Seth Klein: The growth/degrowth debate is distracting

A very thoughtful piece on the idea of degrowth from Seth Klein, BC Director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

His key point is that while we could still see GDP growth ahead, (due to the public and private investments that are needed to address our multiple predicaments), there must be “a dramatic shift within the component parts of the GDP equation”.

Personally, I don’t see the debate as a distraction, but I also generally agree with Klein’s assumption that we need more public and private sector investment and that this would produce an increase in traditional measures of GDP. For me, the growth/degrowth debate is about recognizing the fundamental incompatibility of a permanent growth agenda with our ecological and social limits.

Even GDP growth that is more materially efficient will have to slow, stop and be reversed at some point in the future. You can only dismiss the debate for so long.

Here’s how Seth sets out the key challenge for policy makers in his post:

The challenge is to focus on what matters –– reducing inequality, enhancing well-being / quality of life, ending poverty, low unemployment and good jobs, hard caps on GHG emissions that lower steadily over time, and limitations on the extraction of natural resources to ensure sustainability and protect biodiversity. Perhaps the result will be slow or even zero GDP growth. Then again, perhaps the investments needed to accomplish the above tasks will be so large that GDP will continue to rise for another few decades. Ultimately, this is not the central problem. The key is that governments should no longer be judged on the basis of the GDP record under their watch, but rather, on the basis of how well they accomplish the higher-order tasks just mentioned.