How to plan ahead for a post-growth economy


Down here at grassroots, there is misunderstanding about what post-growth is. We need to understand this if we are to prepare ourselves and our local communities for it. Assuming, of course, that we believe that the future will be post-growth.

Growth, as defined by GNP, is a figure which is supposed to tell us whether ‘things’ are getting ‘better’ or not. So, the prospect of no more growth in the GNP may be seen to be a portent of dire things to come.  And yet the past decade or so of GNP growth hasn’t felt like things have been getting better. So, what to believe?

Another definition of growth is to do with personal prosperity.  This can be measured in terms of discretionary income.  In other words, after deducting the cost of essential expenses, discretionary income is the amount we choose to spend in whatever we want.

This is meaningful in relation to our day-to-day lives.  According to some (non-classical) economists, without a vested interest in growth, personal prosperity and indebtedness have been declining for over ten years, and are likely to continue. The prospect of no more growth in prosperity is something we might want to prepare for.

Then there is degrowth, which is a political, economic, and social movement. An academic idea for a radical alternative to conventional economic thinking. An idea, in the same genre as the decentralist thinking of Fritz Schumacher, Ivan Illich, Leopold Kohr, et al.

The UK Transition Towns are of the same ilk. Interesting, but not relevant to day-to-day life down here, unless you personally practice the ideas.

So, the only kind of growth which is relevant to day-to-day life is that to do with our own prosperity.

If you see a prospect of declining prosperity, as I do, then it is worth thinking (and maybe doing) something to prepare for its inevitability.

The most obvious contingent would be to pay off debts and not incur new ones. This will maximise the amount of discretionary income individuals have as they become unable to afford as much as hitherto.

Local public services can be expected to continue declining, in parallel with declining prosperity and increasing indebtedness. If this is an unavoidable future in our top-down system of governance, then we should prepare for the emergence of bottom-up ways of doing things.

A fundamental problem is the lack of bottom-up organisations to plug the holes in mostly social support services. Not-for-profit organisations which are formally constituted, supported locally by individual gifts and legacies, events (such as music festivals) and businesses (look to the Island of Sark for examples).

If these organisations don’t exist now, maybe it is time to set them up.

You may say that the time for contingency planning for ongoing decline in prosperity has yet to come. Because you believe in a future of growth. Whatever that means to you.  You should at least have it in the back of your mind.

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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.


    • Barry Cooper says

      Thank you Stephen. An interesting site.

      My piece is aimed at those who believe in and want growth.

      For over 40 years I have advocated decentralisation, in the context of a growing economy. As a more efficient way of doing things.

      Now that no-growth is the day-to-day reality, and unavoidable, decentralisation seems inevitable – in due course.

      I am not arguing for no-growth for ethical or equity reasons, others are doing that. I just think it is the future, whatever you believe.

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