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Friday, 7 December 2012

Some thoughts on the violent protests around the decision to fly the union flag on designated days and responses to some of the reactions in the media and social networking sites.

Firstly, I 100% support the right to peaceful protest or other democratic ways of making one's oppisiton felt to a political decision, but completely condemn the attacks on Alliance party offices, homes of councillors and now death threats against Alliance and Sinn Fein elected politicians.

To those who say: 'well, what did they expect' need think about the following:

1) the decision to fly the union flag over city hall on designated days was a democratic decision, some may not agree with it, but nonetheless it was a democratic decision taken by those empowered to do so.  Therefore to violently protest against democratic decision is an anti-democratic act and a threat to democracy.  It sends out the message that it does not matter if a decision with which you disagree with has been made democratically, you reserve the right to violently protest and therefore threaten democracy.  The message of such implied threats is to prevent and bully decision-makers into making decisions that the bullies want.

Every week on North Down Council decisions are made by the majority on council with which I disagree, sometimes very strongly disagree.  That's democracy - or at least majoritiarian democracy in action. If those who object to the decision by Belfast City Council want to reverse that democratically made decision, well rather than bully and threaten the Alliance party, they should work towards making sure that at the next local council elections there are more unionist councillors there to constitute a democratic majority to implement their wishes.  That's the democratic way.  

2) there is an implicit or explicit threat in the 'well what did they expect' line of argument.  Basically, it's the same argument used by criminals who say 'well, what did she expect, she was wearing a short skirt' or they left their wallet out.  That is, to blame the victim and accept no responsibility for their own actions and it is completely abhorrent that this line of argument should be used by anyone, least of all elected unionist politicians.  It explicitly communicates the view that what those councillors who took the decision should have done on Monday was thought, 'well there may/will be violence if we decide to fly the flag on designated days, so that's what we'll do, give in to the threat'...this way violence and the threat of violence wins, democracy loses.

Democracy is about having to live with decisions you don't agree with. Democracy is also about non-vioenelty disagreeing.  Real leadership at this time is about reinforcing both of those basic points.

There are also issues I have raised in relation to the connection between the flying of the union flag and identity or celebration of a particular culture.  As I put it in a press statement I put out this week (but which has not been taken up in the media)    

“A confident sense of identity should be based on the Good Friday Agreement which established that the union is secure and underpinned by the consent principle, and the international legal obligations of this are accepted by both the Irish and British governments. 

“I look forward to the day when as a society we can develop a more positive sense of identity based not simply on the flying of a flags, but for example on celebrating and defending the key principals  of democracy such as healthcare free at the point of delivery and defence of the most vulnerable society through fair welfare benefits.”

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Statement on Union flag and protests at Belfast City Hall

Statement I've just put out in relation to the Union flag issue and protests at Belfast City Hall

"Following the debate on flying the Union flag on designated days at Belfast City Hall and the associated scenes of violence which followed, the Green Party has labelled the incident as party politicking by both Sinn Fein and the DUP.

“This episode can hardly be described as supportive of good community relations,” Green Party Councillor Dr John Barry said.

“When this came up for debate in North Down Borough Council at the end of last month, I voted against this motion on the grounds that it is for Belfast City Council to determine how to proceed on this issue and not the business of North Down Council to dictate to them.

“But also because we can see that the big power block parties of Sinn Fein and the DUP are manipulating the situation to protect their own voting base.

“Therefore, they must take some responsibility for inciting bitterness and hatred which saw violence on our streets.

“I also think this is a piece of cynical political posturing by the DUP to win back the East Belfast Westminster seat having lost it at the last election.

“The Green Party’s view is we have more important issues to be discussed other than flags such as the economy, health and education.

“How has this debate improved the lives of anyone?

“In fact, this has been a major step backwards on the road to a shared future showing a clear lack of vision and political leadership.

“A confident sense of identity should be based on the Good Friday Agreement which established that the union is secure and underpinned by the consent principle, and the international legal obligations of this are accepted by both the Irish and British governments.

