There is a plausible future in which economic growth is too hard - or undesirable - and is dropped as a economic goal. Instead, distributive and regenerative factors would be emphasised in business and policymaking to enhance wellbeing and nature as new economic priorities. Economics would become socio-ecological.
You might ask: why should we prep for a post growth future? But the better question is why aren’t we?
As Europe commences research on a post growth deal and the Netherlands weaves post growth scenarios into spatial planning, New Zealand risks getting left behind in building the knowledge we need to transform our economy in alignment with others. The rest of the world may even be looking to New Zealand to show the way on post growth preparation since we are a wellbeing economy that relies on the sustainable use of natural resources. From the outside, New Zealand looks like it could be a socio-ecological economy if we weren’t so stretched, trying to be a growth economy.
It doesn’t matter whether you desire or believe in a post growth future or not. The fact is, it’s plausible. That’s enough of a reason to take action, because preparing for a range of plausible futures enhances national resilience.
Here’s a four-point plan of action:
1 New Zealand academics who are interested in research on local degrowth and post growth topics need to support one another. A core group should establish a Post Growth Research Collective that can operate to develop research ideas and coordinate funding applications.
2 A widely networked business institution, such as the Institute of Directors New Zealand, should establish and fund a Post Growth Advisory Panel comprising several leading academics and degrowth-oriented business practitioners. The panel’s knowledgeable inputs to business sector and industry level initiatives would provide an alternative lens on complex systems, their problems and their solutions. Pioneer enterprises can help build case study evidence, employing the new tools that now exist for bringing regenerative and distributive thinking into business (or business units, at least). Similar tools exist for policymakers.
3 The New Zealand professions should bring degrowth/post growth concepts into their curricula. Arguably, engineering has been looking at this for a while. Aspiring young architects are challenging themselves to apply degrowth. There are interesting innovations happening in finance that aren’t being taught to fund managers, bankers and accountants. Economics is notoriously blinkered. Contemporary law, including environmental law, is unfit for a transition to a socio-ecological society. Educators need to urgently get ahead of the hunger curve for applied degrowth/post growth knowledge.
4 Let’s advocate for a New Zealand Post Growth Commission tasked with independently advising successive governments on a long term transition to a post growth New Zealand, international trading bloc and world order. It might require an act of parliament to establish a commission, demanding years of lobbying, so the sooner we begin to design the commission the better.
Some of the issues we’d face in a post growth transition might include:
- Envisaging and enabling socio-ecologically prioritised housing, food and transport systems and health and education sectors.
- Policy advice on energy and materials use limits.
- Absorption of climate- and nature-related immigration.
- National defence during geopolitical upheavals.
- Evolution of the finance system and capitalism.
- Institutional reform or replacement.
There’s time pressure on this preparation. What if, by 2030 or 2035, climate chaos, nature loss and global inequality show no signs of abating despite huge efforts to green economic growth and alleviate poverty? A post growth economy then becomes the only sensible option – on paper.
Let’s not kid ourselves that shifting to a post growth economy would be anything other than a whole-of-nation paradigm shift. Years before that point, we would need to have begun a long term public communications exercise to enable the nation to objectively see its growth paradigm belief systems, values and common senses in order to create the national mental space for growing a shared vision for change, while also carrying forward the unique essences that make Aotearoa New Zealand ‘who’ we are.
While our politicians and economists quibble over quarterly GDP figures, New Zealand is falling behind on preparing for a post growth global economy. Now’s a good time to catch up. Others are waiting for us at the front.