Reconfiguring the Economic System to Enable Sustainable Development, Equity and Prosperity
“The bank – the monster has to have profits all the time. It can't wait. It'll die. No,taxes go on. When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can't stay one size.”(Steinbeck 1939)
The prevailing economic system is often taken for granted. It is something that we must work
to solve our problems. If that very system is the root cause of our problems then no amountof tweaking and tinkering within the confines of mainstream economic thinking will provide longterm solutions. This essay provides a brief discussion of the concept of steady state economics – analternative to the dominant economic paradigm. It is a system that many thinkers believe couldprovide equity and prosperity in a truly sustainable manner.
Before addressing the main topic of the essay, it is important to clarify the terms of the question.'Sustainable development' is possibly amongst the most widely used and abused phrases in modernpolitical discourse. The World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (1987)famously defined the term as “development that meets the needs of the present withoutcompromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is a useful startingpoint for the purpose of the following discussion, however, the terms 'development' and 'needs' aresomewhat open to interpretation and will need to be revisited.Equity, can be broadly defined as the fair distribution of resources amongst people. This includesnot only people alive today but also people yet to be born, the people of future generations who arealso entitled to their share of the world's resources. An equitable distribution is one that isapportioned according to the
of the recipients and is not necessarily an
distribution.Prosperity is often associated with financial security. However, in the context of this discussion, awider, more holistic understanding of prosperity should be adopted. It encompasses the quality ofour lives, the health and happiness of ourselves, our friends, families and communities (Jackson2009, p.16).If the above definitions are accepted, then it is perhaps also acceptable to state that the 'needs' of anindividual or a society, as invoked in the WCED definition of sustainable development, aresubstantially met when equity and prosperity are achieved. However, this still leaves the'development' term to be defined.To the mainstream or 'neo-classical' economist, development is largely contingent on economicgrowth – an increase in the production of goods and services. Economic growth is very much theaspiration of modern governments the world over. In the midst of the current global financial crisis,ministers of finance and other politicians can be heard daily asserting and then reasserting theimperative of economic growth to restore prosperity. This clearly illustrates what Hodson (1972)describes as 'the cult of growth'. Even the WCED concluded sustainable development would onlybe achieved following a five- to ten-fold increase in global economic product (Robinson 2004,p.373).Page 1 of 6