“I look forward to the day when as a society we can develop a more positive sense of identity based not simply on the flying of flags, but for example on celebrating and defending the key principals of democracy such as healthcare free at the point of delivery and defence of the most vulnerable society through fair welfare benefits.”

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

'Save Ulster from Ignominy': Support for Equal Marriage speaking notes

Below are the speaking notes I used in moving my Nortion of Motion for Equal Marriage on North Down Borough Council, Tuesday 13th November 2012

Thank you chair.

Mayor, aldermen, councillors, offices and members of the press and public.

It is my honour to put this Notice of Motion before you this evening, my first one as a councillor.

The subject of equal civil marriage for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) citizens is one that will raise concerns and strong debate in this chamber. But it is the right thing to do. And we as politicians must at times take tough decisions, to lead change as well as listen and follow.

I fully understand the some members will have strong, and strongly and sincerely held views opposing this motion, perhaps seeing it wrongly as an attack on the institution of marriage in society. However, this is not the intention behind this Notice of Motion. This Notice of Motion extends rights to Christians and should not be seen as pitting Christians or other faith communities against the rights of the LGBT community. The extension of marriage to those whose sexual identity currently is a barrier to their enjoyment of it, is one that will strengthen not diminish the institution of marriage.

No faith organisation who doesn’t wish to carry out marriages between same-sex couples will be forced to so. (However, those faith organisations – such non-subscribing Presbyterians, liberal Quakers and Jews, Buddhists and others – who wish to carry out these same sex ceremonies should be allowed to).

Equal marriage is recognised in 11 countries worldwide and indeed the current Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and former President of the Republic of Ireland have both recently come out in support of equal marriage.

This debate is not a question of the morality of same sex marriage, or making moral judgements about specific sexual identities, but about how the state arbitrates between the claims of all its citizens and to manage competing moral viewpoints in as equal and as fair a way as possible.

In a free and equal society no one section of society, not even a majority, can impose their particular interpretation of morality on all citizens. To do so would be unjust and unconstitutional. Crime is a matter for the law, sin a matter for religion, and the two cannot coincide within the sphere of politics and legislation.

This debate is about freedom, equality and the principle of the state as protector and guarantor of the rights for all citizens.

It is also important to note that this motion does not require any individual to change their own personal view of the morality or value of same sex marriage.

Equality in a society is not a finite resource that means when one element of the community gets equality it means less for others. Rather equality is like a muscle the more it is extended and used and stronger it becomes and the result is greater equality for all. Equality is not something to be feared, though I accept that for some the changes equal marriage will require will be However, it is not for the state to judge one form of sexual identity to be superior to another, and it violates the very notion of state impartiality in law for a majority sexual orientation or definition of marriage to be the legal norm to the exclusion of all other possible understandings of what marriage entails.

We all know LGBT citizens – though given the homophobia still marring our society it may be that we are not fully conscious of this – they are as loving, caring and as human as anyone else. That their sexual identity is different should not mean they are excluded from any of the rights and responsibilities that are accorded to others of a different though majority sexual orientation.

I would ask those who object to this motion from a Christian perspective to reflect upon the comments from Jurgen Moltman, a German Lutheran theologian, who said: “Christianity is about the Gospel and not about sex ...Christians believe in justification of human beings by faith alone, not by faith and heterosexuality”.

I'd like to share with you a quote from one of our Stormont politicians:

“We want to see respect given to our varied and colourful traditions. We want people to be able to express their culture with tolerance and respect, mindful of those who don’t share those values. And we want people who don’t share those values to show tolerance and respect to those who do. Help us build a new Northern Ireland. Not just for some, but for all.”
No, not an excerpt of a speech from Green Party leader, Steven Agnew, but from DUP leader Peter Robinson at his recent party conference.

First minister Robinson went on to state,

“We are the first generation of peacetime unionists for many decades. No longer under siege. Moving forward with confidence and able to reach out. Traditional unionism was never about prejudice, sectarianism, wrecking and division. That was never what Edward Carson (a fellow Dublin-man like myself by the way) stood for. His unionism was about sharing the freedoms, security and bounty of the Union to every citizen, regardless of a person’s religious belief. That’s the kind of society we want to build. I tell you now is the moment”.

