Ross Clark Ross Clark

The dangerous myth of degrowth

Britain is beset by low productivity and stagnant growth, and things are not getting better. In the public sector, productivity stands at 7.4 per cent lower than it did before the pandemic. Until we can generate more growth in the economy, we cannot grow richer and real wages cannot grow.

An uncontroversial statement, you might think – even if opinions vary on what to do about it. But no. There are people who genuinely don’t want economic growth, who think it an evil that must be ended. Take a comment piece published late last year in the normally sober pages of the scientific journal Nature. Under the title ‘Degrowth Can Work’, it declared that: ‘Wealthy economies should abandon growth of gross domestic product (GDP) as a goal, scale down destructive and unnecessary forms of production to reduce energy and material use, and focus economic activity around securing human needs and wellbeing.’

The lead author was Jason Hickel, a visiting fellow at the LSE who on Newsnight in 2017 came up with the unusual theory that there are too many jobs in Britain. Humans, he said, are ‘overshooting our planet’s bio-capacity by 60 per cent’, and the only way to save ourselves is by ‘introducing a basic income and a shorter working week which would allow us to get rid of unnecessary jobs and redistribute labour’. Never mind the pain that follows every time GDP growth dips into the red. Never mind the despair created by falling real incomes. If we all worked less we would be far happier. Who gets to decide what is an ‘unnecessary job’, Hickel didn’t say. Many, I suspect, might well choose to nominate the LSE’s visiting professorship in International Inequalities as one of the jobs to go.

Another of the Nature authors is Tim Jackson, who runs a green thinktank called the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity.

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