Prosperity Without Growth | Tim Jackson

Summary of: Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet
By: Tim Jackson


In ‘Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet’, Tim Jackson challenges the idea that economic growth is the best way to measure prosperity, emphasizing the negative impacts it has on the environment and society. The book questions the role of consumerism, economic growth, and the notion of progress in our capitalist society. Jackson highlights the flawed measure of GDP in representing social well-being, urging readers to consider alternatives strategies for creating and measuring prosperity. He critiques the debt economy, decoupling of environmental impact and economic growth, as well as relative decoupling, revealing how they amplify environmental degradation. Ultimately, Jackson calls for a reevaluation of our collective approach to prosperity.

Rethinking Economic Growth

Our society measures prosperity by economic growth, which often leads to a debt economy. An increase in spending is encouraged to sustain this growth, resulting in high levels of national and consumer debt. The collapse of the economy in 2008 left society’s poorest struggling to pay back their debts. Governments also borrow massive amounts of money to fund spending, leading to unsustainable levels of national debt. It’s time to rethink our obsession with economic growth and look for alternative measures of prosperity that prioritize sustainability over debt.

Rethinking Economic Growth and the Environment

The book challenges the idea that economic growth can lead to prosperity, emphasizing the need to curtail its environmental impact. Using relative decoupling as a strategy to reduce the ecological footprint of growth, the author unpacks how developed countries have made significant progress while most less developed countries have failed in this regard. However, relative decoupling does not address overall resource use, which requires greater resource efficiencies to maintain stability. The book also highlights the distortion of emissions data as a result of outsourcing manufacturing industries to developing countries. Despite a drop in global energy and carbon intensities, CO2 emissions from fossil fuels have increased by 80 percent worldwide since 1970. The author underscores the importance of adopting alternative strategies that focus on wellbeing, social justice, and ecological sustainability.

The Unhealthy Pursuit of Growth

The pursuit of constant economic growth is fueled by our desire for the latest and greatest material goods. As consumers, we play a pivotal role in the production and distribution of new products and ideas. However, our attachment to material possessions causes us to become empty selves, continuously seeking new goods to give meaning to our lives. This need to keep up with others is a leading cause of the “iron cage of consumerism,” where we remain imprisoned in our pursuit of material novelty. Additionally, the need for growth and innovation leads to rising unemployment as companies introduce new technologies to cut production costs, leading to fewer jobs and decreased spending power for the unemployed. The pursuit of constant growth and material wealth comes at the cost of our own well-being and the stability of the economy.

Rethinking the GDP

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is not an accurate measure of prosperity, especially in advanced economies. While it may reflect social and psychological well-being in developing countries, it does not correspond with higher levels of health or happiness in developed nations. Pursuing economic growth also leads to stress and mental health issues. To measure prosperity, we need to consider factors that improve our well-being, such as physical and mental health, education, democracy, and a sense of community. But we also have to recognize the limits of our potential to flourish within our planet’s finite resources and the sustainability of our environment.

Breaking Free From Consumerism

The societal pressure to acquire more stuff has led to a consumer trap that is difficult to escape. Attempts to encourage sustainable living have been hindered by contradictory messages from leaders. Status competition among individuals has created economic and social inequality, resulting in a damaging effect on society. The wage structure rewards economic success rather than contribution towards the social good. The outcome is a persistent and widespread problem – inequality.

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