2007 - 2021

Scotland’s Economic Recovery Can’t Be About Growth when it Needs to be About Life through a New Economics

On 28th June, the Herald newspaper published an article by Iain Macwhirter that made a series of observations about our currently growth-dependent economy and post-covid recovery plans that warrant some clarification, not least as they come alongside other misreadings of new economic thinking ‘Sturgeon’s economic recovery won’t be about degrowth but jobs, jobs jobs’.

Macwhirter challenged George Monbiot’s ideas about post-Covid economic policy writing:

“DO not resuscitate. That was newspaper columnist George Monbiot’s answer to the question of post-Covid economic policy. Just let old fossil industries – aviation, petrochemicals, big pharma, mass tourism – die out like the dinosaurs. That would mean hundreds of thousands of jobs going south, of course. But his solution to that is de-consumerism and de-growth. Buying things is bad, so people should just accept a lower standard of living. No foreign travel, no motorised transport. Who needs all this stuff? Well, quite a lot of people, actually.”

Yet Monbiot is drawing on a significant body of scholarship in post-growth, de-growth and wellbeing economics that sets out the possibility of an economy designed and delivered according to different metrics and with a different metabolism.

Macwhirter writes: “The priority for the First Minister in the short term will be jobs, jobs, jobs. The return of mass unemployment to Scotland, currently disguised by the furlough scheme, is going to determine government policy for the foreseeable future. And she’s not going to be too worried about what those jobs are.”

Well except the First Minister really should worry about what jobs they are. Not only are high-carbon jobs harmful to people’s health, but maintaining gaps between the social value and the pay of a job has been revealed by covid-19 as counter to people’s perceptions of fairness. Further, (re) investing in aviation, the car industry and other sectors difficult or impossible to decarbonise is madness, as is running to bolster an industry we should be planning a rapid and just transition away from – fossil fuels. Not taking action now is simply making things harder for the future.

The choice is not between “jobs” and “ecology”: think of the green jobs that can come with renewables, with energy efficiency, with care, craft and creative work that are lighter on the environment. Think about better sharing the available work amongst ourselves through shorter working weeks. The true choice facing Scotland today is whether we create a new economy that’s future-focused and plays a constructive role in moving away from a looming climate breakdown.

Wellbeing and post-growth economics (which stand on the shoulders of decades of research and practice) offer the possibility of an economic system geared up to deliver what people and planet most need, directly. They are not about waiting for the crumbs to fall from the table of the wealthy while crossing our fingers that the planet can handle the pressure we’re putting on her. Such an economy is about investing in the new zero-carbon future, creating sustainable cities with improved air quality, reduced emissions and new thinking about the type and distribution of work.

As the economist anthropologist Jason Hickel puts it: “As the Arctic burns under a record heatwave, economists are lining up to call for more growth. The discipline is increasingly unhinged from reality. The key lesson for post-covid economics is that you do not need growth to solve a crisis of unemployment. Shorten the working week, distribute income and wealth more fairly, and introduce a Green New Deal job guarantee.”

In the face of so much evidence of the failure of the economic model we had going into covid-19 to deliver for people and planet, to persist with outdated and inadequate recipes and to ignore the evidence of a better course already being built in communities around the world is to deny Scotland the possibility of an economy that is better than growth and better at meeting the needs of people and planet.

Signed by:
Enough Scotland: Luke Devlin, Bronagh Gallagher, Dr Mairi McFadyen, Gehan McLeod, Dr Svenja Meyerricks, Mike Small
Wellbeing Economy Alliance; Dr Katherine Trebeck

Friends of the Earth Scotland: Caroline Rance, Climate & Energy Campaigner

Poverty Alliance Scotland
: Peter Kelly, Director 
SANE Glasgow

The People’s Bank of Govanhill
 and Feminist Exchange Network: Ailie Rutherford
Centre for Human Ecology: Dr Anne Winther
Propagate, Abi Mordin

Remade Network, Sophie Unwin
Secure Scotland, David Mackenzie
Janet Fenton
Ann Morgan
Christie Williamson
Paula Larkin
Sapna Agarwal
Katie Lambert
Kristina Weaver
Prof Alison Phipps
Maria Suarez-Alvarez
Danny Alderslowe
Alex Wilde