To those here in the chamber from the Ulster Unionist Party, I would like to quote from Ulster Unionist MLA Basil McCrea’s speech to the Assembly where an equal marriage motion was proposed by Steven Agnew Green Party MLA. He noted,

“I want to live in an open, tolerant and pluralist society that celebrates diversity, accommodates difference and protects individuals who happen to be different… An important thing in a way forward and a shared future is to accept that we are all different, yet we depend on each other.”

And the sentiment both expresses here is one I would fully endorse and hope the members of those two parties here will follow the spirit of their desire to create a new Northern Ireland. We cannot have a new Northern Ireland where some citizens are unequally treated, where some institutions are the preserve of some and others excluded. So I would urge you all to support this Notice of Motion. And if, for reasons of conviction I fully understand, you cannot bring yourself to support the motion, I would ask that you abstain.

• By prohibiting same-sex marriage and denying its validity, we create a class of citizens who are unequal and of a lower status than the rest.

• By keeping same-sex couples out of marriage, the government is suggesting that one sexual identity is superior to another, the higher standard being that of heterosexual status, this is as problematic and wrong as suggesting unionist or nationalist political identity should be superior to the other.

• The government should neither condone nor condemn any form of sexuality because it creates two classes, insiders and outsiders, and thus furthers inequality between citizens. By prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying, we are essentially supporting the discrimination against a specific group of citizens in our society.

I would like to deal with two of the most common arguments against equal marriage. The first is that it threatens the traditional understanding of marriage as being the union of a man and woman. I think tradition is a very weak ground for any argument, since tradition has historically served to justify great injustices and inequalities from slavery to viewing women as not fit to have the vote. And as that great Irish politician and writer Edmund Burke wisely noted, “"A tradition without the means of change is without the means of its conservation.”

The second, and often linked, is the view that this traditional view of marriage is what the majority in society support. Firstly there is evidence that it is a vocal minority not the majority in society who holds the view. Secondly, rule by the majority, like rule by tradition, is a weak, and indeed a dangerous basis for defending a particular issue. If nothing, the history of Northern Ireland demonstrates the dangers of majority rule without adequate protection and inclusion of minority rights.

In concluding I would like to dedicate this to all those who have worked so hard in our borough and elsewhere to combat the daily neglect and oppression experienced by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, from groups such as the Rainbow Project, courageous Church leaders such as the Rev. Chris Hudson from All Soul’s Church, Canon Charles Kenny, retired from Belfast’s St Anne’s Cathedral, the Rev. Simon Henning, from Ballyblack Presbyterian Church near Newtownards, and organisations such as GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Across Down) and the trades union movement .

In particular I would dedicate this motion to two inspirational and brave citizens of our borough, Dr. Richard O’Leary and the Rev. Mervyn Kingston, who through their tireless efforts with the Church of Ireland group Changing Attitude Ireland have done so much to raise the issue of equality for the LGBT community within and beyond faith organisations.

In both bringing forward this Notion of Motion on Equal marriage, and hopefully it passing, North Down council will be sending out a strong and positive message to those members of the LGBT community within the council, our borough and beyond, that they are viewed and respected as fully equal citizens under the law, and therefore fully equal members of the community. What this Notice of Motion asks for is, to borrow a phrase, one small step for North Down but a giant step for the LGBT community in Northern Ireland and a great stride towards greater equality and the building of a truly shared society in Northern Ireland.

Let us in supporting this motion save Ulster from inequality, save Ulster from injustice, and save Ulster from ignominy.

I urge you all support his motion.

Thank you.”

