Tag Archives: post-growth

Postgrowth Business Models

This is another post along the post-growth vein, please read We’ve had Enough Growth for some background on this.

Subject for this evening: business models.

We’re used to two major business models in the West today: corporations and private companies.

Corporations are legally obliged to maximise profit margins for shareholders above all other concerns. Shareholders being people who have invested money into the corporation and understandably want a good return on their cash, while in most cases, not working for the company and rather swanning around building up an impressive investments portfolio.

Private companies are owned by one or more partners and the profit goes straight to them. Their main motive is also to turn a profit, but they’re not legally bound to maximise it at any cost, so they might decide to pay their cleaners slightly more and make slightly less, for example.

The co-operative model brings democracy into the business world.

The co-operative model brings democracy into the business world.

Those are the two major ones, but several others feasible models (notably co-operatives, not-for-profits and social enterprises) are here and there in the economic landscape.
In terms of the post-growth concept, profit automatically leads to economic growth. That’s why every business person is chasing it like the end of a rainbow. But, in a situation where we – shock – don’t actually want to grow the economy – bear with me – then it follows that we don’t want profit. Not as such, any way.

But if that means we cannot have business, then that’s quite a stumbling block. The truth is, business is an extraordinarily effective way of organising human effort. Even though (at 20) I’ve never had a paid job more stimulating than waitressing, I still enjoy the aspect of working with other people towards a common goal. As much as I love the concept of volunteering, business just gets things done on a scale that wouldn’t happen if people were just doing something as a leisurely project.

So, can we have business without profit?

I think so, actually. The reason being, profit is only really needed to grow the economy – of course vital in our current situation, but counterproductive in a post-growth situation. Think about it. A business definitely needs to make money, because it needs to cover its costs, including paying all staff a decent wage, and it will probably need to reinvest money back into itself from time to time for one-off improvements. As long as the partners pay themselves a good wage, I don’t see that extra profit is actually necessary to keep the business going.

I’m probably missing something, so if you know about this stuff then please feel free to comment. But this is how it looks from a common-sense standpoint.

Diversity in an ecosystem makes the whole system more resilient. Similarly, I think diversity in the economy makes a more resilient economy. If we had loads and loads of small not-for-profit companies, community-interest companies, social enterprises and co-operatives, rather than a few corporate giants, I think this would deliver much more social value. We’d have a rich web of economic enterprises working to meet real social needs, while providing secure employment.

I’ll be posting again soon with more post-growth ideas!

Image harvested from postgrowth.org

We’ve had enough Growth

Lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way our society will be able to become both sustainable and equitable, providing a good quality of life for ourselves while allowing other species to flourish, is if we abandon economic growth and consciously transition to a postgrowth society.

I realise that’s a tall order, but I have to stay optimistic that it’ll happen in my lifetime. Otherwise, I’m just not sure what hope we have. We can use increasingly expensive technofix solutions to mitigate environmental problems, and we can continue to throw money at social charities, but it’ll be like popping painkillers. It won’t heal the core problem.

There are many contenders for the true identity of the ‘core problem’.
Some say it’s the separation of ¬†humanity from the rest of nature. Others get even deeper and say it’s the ideological separation of matter from spirit. Many say it’s human greed, but I’d suggest that greed is just a symptom of perceived scarcity. Some say it’s money, or at least the love of it. But money’s not the problem, although I used to think it was.

No, the core problem is economic growth.

Economic growth has been pretty good for all of human history up until now – so its easy to understand why so few people have cottoned onto the fact that it no longer benefits us, and is in fact is fiercely detrimental.
Economic growth is the increase in the production and consumption of goods and services.
For all of human history, there’s always been lots of space, lots of natural resources, and lots of hungry and deprived people who could do with more goods and services. The latter is still true today, but that’s another issue that we’ll come back to later.

But now the world is full. Full of us, all 7 billion of us, and full of our stuff. Our cities, our roads, our rubbish, our factories, our cars, our Barbies, our Ipads, our disposable razors, and all the rest. We’ve ‘gone forth and multiplied’ so successfully, and created so many goods and services, that we’re using up too much of the planet, and it’s struggling to cope, whilst other species die out every day. The life-support systems of our planet are under strain and the rivers, oceans and skies are being clogged up with toxins.

