Ready Art - Road Signs
Can We Separate GDP Growth And Ecological Limits?

Next time you run into a classically trained economist (happens all the time, right?) start talking with him/her about ecological limits. They might squirm a little, but probably respond as trained: with some zombie-like responses about “decoupling.” What is decoupling? Basically, it’s a concept of being able to continue growing economic output without a corresponding increase in environmental impact.

The overall idea is that improvements in production efficiency allow you to make more with less. Theoretically we can increase our efficiency and make more stuff using the same amount of resources and/or generating the same amount of pollution.

Applying this concept to renewable resources would be incredibly beneficial. We could use wood, for instance, in a more sustainable fashion if we decoupled the economic growth from resource use and did so under the ecological limits of forest regeneration.

As you might have already guessed, there are quite a few flaws with this concept. You might have also noticed that it seems at first glance to have a broad definition. In general, however, there are two types of economic decoupling: relative and absolute. The first type appears to have a cursory chance of working, the latter is fundamentally impossible.

Continue reading “Decoupling Demystified”