Monday, 20 August 2012

Review of my book from Mary Mellor, forthcoming on Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

Review of my book from Mary Mellor, forthcoming on Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

John Barry The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability : Human Flourishing in a Climate-Changed, Carbon-Constrained World,  Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York. £55.00 ISBN 978-0-19-969539-3

While this is a profoundly academic text, carefully researched and argued, it is also a very readable, profoundly personal, book. It follows on from John Barry’s 1999 book Rethinking Green Politics in searching for a green political philosophy that can confront the ecological crisis of our age. He notes that the situation is now much worse than in 1999 with scientific evidence confirming the dangers that green thinkers and activists have been warning of for a long time. Barry provides a comprehensive analysis of green politics, philosophy and economics that makes a carefully argued case for ecological sustainability and social justice based on principles of an approach he identifies as ‘green republicanism’. In this, Barry seeks to reclaim republicanism for green thinking: a central theme of the book is to identify a green republicanism based on solidaristic principles as distinct from a civic republicanism that emphasises the primacy of individual self-interest.

The book opens with an analysis of actually existing unsustainability. The elements of this are an overcommodified, overindebted, overconsuming, growth oriented disembedded capitalist economy and its subservient polity, supported by academic economism. Neoclassical economics in particular is criticised from a Foucaldian perspective as a ‘regime of truth’. Against this Barry assembles a comprehensive spectrum of critical perspectives from Marx , the heterodox tradition and green economics with particular emphasis on ecofeminist political economy and its critique of the barrier between paid and unpaid work, and the separation of economy from society.

This is not a pessimistic book. Barry sees potential for challenge and change in the human condition of uncertainty and vulnerability. Contemporary capitalism has created vast wealth but also inequality and insecurity even among the more affluent. The starting point for social change is identified not only in human vulnerability but also in the resilience and creative ability of movements such as transition towns and the permaculture movement that seek to create ecologically sustainable communities together with the culture that can achieve that change. In contrast to the instrumental rationality, efficiency maximisation and profit orientated growth dynamic of modern economies, Barry celebrates ‘slack’ and ‘redundancy’. This leaves space for noncommodified areas of human life and wider nature to flourish. Happiness (in the Aristotelian sense) is the aim, with the evidence of unhappiness and discontent in the world of actually existing unsustainability indicating that there will be popular support for new ways of thinking and living.

The bulk of the book is concerned with the economics and politics of achieving a sustainable society that would enable human flourishing. Barry wants the boundaries of the economy to crumble and integrate with a wider concept of a ‘social economy’ that embraces paid and unpaid work. The existing economy needs to be disrupted , slowed down and reconceptualised. Key to this would be the creation of a citizen or basic income. The question then becomes how this would be ‘financed’. There are only two ways this can be done, through taxation of the existing monetary system (which is largely based on bank created money as debt, identified by Barry as a major source of unsustainable growth) or a socialisation of the monetary system though the direct issue of money by the green republican polity itself. The logic of Barry’s argument is that it should be the latter.

Barry summarises his vision of a green, sustainable and resilient order as: awareness of, and attentiveness to, the multiple dimensions of vulnerability as a permanent feature of the human and political condition; the role of the state as removing obstacles to human flourishing, in particular inequality; re-constituting the economy to embrace reproductive and social economic labour; re-orienting the economy away from growth and enhancing community, cultural and psychological resilience, thus creating ‘coping mechanisms’ in a carbon-constrained and climate-changed world.

Barry denies that green politics is just a middle path between reformism and revolution. He sees it as a clear alternative that is ‘critical of …state-centric politics and market fundamentalism’, instead, ‘championing community against both the state and the market’ (p.283). This demands a cultural change where people shift their identity from allegiance to the market or state to an emergent solidarity of community expressed through civic responsibility and direct democracy. Barry’s republicanism stresses responsibilities as well as rights and calls for a ‘civic sustainability service’ that would be undertaken by all citizens.

