by Brian Czech
I have a running dialogue with my steady-state friends and colleagues. The subject is best described with the metaphor of a horse and cart. I say, if we want to succeed in replacing the outdated goal of economic growth with a steady state economy, we have to put the horse before the cart. The horse is the public opinion and political will needed for this change. Without this horse, I say, we have little hope of pulling a cart of steady-state policies into the economic policy arena.
Many of my friends and colleagues, however, say otherwise. They say I have it backwards. Citizens won’t be ready, they say, to support steady-state policies unless it is clear in advance just what those policies are.
Sometimes I think my friends and colleagues are right. Certainly one of the most common questions I get, after pontificating on the perils of growth and the need for steady-state economics, is “Yes, but how do we do it?” When I describe the horse and cart, emphasizing the horse, some of the audience don’t buy it. They want to know more about the cart before offering their horsepower.
I suppose we are all onto something. The horse and the cart may have to materialize more or less in tandem. Otherwise the horse may say “that’s enough of this” and walk away, as the grass may seem greener in more conventional “sustainability” pastures. On the other hand, even the sturdiest cart of steady-state policies would mire down and rust without the horse of public opinion and political will to lead it into action.
So it was mentally agonizing for me to miss the first ever Steady State Economy Conference, especially with CASSE as co-organizer with our partner, Economic Justice for All. I went instead to a different conference (Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences) in Portland, Oregon, where many new recruits to the steady-state cause were assembled. Meanwhile, the steady-state conferees in Leeds, UK were busy constructing and filling a cart full of steady-state policies. Theirs was an exciting undertaking. My belated contribution is to wholeheartedly endorse the report of their conference!
Actually the report, aptly titled Enough is Enough, provides more than just a cart of public policies for achieving a steady state economy. Part One is mostly about the horse, describing why economic growth has become uneconomic — dangerously so — and describing the alternative: economic degrowth toward a steady state economy. However, the bulk of Enough is Enough is found in Part Two, which is all about the cart of policies. This constitutes the single most complete collection of steady state policy initiatives, tools, and reforms in the literature. That alone makes the report worth its weight in steady-state gold. As if that were not enough, Part Three puts it all together into a plan to get the horse and cart moving together to begin the economic transition.
Enough is Enough is an extremely interesting and unique document. It is academic and book-like in length and style, and as well-documented as a Jared Diamond bestseller. Yet it also puts the reader into the venue of a wonderfully orchestrated, interactive, and productive conference. One can almost hear the plenary talks from the podium in Part One, walk the halls to the diverse workshop sessions in Part Two, and reconvene with the conferees in Part Three.
Most conference proceedings, book-like or not, go quickly onto a dusty shelf. I doubt this is the fate of Enough is Enough. For one thing, the university instructor may easily construct a summary slideshow from the plethora of colorful figures, tables, and graphs. Some of the graphics will be familiar to students and practitioners of ecological economics; others were developed at the conference or in the aftermath of this creative burst of energy. Beyond its academic uses, Enough is Enough has the potential to become a manifesto in the hands of policy reformers working on issues of environmental protection, economic sustainability, and social justice.
But most importantly, in my opinion, is that steady statesmen and ambassadors, present and future, won’t miss a beat when confronted with the challenging question of “Yes, but how do we do it?” With a sturdy cart of policies hitched to a horse of public opinion that grows stronger by the day, we are ready to set out towards the steady state economy.