More and more a conviction is growing, even among establishment economists and those of the neo-Keynesian line, that we are dangerously close to reaching the Earth’s physical limits. Even with new technologies, it will be difficult to continue the project of limitless growth. The Earth can no longer tolerate it, and we have to change direction.
Economists such as our Ladislao Dowbor, Ignace Sachs, Joan Alier, Herman Daly, Tim Jack, Peter Victor and long before them, Georgescu-Roegen, fully incorporate the ecologic moment into the process of production. Especially the British Tim Jack, has become known for his book, Prosperity without Growth, (Prosperidad sin crecimiento, 2009) and Canadian Peter Victor, for his Managing without Growth, (Managing sin crecimiento, 2008). Both have shown that the growth of debt to finance private and public consumption (as the rich countries are doing), demanding more energy and greater use of natural goods and services, is simply not sustainable.
Nobel Prize Laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, because they did not explicitly include the limits of the Earth in their analysis, fall into the trap of proposing greater public expenditure as the solution to the present crisis, supposing that this will produce economic growth and greater consumption, through which the astronomical private and public debts will be paid later on. We have said many times already that a finite planet cannot support a project of this nature, one that presupposes the boundlessness of goods and services. This is an established fact.
What Jack and Victor propose is «prosperity without growth». In the developed countries, the level of growth is already sufficient to allow development of human potential, within the possible limits of the planet. Thus, enough growth. What can be sought is «prosperity» meaning a better quality of life, of education, health, ecological culture, spirituality, etc. This solution is rational but it can cause high unemployment, a problem they do not resolve well, suggesting a universal basic rent and reduction of work hours. There will be no solution without a prior agreement as to how are we going to have a supportive relationship with the Earth, and without defining the models of consumption so that everyone can have what is enough and decent.
That relation is inverted for the poor and emerging countries. «Growth with prosperity» is needed. Growth is necessary to attend to the minimum demands of those living in poverty, misery and social exclusion. Assuring enough indispensable goods and services is a matter of justice. But prosperity, which deals with the quality of growth, must be sought simultaneously. A real danger exists that they will fall victim to the logic of a system that induces greater and greater consumption, especially of unnecessary goods. The Earth’s limits would be stretched, which is just what must be avoided. We are facing a painful vicious circle, that we do not know how to make virtuous, without endangering the sustainability of the living Earth.
This is the contradiction not only facing Brazil but also the Globalization: growth is urgently needed to accomplish what the Lula’s government did, this is, to guarantee the basics, so that millions may eat and, through social policies, be incorporated into society. For the classes that have already been attended, less growth and more prosperity is needed: to improve the quality of the good life, education, less unequal social relations, and more solidarity, starting with the least among us. But who can convince them, if they are forcibly controlled by propaganda that incites them to consume?
As it happens, until now, brazilian and athor governments have had only distributive policies: unequally distributing public resources. First, 140 billion reales were guaranteed to the financial system to pay the public debt, and then for the grandiose projects, and only around 60 billion for the immense majorities that only now are ascending. Everyone gains, but unequally. Treating equals unequally is a great injustice. Never have there been redistributive policies: taking from the rich (through legal means) and passing it to the needier. Then there would be equity.
The worst is that with our collective obsession of growth we are mining the vitality from the Earth. We need growth, but with a new ecological consciousness that can free us from the slavery of productivity and consumerism. This is our great challenge, as we face the uncomfortable Brazilian and Global contradiction.