For Barry, it is the vulnerability and uncertainty of human existence that will trigger this process and become the basis of transformation. He sees all human communities as timebound and contingent. He argues that solidaristic green politics will prevail because they will more demonstrably find a path to human flourishing in the face of ecological crisis than self-interested individualism. Barry sees the politics of sustainability as pluralist, agonistic (rather than antagonistic) and creative. He draws on the ideas of Vaclav Havel to contrast the civic liberalism of personal survival to a polity where ‘proud and responsible members of the polis…(make) … a genuine contribution to the creation of its destiny’ (p. 288). He sees Havel’s writings as resonant with green ideals of human conviviality, quality of life and well-being. This does not mean a self-denying ascetism but a sustainable materialism of consumption rather than consumerism.

As with much green thinking around community, the spatial level at which this will occur is a critical question. Is localism essential? Could there be a green republican nation state? Or a green republican region such as the eurozone? Basically is the possibility of a green republican community determined by size, some form of pre-existing communal identity or by its political/economic structures? Do solidaristic egalitarian communities emerge or do they have to be created? Will communities necessarily muddle their way through to a caring, sharing, sustainability rather than some sort of atavistic authoritarianism? In his final paragraphs Barry does acknowledge that the ‘hard green’ perspective has been shadowing his analysis with its prediction of a de-civilising ecological collapse. Barry’s hope is that an active green republicanism will anticipate and avert such an event in the face of ecological collapse. This, he argues does not represent a ‘naïve utopianism’ but a ‘basic conviction that another world is possible, necessary and desirable’ (p.290). Let us hope that such optimism will prove to be justified.

About the reviewer

Mary Mellor is Emeritus Professor in Social Science at Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne. Her most recent book is ‘The Future of Money: From Financial Crisis to Public Resource Pluto 2012 ( She has published extensively on ecofeminist political economy, alternative economics and the social economy.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Review of Tim Jackson's Prosperity without Growth 

With perhaps the exception of Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009), Tim Jackson’s Prosperity without Growth (Jackson, 2009a) has, in my view, been the single most successful and influential social science book to come out of the UK in recent years. It has and continues to be, by whatever standard one uses – academic/scholarly; media impact and coverage (including internal/social media platforms); policy debate; political debate including civil society activism – a phenomenal success. While of course the credit should go to Professor Jackson, given that scholarly work is rarely (if ever) an individual endeavour), it is entirely appropriate that the RESOLVE group and the (now sadly defunct) Sustainable Development Commission, the two main institutional incubators within which the report and subsequent book were developed, together with the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in funding RESOLVE ought to share and be acknowledged as so sharing the book’s phenomenal success. While some of the success (like so many things in life) can be put down to timing – both the Sustainable Development Commission report upon which the book is based (Jackson, 2009b), and the book itself were published in the early stages of the current global economic crisis to which this book offers a compelling analysis of and proposes innovative solutions to - it is ultimately the methodological rigour, the integration of scientific, political and economic analyses of the ecological crisis, and the synthesising of a wide range of bodies of knowledge which together produce a compelling evidence-based and highly original piece of work which accounts for the book’s stellar success in terms of reaching audiences way beyond the academic and policy communities.

Some of the issues the book focuses on, such as presenting a robust case for developing alternative indicators of social progress to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), also chimed with other academic/political developments such as the report on the same subject co-authored by Nobel prize winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen (together with Jean-Paul Fotoussi), commissioned and championed by the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy (Stiglitz, Sen and Fitoussi, 2009); the growing interest in public, media and political circles in the UK in ‘happiness’ and ‘well-being’ (Layard, 2011; Office for National Statistics, 2011); and finally the emergence and rapid spread of the Transition movement (Hopkins, 2008) throughout the UK (and elsewhere), which shared much of Jackson’s analysis and also provided a ‘realworld’ example of some of the necessary social and cultural innovation (Scott-Cato and Hillier, 2010) and new experiments in less unsustainable and high flourishing ways of living . The publisher, Earthscan (since taken over by Routledge/Taylor and Francis), has also to be congratulated for promoting the book and the author so assiduously, the provision of a dedicated blog, video links etc on the book’s (then) Earthscan website. A yardstick of the book’s widespread success and reach is that when one enters Prosperity without Growth into the Google search engine it returns over 2 million hits. Professor Jackson himself has appeared in countless media and public events (alongside the usual academic fora of workshops, symposia and conferences). Notable, in terms of the impact and influence, is just one of his public presentations, namely his July 2010 TED lecture which has had half a million views (TED, 2010). In many respects, Prosperity without Growth, judged purely in terms of public impact (now an important element of the Research Excellence Framework of course), stands as a textbook/classical example of a piece of social science scholarly work of how to do it, and one from which other social scientists and their work could learn much. It is impossible in the time and space I have available to me to do justice to the richness and innovation the book contains, nor its compelling synthesising of different arguments, evidence-bases and disciplines in its call for a different type of economic thinking as the grounding for any transition to a sustainable economy. The book is a well-grounded, robust, challenging, and above all provocative and methodologically solid critique of the dominant neo-classical economic model in general and the centrality of orthodox, undifferentiated economic growth to this model, and associated public policy related to it, in particular. Below I limit myself to some of the highlights of the book in my judgement and mostly focused on those areas of overlap between my own research interests and Prosperity without Growth.

