Moving toward a beautiful and sustainable world we must confront an enormous challenge. About a quarter of us live totally impoverished lives; the standard answer to this question is to encourage economic growth. But on a finite world we cannot grow the material component of the economy indefinably without a resulting collapse. The world cannot be beautiful and sustainable with the level of poverty and inequality that we accept now.
The question has been asked, “Why worry about this”. I can think of three reasons:
First: A concern with income gaps, poverty and so forth is an ethical challenge. We are concerned because of our shared humanity. Our concern and action is because it is the right thing to do.
The second reason is the pragmatic one: There is evidence and good reason to think that helping others, cooperating is a successful approach to doing well in the world. My understanding of Wilkinson’s work (Author of the Spirit Level) and others like him is that the makes this pragmatic link much clearer. And I don’t think his work is as easy to dismiss as some I have read on economics blogs. He has published in peer reviewed literature all his career and has earned the title professor in the British system, and has a clear public profile. Maybe we should pause and think a little more carefully about the overall message rather than just dismissing him.
The third reason is this: we live on a physically limited world and unrestrained economic growth is not possible indefinably. The answer that technology will solve the challenge is not likely to give a simple solution, allowing growth to continue unabated. Thus our economic systems need new answers to two questions: “How do we contain the physical and energy flows within human systems within the constraints of the biosphere?” And how do we distribute the goods and services fairly?” Within these questions we must be concerned with the challenge of the gap.
The good news is that we already know much about what we must do. To move forward we must begin implementing ideas from: ecological and steady state economics, the transition movement, The Natural Step; to name a few.