Getting to well-being in a no-growth society


This adds something to my piece on clusters, which I see as an ingredient of how things will be in a future in which there is no growth in prosperity.

Having suggested clusters as the way forward, it is a different matter to say how things would then turn out.  Such prognostications must be seen as no better than science fiction.

We are all used to growth.  We are used to the notion that, when there is growth, the amount of money circulating within an area gives an indication of the prosperity of people within that area.

But what will happen when there is no growth?  What does no-growth mean?  When prosperity is not growing will people see consumerism as less important than how they feel about how things are?  Will wellness or well-being become all-important, rather than how much disposable income people have?

Although there will be no national growth there will still be areas of growth.  Elsewhere there will be no-growth or decline.

People will move from areas in decline to those seen to be better.  This is nothing new – it was always so.  In my own experience, for example, in the 1960s there was an area of mid Wales where there was no growth.  People had moved out, when the slate quarries closed, leaving cottages behind which became derelict and for sale for around £100 (at that time new-build estate houses in better-off areas sold for around £5,000).

After a while, with increasing disposable income (funded by debt) these areas became clusters of second homes and holiday lets.  This increased the money in circulation locally and the well-being of established residents improved.  Now the area looks to be declining, albeit propped up for the time being by tourism and EC funding.

Getting more money circulating in an area which is seen to be “dying” is important if the aim is to reverse the process of decline. For this to happen, conventional thinking on what is good for a locality must be turned on its head. Attracting capital and revenue spending into the area become important.  Allowing outsiders to have houses built, for second homes or letting, will help to improve the well-being of an area. But this may not be enough.

Spending on local public services is now reducing and local consumer spending is expected to reduce.  This must be made up by a change of local mindsets, from money to perceptions to do with human energy and happiness. Energy spent growing and processing food and making things. Energy used for bartering, for giving away (freecycling) and for familial sharing.  Getting resources of all kinds circulating locally, not just money, will lead to perceptions of better well-being.

For any of this to happen, top-down development control must be changed fundamentally to enable local resource circulation to develop, as suggested in my piece on clusters.

From the grassroots, subjective perceptions of well-being will then replace objective measures of prosperity.  How this will play out in reality must be a matter of science fictional speculation.


Note:  Those who have a top-down mindset may find it difficult to see that top-down concepts, such as classical economics, have no place in the world seen from the bottom up.  The word “economic” is used from the bottom up to describe the financial efficiency of pursuing a particularly line of action.  Thus “it can be more economical to join with other like-minded people to do something.”  I have deliberately avoided the use of this word, hence my use of the phrase “well-being”.  Which I sense is consistent with current thinking by economist Kate Raworth on doughnut economics.  She suggests that “we need an economy that makes us thrive, whether or not it grows”.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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