Dr. Peter Victor – Managing Without Growth

The following is one post in a series: “Reporting Back: Green Party of Canada Policy Conference, Halifax

Dr. Peter Victor from the University of York York University went next, with a presentation called “Managing Without Growth.” Building on what Colman had said, Victor observed that economic growth has become “the over-arching policy objective” (as in, the ultimate objective of most government policies, towards which their effectiveness is measured) of countries around the world.

This development is extremely new, having only emerged about fifty years go. Go back only a little further on a evolutionary timeline — say, four hundred years, and we didn’t even have the modern notion of “progress.”

Victor demonstrated three main realities:

  1. Whether you like it or not, growth is not possible in the long term.
  2. Growth does not bring happiness. While real income has increased in the US since 1945, the percentage of people who describe themselves as “very happy” has decreased. While early levels of income increase do contribute to happiness, the effect drops off after a point. The results are matched around the world.
  3. Growth is not particularly effective at eliminating poverty, creating full employment, or safe-guarding the environment. Since 1976, as both the GDP and greenhouse gas emissions have gone up consistently, levels of unemployment and poverty have bounced around.

(During the question and answer period following his presentation, we discovered that point number one really needs to be hammered home with some economists. They’ve been taught that growth is not only good, but critical. Victor kept repeating something to the effect of, “ok, fine, but you can’t have growth for ever, so even if you’re right about how great it is that’s irrelevant.”)

Much of Victor’s presentation was actually very technical, but also possible for a lay person like me to understand. He’s created an economic model called LOWGROW, where he can plug in different variables (income tax, carbon tax, etc.) and see what happens to the economy (GDP, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, unemployment, etc) over a timeline. It’s sort of like a simulation video game, where the goal is to lower GHGs as much as possible, while also raising levels of employment and holding the GDP steady.

The fun thing (well, fun for nerds like me at least) is that you can play with the model yourself if you want. It’s available for download here.

It’s important to note that Victor is not advocating for a zero or low growth policy exactly. He’s simply trying to demonstrate that you can have a healthy economy and environment without growth. That’s important, because concern about maintaining economic growth is often a barrier for people who would otherwise be sympathetic to green policies.

Elizabeth May often points out that humans stop growing once we enter adulthood. That doesn’t mean we don’t continue to “develop” in a qualitative sense.

10 thoughts on “Dr. Peter Victor – Managing Without Growth

  1. I am a socialist totally in accord with Dr. Victor, and therefore utterly hostile to the New Democratic Party and most on the left. I would like Dr. Victor to read my last paper, “Economic Growth Fails to Eliminate Child Poverty” and critique it. Please forward my email to him. On day perhaps the Green Party will wake up to the need for a Steady State economy too and grasp its full implications.

  2. Economic growth is a foolish pursuit.
    Economic growth means more human activity resulting from population growth and growth in consumption per capita as measured by GDP.
    This increase in human activity resulting from more people consuming more resources yields a proportionate increase in environmental degradation.
    If the Green Party wants to be taken seriously as an environmental party, it must adamantly oppose economic growth. To do this, the Green Party must favour negative net migration to Canada, incentives for Canadians to not have children and an end to free trade (mass natural resource exportation).

    To date, the Green Party is yet to criticize other parties for their policy of bringing 265,000 immigrants to Canada each year. In fact, Elizabeth May supports mass immigration to Canada and says that overpopulation is only a global problem. She is wrong. Overpopulation is a local, national, and global problem. (See my blog for an article on this topic) Mass immigration is the largest source of environmental damage in Canada. It is also negative for the world as we move people from low footprint lifestyles to a high footprint lifestyles.

    Immigration is the global enabler of overpopulation as humans seek to find new places to expand.

    Immigration is the friend of big business. The Royal Bank has been lobbying hard to get the Canadian government to increase the immigration quota so that they can grow their business with more clients taking mortgages on new home construction.

    If Canada doesn’t start reducing its population to a sustainable level and stop liquidating its natural resources, the younger generation will be left without the quality of life that we had as more of Canada’s native species will be pushed into extinction.

    Here is my blog: http://ecologicalcrash.blogspot.com

    Brishen Hoff

  3. The old parties are working under an old paradigm — one that is rapidly destroying this planet.

    Ronald Wright’s “A Short History of Progress” should be required reading for any politician. Wright points out that a string of successes can eventually lead a civilization into a “progress trap” where they become victims of their own success. In our own time, resource depletion, efficient fishing methods which decimate ocean stocks, loss of arable land to desertification and salination, and a host of other indicators say that we are following the path of many past civilizations.

    So, “concern about maintaining economic growth” is just one of the factors enabling the addictive behaviours that are destroying this planet and many of the species on it. The long term cost of continuing this addiction will make any short term hardship pale in comparison.

    Are we truly an intelligent species, capable of dealing with this problem, or are we still just animals, with a pathological fascination with shiny objects? Time will tell, but the fact that we spend time downloading ring tones and playing video games while the planet falls apart around us is a hint.

  4. Hurrah for Peter Victor! It’s past time that folks in the world of academia finally saying the blatantly obvious, as have a growing number of otherwise disparate groups around the country side, in Canada, US and elsewhere.

    In ’04 I gave a paper called, “The Growth Syndrome”, at a conference in Toronto (http://www.safewatergroup.org/Big Picture/Big_picture_LISTING.htm)

    Dec. 8 Toronto Star has an article about a new book by Peter Victor called, “Managing Without Growth: Slower by Design not Disaster”.

    Don Chisholm
    Picton Ontario

  5. I went to the site mentioned as having the download of the economic format which is being descriped by Dr. Victor but it is an in-house York University URL and not accessible to those outside York University.

    Is there any other access? I’m involved with a Left-ecocentric group which is very interested in ways of communicating with those who have trouble understanding the possibility that life could actually go on if we humans stopped our profligate self and Nature-destructiveness. We could use this information in our work.

  6. Your might want to make a change to your lead-off sentence about Peter Victor to lend more credibility to what you say. He is from York University, not the University of York, a significant inexactitude which puts him in the wrong country, on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean.

  7. Dr. Victor seems to blame government policy for the growth imperative. Government is at the mercy of a monetary system in which 95% of the money supply is created by the acts of banks lending. The elemental scenario is a bank agent and a borrower. When the banker says, “There, I have just put $100,000 in your account,” At that moment, $100,000 in new money (not cash, but credit money) has just popped into existence. It’s true.
    Now for the relevant point. Banks create money in loans, but they do not create the interest which also has to be paid back.

    Where does the rent/interest money come from? Growth. New wealth has continurally to be created: another row of houses built, another ton of ore mined and smelted. That’s what creates the growth imperative, not the human greed of the industrialists. They are just on the debt treadmill, like all of us.

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