Chris Ballance
Michael Roy
Fraser Stewart
Go Vegan Scotland
Barbara Bolton
Greum Maol Stevenson
Brian Gibb
Nadine Gorency

Comments (34)

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  1. Daniel Raphael says:

    No one wants to be inconvenienced–yet, it is *convenience* that has been the Road to Hell for the entirety of profit-driven technological capitalism. It isn’t a matter of choice, other than whether we are to survive; we WILL change, or BE changed–that’s our choice. Nature is indifferent to our wishes for convenience and comfort. If we don’t stop (over)consuming and planning for, insisting upon just that, we will shortly be hung by our own stupidity.

    It’s truly amazing, how many people live in a bubble of denial so thick they are untouched by the extremity of our times.

  2. David Somervell says:

    The Preston Model: Community Wealth Building *might* be a helpful approach.
    I’m afraid I see rather a lot of straw men being built up to be shot down in Iain Macwhirter’s piece … which heaps the praise on Common Weal’s recent outpourings but rubbishes the very concept of Degrowth. I can’t wait for the Degrowth Commission to get started to unpack some of the concepts and shine light on pathways to resilience and sufficiency.
    Meantime readers might enjoy tuning in to an interactive session coming up at 5pm Tuesday 21 July: The Preston Model with Julian Manley – book now via https://preston21july.eventbrite.co.uk

  3. Chris Ballance says:

    Great article. Can I sign too?

  4. Chris Ballance says:

    Great article. Can I sign too?

    Why is it that having a better standard of care for children, old folk and those in ill-health is touted as a “lower standard of living” than having the right to work your arse off in order to buy cheap crap from China which will have fallen apart and gone in the bin within a year?

  5. John Learmonth says:

    Good luck with persuading people to vote to become poorer………or does democracy have no place in your Brave New World?

    1. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

      There is precisely a seriously important role for us all as ‘the electorate’ (‘the people’) to take up our massive responsibility as a collective (we can still use that word in Scotland, hopefully, and especially after the lockdown solidarity we demonstrated) to call on our ‘leaders’ to show the necessary leadership, and, if they don’t, find representatives who will do so.

      We can also demand that our press, our media, represent the real world out there, the real questions, the real dilemmas we face, and the real choices we have to face when we vote.

    2. Wul says:

      John, I drive down a potholed, litter strewn street to visit my dad. He’s sitting in his own urine a lot just now because we can’t get proper care arranged for him. The care service he will get, when finally set up, will be the bare minimum.

      And yet we are both relatively “wealthy”. I’d happily be 15% “poorer” and be driving down a properly maintained, tidy street, past a functioning youth club and library (both now closed) to visit an old man receiving top-class elderly care.

      There are different ways to be “poor”. Since we all use the public realm and, eventually, public services, doesn’t it make sense to spend more money on them? Since we, ourselves are “the public”, spending money on “public” services enriches us all and the quality of our lives.

      So, yes, there are ways to persuade people to “be poorer”.

      1. Alistair Taylor says:

        Very well said there, Wul.

      2. Arboreal Agenda says:

        It is *the* argument isn’t it? And very well expressed. If people are to be persuaded then this is the way to go about it.

      3. Matthew Jones says:

        Switzerland: rich, and therefore clean, tidy efficient and with excellent through-life care. Albania : poor, and therefore dirty, badly maintained and with lousy social services. It can’t be stated too often: if you want luxurious public services, first you have to make the money to pay for them.

  6. SleepingDog says:

    Extractive jobs bring us closer to day humanity is sucking on void. Make-work is embarrassing and possibly has to be funded by exploitation elsewhere (is that a devil-makes-work-for-idle-hands thing?). Regenerative jobs are the future, if we are to have one.

    I remember Robert McNamara talking about taking Ford motor company’s tests for recruits, in the documentary The Fog of War.
    “Two full days of testing: intelligence tests, achievement tests, personality tests, you name it.
    “This sounds absurd, but I remember one of the questions on one of the tests was: ‘Would you rather be a florist or a coal miner?’ I should tell you, I had been a florist. I worked as a florist during some of my Christmas vacations. I put down ‘coal miner’. I think the reasons are obvious to you.”
    What were those reasons? Do they still apply in the minds of some today?