And while we’re doing all this – all in the name of economic growth – the economists’ holy grail is failing to deliver real social value. Since the 1950s, surveys on life satisfaction and wellbeing in the Western world have flatlined, while public trust in governments has nose dived. Crime, divorce, teenage pregnancy, addictions, anorexia and obesity are still high in America and Western Europe. Obscene poverty in Africa, South America and Asia continues, and the magical trickle-down effect that justifies Wall Street does pretty much nothing, because the interest function of money means wealth is given to the people who already have the most of it.

Economic growth, on the global scale, isn’t helping us anymore, in fact, it’s causing a lot of serious problems.

Who was it that said, ”growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of a cancer cell”?
Whoever it was, I like the phrase. It sums up the common sense wisdom that more is only better if you don’t have enough. Once you have enough, more will quickly become worse. I truly believe that’s the situation we’re in at the moment.

Luckily, there could be a solution, and that solution is the concept of postgrowth. That basically means an economic model where enough of everything is the goal, and the market and society at large works to keep things in balance, in a dynamic equilibrium. I’ve touched on this when I waxed lyrical about the book Enough is Enough¬†and I’ve mentioned it lots in recent posts, but I want to delve deeper into this new and exciting concept. I’m currently reading a book called Supply Shock which could shed some more light on it.

For now, please look at the website of the Postgrowth Institute, a really cool think tank that commits itself to educating people about the concept and promoting it as a solution to the more-more-more-obsessed madness we call free market capitalism.

Image harvested from postgrowth.org

Image harvested from postgrowth.org

On trees, excitement, books and writing

Hello lovely readers! I’m sorry to admit I’ve been neglecting my blog slightly these last few weeks, and I’ve only just noticed why. It’s my summer holiday from university and I’m back in my hometown for a couple of months, visiting my family and my old friends. I realised today that the reason I haven’t been writing is because I see it as something I do when I’m at home. That is to say, in the city where I study and have my own flat with my boyfriend, it’s very much part of my daily routine to read up about environmental news and theories and write blog entries about my little discoveries. Here in my small and eccentric hometown I’m accustomed to doing nothing more than taking my little brother to the park and drinking cider with my friends.
But seeing as I’m here for quite a while this time, rather than the fleeting visit that’s been the norm since I moved away, I really need to get into the habit of writing here as well.
So that’s quite enough of my rambling, now I’ll get on and tell you a couple of things that are more relevant.

  • Firstly, I’m very excited because I got a message from my dad today (who lives in Portugal and is a computer enthusiast) saying that he’s going to set up a new internet business for carbon-offsetting by tree-planting. I know there are several of these kinds of businesses already, but as he says, many of them charge quite a substantial amount of money, and some simply give money to people who were going to plant trees anyway. That’s great because such projects deserve the financial support, but it doesn’t mean any extra trees are going to get planted, if you see what I mean. Anyway lots of his friends in rural Portugal own land, plus the cost of basic things like seeds is very low there so he won’t need to charge much. The best bit is, he wants me to do the writing for the website, explaining the project to potential customers. This would mean I can a) help my dad b) support an ethical green enterprise and c) build my writing portfolio. Win win win!
  • It’s my 20th birthday this coming Tuesday (the 16th July) and I’ve asked my mother for one or two books on post-growth economics. As you may of read, I was bowled over by Enough is Enough and I’m desperate to learn more about the concept. It makes so much sense to me, and yet seems too good to be true. To think that there might actually be a way to attain the kind of sustainable, equitable and compassionate society that seems so out of reach on a bad day – it’s incredibly exciting. When I’ve researched more about post growth economics I’ll write properly about it, but for now please check out my review of Enough is Enough, or this FAQ by Make Wealth History (which, incidentally, is one of my favourite blogs at the moment).

I hope you’re all having a wonderful summer and I promise I’ll be more on it with the writing from now on!