Adventures in Economics

When More is Less

G20 Gipfel – Proteste
Is there something gross about gross domestic product? Source: DPA

It’s been almost a decade since British ecological economist Tim Jackson wrote the first version of his bestseller, “Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet.” Quickly translated into German, it was considered a milestone on the road less traveled by Europe’s mainstream economists. The road was paved with the publication of another seminal text, “The Limits to Growth,” published by the Club of Rome in 1972.

The latter was based on a computer simulation that showed that the earth “probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100.” The former was published in 2009, and made a big impact in Germany, coming out just as the country – and indeed, the continent – was having a bit of a post-growth moment.

The first edition of “Prosperity Without Growth” was bought by Germany’s Federal Agency for Civic Education to be used as a teaching text. And in 2011, the German government established a commission of inquiry into the matter. Named “Growth, Prosperity and Quality of Life – Towards Sustainable Economies and Social Progress in the Market Economy,” it is something Mr. Jackson is particularly enthusiastic about: “Just the fact that there was a commission at all was extraordinary at the time, it gave a real sense of momentum to the debate.”

In 2013 Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, went so far as to suggest that Western countries should “espouse limiting economic growth” at home.

So this week, Mr. Jackson was in Berlin to present a new and revised version of his book. But eight years is a long time in a globalized world. Is Germany still as welcoming to post-growth advocates? Has the country come further along that once-radical path?

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