Is the only sustainable growth 'degrowth'?

    This article by Noah Smith gave me pause for thought. There’s plenty of people talking about ‘degrowth’ at the moment and, I have to say, that I don’t know enough to have an opinion.

    It’s really easy to get swept up in what other people who broadly share your outlook on life are sharing and discussing. While I definitely agree that ‘growth at all costs’ is problematic, and that ‘green growth’ is probably a sticking plaster, I’m not sure that ‘degrowth’ (as far as I understand it) is the answer?

    Perhaps I need to do more reading. If it’s trying to measure things differently rather than just using GDP, then I’ve already written that I’m in favour. But just like calls to ‘abolish the police’ I’m not sure I can go fully along with that. Sorry.

    I don’t want to beat this point to death, but I think it’s important to emphasize how unpleasant and inhumane a degrowth future would look like. People in rich countries would be forced to accept much lower standards of living, while people in developing countries would have a far more meager future to look forward to. This situation would undoubtedly cause resentment, leading to a backlash against the leaders who had mandated mass poverty. After the overthrow of degrowth regimes, we’d see the pendulum swing entirely toward leaders who promised infinite resource consumption, at which point the environment would be worse off than before. And this is in addition to the fact that degrowth would make it more difficult to invest in green energy and other technologies that protect the environment.

    So while I think we do need to worry about the potential negative consequences of growth and try our best to ameliorate those harms, I think trying to impoverish ourselves to save the environment would be a catastrophic mistake, for both us and for the environment. This is not something any progressive ought to fight for.

    Source: Yes, it’s possible to imagine progressive dystopias | Noahpinion

    Happiness vs GDP

    Making the world a happier, fairer, safer place seems like an idea that most people can get behind. But how do you do it? Although there’s a relationship between average self-reported happiness of a population and increased GDP per capita, there are notable outliers.

    So, what to do? Focus on other numbers as well. This article talks about measuring ‘Wellbys’ or ‘well-being-life-adjusted-years’ which involves placing a lot more emphasis on subjective numbers.

    The trouble, as anyone who has visited a hospital in England will know, is that self-reported data while useful can be very problematic. For example, when I go into hospital, I know that they will ask me to rate my pain on a scale of 1-10. Being a reasonably stoic kind of person, I used to keep that number low, which not only kept me at the back of the line for being seen, but meant they were less likely to give me painkillers.

    Guess what I’ve learned to do? Yep, game the system. People respond to incentives, so although trying to make single numbers go up and to the right might make life easier for those intervening in systems, it doesn’t make those interventions any more effective.

    Instead, I’d like to see the focus more on something like the Human Development Index (HDI) which, not only has been around for a while, but is a composite of statistics designed to increase human flourishing.

    Chart showing GDP per capita vs self-reported happiness
    As we’ve gathered more data on the happiness of different populations, it’s become clear that increasing wealth and health do not always go hand in hand with increasing happiness. By the economists’ objective measures, people in rich countries like the US should be doing great — and yet Americans are only becoming more miserable. And people in some higher-GDP European countries like Portugal and Italy report lower life satisfaction than people in lower-GDP Latin American countries.

    What’s going on here? How do we explain the gaps in life satisfaction that objective metrics like GDP don’t explain?

    Nowadays, a growing chorus of experts argues that helping people is ultimately about making them happier — not just wealthier or healthier — and the best way to find out how happy people are is to just ask them directly. This camp says we should focus a lot more on subjective well-being: how happy people are, or how satisfied they are with their lives, based on what they say matters most to them — not just based on objective metrics like GDP. Subjective well-being can tell us things that objective metrics can’t.


    Instead, [Michael} Plant [who leads the Happier Lives Institute] argues we should compare how much good different things do in a single “currency” — specifically, how many well-being-adjusted life years, or Wellbys, they produce. Producing one Wellby means increasing life satisfaction by one point (on the 0-10 life satisfaction scale) for one year. It’s a metric that some economists, including those behind the World Happiness Report, are coming to embrace. If we were to evaluate every policy in terms of how many Wellbys it produces, that would allow for direct apples-to-apples comparisons.

    “I’m pretty bullish about just using well-being as the [single] measure,” Plant told me.

    Source: Make people happier — not just wealthier and healthier | Vox