  7. Coinneach says:

    I’m surprised the article only mentioned the Green New Deal in passing. It’s worth visiting https://www.taxresearch.org.uk for extensive and detailed writing by Prof Richard Murphy. Just put ‘Green New Deal’ into the site’s Search function to access.

    1. Hi Coinneach – thanks – the article is challenging the views as represented by Macwhirter but is offering wellbeing and degrowth economics as an alternative, which are slightly different than the Green New Deal ideas. We don’t claim to have all the answers and recognise the validity of other approaches.

      See Enough collective https://enough.scot/ and WeAll here for more: https://wellbeingeconomy.org/

  8. Fraser Stewart says:

    Great stuff Mike, happy to add my name too! (Energy and inequality researcher: Fraser Stewart)

  9. Kevin Hattie says:

    I remember reading an article about scientific progress and how breakthrough ideas can often be resisted by some older heads within the discipline who want to hang on to previous theories and principles. Progress rarely finds an open goal. Macwhirter isn’t much of a goalkeeper.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Kevin Hattie, are you assuming that mainstream economics is a science, then? Advancing one funeral at a time? Even a follower of mainstream economics admitted that there was no empirical base for much of its ideological posturing. For example, he wrote that only recently one economist (Saras Sarasvathy) decided to test if economic models of entrepreneurship actually matched real-life. They did not. Response summarised below:

      “OK, so for the last hundred years, theorists of entrepreneurship have focused on an ideological fantasy produced by groupthink in splendid isolation from the world, until about ten years ago some newcomers in the field thought it might be more sensible to actually do empirical studies, upon which they found a strikingly different picture emerging?
      “Why are we bothering with these old theorists at all?”

      Why indeed. Anyway, I am not an economist, but the worldwide student strike, and works I have read criticising the neoliberal priesthood by the likes of Kate Raworth, Mariana Mazzucato and Steve Keen suggest that the label confers no scientific weight. The critique is summarised in the two-minute animation Tell a New Story:

      1. Kevin Hattie says:

        I’m not assuming that, no. I only mentioned science because that was the thing discussed in the thing I was reading.

        I should have made that clearer. Apologies.

  10. Go Vegan Scotland says:

    We would like to sign in support of this letter.

    Go Vegan Scotland

    Thank you

  11. Barbara Bolton says:

    Please could you add my signature in support, thank you.

  12. Dr John O'Dowd says:

    Any one with only half a brain who has any knowledge of what is actually happening to this finite planet (and of which the present pandemic is a telling manifestation), knows that this (de-growth) is the ONLY hope if humankind is to have any kind of half-tolerable future, and the biosphere much chance of maintaining a survivable diversity.

    My problem is that Macwhirter’s is symptomatic of the prevailing thinking driven by the propaganda of ruling elites who control the levers of power, and whom I fear will drive the lot of us to oblivion in a generation or two – if not before then.

    The general population is either brainwashed or totally and blissfully oblivious to what our mad growth model is doing to the life-support systems of this fragile planet.

    I fear the worse.

    1. Dr John O'Dowd says:

      Any one with only half a brain who has any knowledge of what is actually happening to this finite planet (and of which the present pandemic is a telling manifestation), knows that this (de-growth) is the ONLY hope if humankind is to have any kind of half-tolerable future, and the biosphere much chance of maintaining a survivable diversity.

      My problem is that Macwhirter’s is symptomatic of the prevailing thinking driven by the propaganda of ruling elites who control the levers of power, and who I fear will drive the lot of us to oblivion in a generation or two – if not before then.

      The general population is either brainwashed or totally and blissfully oblivious to what our mad growth model is doing to the life-support systems of this fragile planet.

      I fear the worst.

      (most obvious typos and ungrammar corrected)

  13. Greum Maol Stevenson says:

    I would like to sign.