 Apart from the substantive issues the book raises about the transition to a more sustainable, resource and energy efficient economy, that it is explicitly interdisciplinary in methodological scope is to be warmly welcomed, and is one of the many highlights of the book for me. The book integrates, inter alia, philosophical, psychological and sociological analyses of what constitutes the ‘good life’ and ‘human flourishing’ (pp.143-156), interrogates neo-classical economics using ecological economics and ecological science (pp.103-142), examines the political institutional and governance structures and associated notions of citizenship required for the transition to a sustainable economy (171-186), as well as providing some practical policy proposals (for implementing the bold vision of what Jackson terms ‘a lasting prosperity’ (pp.187-204). An important and foundational aspect of Jackson’s work as a whole over the past 2 decades or so, and as condensed and summarized in Prosperity without Growth, is the rather basic, but so important point that, ‘modern economies are driven towards economic growth . . . in a growth-based economy, growth is functional for stability. The capitalist model has no easy route to a steady-state position. Its natural dynamics push it towards one of two states: expansion or collapse’ (2009: 64; emphasis added). It is like a bicycle, it either goes forward or it falls over. Lacking negative feedback mechanisms it is functionally and structurally unable to cope with or adapt to living within environmental and resource limits. Linking this to the current global economic crisis (‘the age of irresponsibility’), Jackson notes, ‘the “age of irresponsibility” is not about casual oversight or individual greed. The economic crisis is not a consequence of isolated malpractice in selected parts of the banking sector. If there has been irresponsibility, it has been much more systemic, sanctioned from the top, and with one clear aim in mind: the continuation and protection of economic growth’ (Jackson, 2009a: 26; emphasis added). Jackson begins his analysis by rightly in my view, highlighting the mythic, quasi-transcendental, naturalised ‘truth’ of the dominant economic mindset. As he puts it, ‘Every society clings to a myth by which it lives. Ours is the myth of economic growth’ (Jackson, 2009: 5). Evidence of both its mythic and hegemonic status is that to question ‘economic growth’ is to question the most fundamental, ‘conventional’, and therefore ‘commonsensical’ and ‘natural’ features of the dominant neo-classical economic and neo-liberal world view. As Jackson points out, ‘questioning growth is deemed to be the act of lunatics, idealists, and revolutionaries’ (Jackson, 2009: 14).

