By Peter A. Victor
Managing Without Growth. Slower by design, not disaster
My Path to This Topic
I first became aware that the economy is a subsystem of the biosphere when, as a student of economics at UBC in the 1960s, I saw photos of the Earth taken from the moon. It made clear that all of the materials (including fossil fuels, biomass and uranium to produce energy) used in an economy come from the planet. They are used within an economy, consumed, and then returned to the planet as wastes. Meanwhile land is converted for human use with adverse impacts on other creatures. This transformation of matter/energy and land in economic activities must comply with the laws of physics. It means that the quantity of matter/energy is unchanged by economic processes, while their quality is diminished.
This perspective on economy and environment has remained with me since my student days. It underlies my interest in alternatives to the pursuit of economic growth, especially in high income countries, since it is highly unlikely that economic growth can be sustained indefinitely while the ‘throughput’ of materials and energy is reduced absolutely. The climate crisis and loss of biodiversity are symptoms of an infeasible path into the future. We can and should do better.
Peter's Reading List
Kenneth E. Bolding
In this brilliant, brief paper Boulding explains why ‘“The closed Earth of the future requires economic principles which are somewhat different from those of the open past…The closed economy of the future might…be called the “spaceman” economy, in which the Earth has become a single spaceship, without unlimited reservoirs of anything, either for extraction or for pollution…and in which, therefore, man must find his place in a cyclical ecological system…”
Herman E. Daly
More than any other economist, Daly has made the case for a steady-state economy. Read this or anything by Daly. He writes with clarity and wit. You won’t be disappointed.
Tim Jackson, my research colleague in the UK, explains what prosperity really means and how it can be achieved in a post-growth economy. You should watch any one of his Ted talks and check out the website of the Center for Understanding Sustainable Preporty, which jackson leads. (https://www.cusp.ac.uk)
John Maynard Keynes
Keynes was arguably the most influential economist of the 20th century. In this essay he looked 100 years into the future and described what he thought might be possible. It’s an exercise we should all try.
If you read only one book on economic history it should be this one. It will help you think about the great transformation that lies ahead. Polany describes how land and labour became commodities under capitalism and makes us think about how very odd this was.
In my book I explain how progress has come to be understood narrowly as economic growth, why growth has become uneconomic (to use Daly’s term), and that we can indeed manage without it. I use system dynamics to explore alternative futures for Canada.
You can run the ecological macroeconomic simulation model described in the book and create your own scenarios: https://exchange.iseesystems.com/public/petervictor/lowgrow-sfc/index.html#page1
About the Author
Peter A. Victor, author of Managing without Growth. Slower by Design, not Disaster, is a Professor Emeritus at York University. He is an economist who has worked for 50 years in Canada and abroad on economy and environment issues as an academic, consultant and public servant. His work on ecological economics, notably on environmentally extended input output analysis, ecological macroeconomics, and alternatives to economic growth, is widely cited. Peter’s contributions to ecological economics have been recognized through the award of the Molson Prize in the Social Sciences by the Canada Council for the Arts in 2011, the Boulding Memorial Prize from the International Society for Ecological Economics in 2014, and election to the Royal Society of Canada in 2015.