  14. Brian Gibb says:

    I’ll sign <3

  15. Ann Morgan says:

    See Scote3 WordPress-we are a group of trade unionists and other environmental groups and individuals organising around the pamphlet ‘Climate jobs’ written back in 2014 in can be updated.The preferred term to green jobs is climate jobs-job creation and diversification from fossil and the arms trade.Many civil engineering skills are very transferable to renewable jobs.Regenerative farming.Urban design.Following Naomi Klein’s Leap Manifesto we could bring all caring and teaching jobs under the banner-caring for people and Planet and transform care work and teaching to include community gardening,horticulture,permaculture.
    Let’s bring these ideas to COP if it’s happening in Glasgow.
    Three favourite concepts.War on Want calling for massive recycling ‘hubs’ for anthropogenic waste-buildings brick,stone,cladding, copper etc etc.Vehicle chassis.Oil rigs ( Pat Rafferty RMT suggestion) Landfill mining.Tech recycling-mobile phones ,computers for the precious metals etc.This would reduce extraction in the majority world.
    And Community Laundrettes with indoor/outdoor drying areas. When a washing machine breaks down it’s a huge outlay for low income families-probably not always recycled-parts must go to landfill. Make the launderettes meeting places. High rise flats can be vertical communities-swimming pools,roof gardens,greened on outside-see Best Social Housing In Europe-Vienna.
    The Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) call for a National Care Service under public ownership and accountability would be a good place to start a transformation of care. Campaign Against Climate Change ( Glasgow) call for transformation of transport with a view to free public transport also could place to start.

    1. Thanks for the comment Ann – really need to connect with you and my fellow members of the Enough Collective and the Degrowth Commission.

  16. Janet Fenton says:

    I was shocked to read Ian McWhirter’s depressingly hopeless and unrealistic article . What happened? It seems that he has lost the principle and capacity to keep up to speed that once meant that one could expect to gain insight or at least information from his words.
    (It was quite difficult to read it between the ads for cars , fast fashion, dodgy pensions, militarised violent computer games and private health supplies that fund the Herald, I prefer a tiny crowdfunded ad free news website funded by individuals that are committed to its ethos myself)
    The open letter is a useful and necessary rebuttal which allows those of us who are working for something better before its too late to comment collectively without distraction from serious work, or even preparing soup from the UK vegetables delivered by electric van from my organic box provider.
    I wish we could talk about the work that needs done in Scotland, rather than the mantra of jobs in the oil and gas industries as though they were the oxygen of the nation.
    One small group that has signed this open letter is Secure Scotland, which aims for a better conversation about what keeps us safe. That would include choosing bamboo processing over manufacturing autonomous weapons. I have also requested that my own name is added
    Secure Scotland (Starting a Better Conversation about what keeps Us Safe, find us on facebook, twitter and instagram)

  17. Gavin Taylor says:


  18. Jane Whitehead says:

    It all sounds good.

  19. Robert Tams says:

    You utter moron. Let me put this simply George monibot does not have a clue what he is talking about. HE HAS A DEGREE IN ZOOLOGY. His views on economics are not based on books written by people with degrees in economics but by people like him. He is like most SNP politicians a very middle class boy rebelling against his luck at not been born as he sees it “poor”. Pretending to care about those he would cross over the road to avoid he is the ultimate big mouthed wkr.

    His economic views are utter drivel – as in serious drivel. There is no foundation, logic rational or sense in any of it. It’s based on utter jealousy and hatred, frankly he is perfect for the SNP narrative.

    1. Axel P Kulit says:

      Ummm…. Monbiot lives in Oxford and is not an SNP politician.

  20. Paul Cumming says:

    If we allow ourselves to revert back to “business as usual” after the pandemic, we will have surely missed the greatest opportunity for change that we have seen for generations. The pandemic has shown us that change is possible. That we have the ability to change on a national and global level when faced with a common threat to our existence. In meeting this challenge together we have proved that we can unite as one in the pursuit of a common good. We can choose to continue to think of the many and not just the few. We cannot forget the key members of our society who kept us going when we needed them the most. If those who currently represent us are unwilling or unable to speak for all of us, then we will need new leaders who are able. We will need new leaders who are beyond the influence of industrial incentive. We will need new leaders who are courageous enough to stand up for ordinary people like you and me. If you look at our planet from space there are no black lines between countries indicating borders. We are all one. We can either live together – or we can die together. Say it aloud even just once… WE ARE ALL ONE. ❤️

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