Alongside ‘economic growth’, there is a related (and equally dangerous myth), namely that of the techo-optimist fantasy of ‘decoupling’ economic growth, consumption and output from resource, energy and pollution constraints. As he bluntly notes, ‘assumptions that capitalism’s propensity for efficiency will allow us to stabilize the climate and protect against resource scarcity are nothing short of delusional’ (2009: 7). And in so boldly questioning economic growth to describing Jackson’s book as innovative and methodologically robust etc., in so explicitly going against the economic, social science, public policy and cultural mainstream and dominant narrative/worldview, we can add courageous. And in so doing Jackson’s book represents all that is good in publicly-funded university-based research initiatives such as RESOLVE (as well as publicly-funded ‘critical friends’ of government such as the Sustainable Development Commission) as exemplars of academic freedom and the necessity for heterodox perspectives to sustain innovation, learning and creative approaches to the huge ecological and economic challenges currently facing us. Jackson’s book in short challenges the ‘group think’ around neo-classical economics and neoliberal economic policies that are the root causes of our current global economic recession. Jackson, like others since, has revealed the conventional economic orthodoxy as an ‘emperor without clothes’ (Barry, 2012: 117-148). Jackson’s book demolishes the fiction of the self-evidence ‘truths’ of conventional economics, including the ‘efficient market hypothesis’, ‘dynamic stochastic general equilibrium’, ‘trickle down economics’ and ‘privatisation’, and above all the fiction of ‘the market’ as a self-regulating mechanism equipped with a built-in, immanent ability to correct itself. Jackson’s examination of the cultural and mythic features of the orthodox economic model throws up troubling questions about the neo-liberal policy of giving ‘the market’ what ‘it’ wants, such as deregulation, reducing social protections, scaling back the welfare state, encouraging debt-based consumption and so on, as the only way to ensure prosperity qua orthodox economic growth for all. Although not put like this, Jackson’s book, conclusively in my view, demonstrates that orthodox, undifferentiated economic growth is the one true policy of neo-liberalism.

 Jackson’s work on developing a macro-economics of sustainability, has informed my own work in my efforts to develop an account of ‘green political economy’ focused on similar themes to Jackson’s book, recently published as The Politics of Actually Existing Unsustainability (Barry, 2012). Like others scholars in which could be viewed as the small (but growing) ‘green economics’ school in the UK and beyond, such as Scott-Cato (2008, 2011), Boyle and Simms (2011), I, along with these other scholars, have extensively used Jackson’s book to articulate what can be called (depending on taste) a ‘post-growth’/degrowth/non-growth political agenda and the creation of new forms of economic and policy thinking and imagination in which the focus of the economy shifts from orthodox, undifferentiated ‘economic growth’ (as conventionally measured by GDP/GNP increases year on year) to (in my case) ‘economic security’. Jackson’s work, here linking also to that of Wilkinson and Pickett’s work on equality, has helped re-establish the evidence-base for a long (and long-forgotten) green/sustainability argument for a ‘steady state economy’, thus placing him in a line of heterodox and pioneering thinkers from John Stuart Mill in the 19th to Herman Daly in the late 20th century. Thus, Jackson’s book revisits some older thinking and arguments critical of the idea of endless economic growth as a permanent feature of the economy, as opposed to be a phase of socio-economic development (Barry, 2012: 178-79; Wilkinson and Pickett, 2009), synthetises them while ‘updating’ them by bringing them into contact with the most recent ecological scientific thinking (on resource and pollution limits and constraints), ecological economics and the psychological and cultural dimensions and components of human well-being in the 21st century.

 Of particular note is Jackson’s insistence on the importance of what may be called building in ‘redundancy’ or ‘slack’ into the relationship or metabolism between the human economy and its ecological basis. While developed in more detail by other authors, Jackson’s book recognises the significance of creating resilience in both the economy and human communities. A good example of what this in-built ‘slack’ might entail is Jackson’s discussion of the macroeconomics of investment within a sustainable economy. He points out that ‘Investments in ecosystem maintenance contribute to aggregate demand, but make no direct contribution to aggregate supply—at least under the assumptions of a conventional production function. They may be vital in protecting ecosystem integrity. And this, in its turn, is vital for sustaining production at all over the long term. But in the short-term, they appear to ‘soak up’ income without increasing economic output’ (Jackson, 2009a: 140; emphasis added). As he puts it later in the book in reference to such investments, ‘In conventional terms they are likely to be “less productive”’ (ibid. 176), yet can contribute considerably to quality of life, as well as obviously protecting the basic ecological systems for human and non-human life. It is this ‘soaking up’ that we might also term the necessary in-built redundancy required for any economy moving from being unsustainable to being less so, to fulfill the demands of adaptive management and become more resilient (Rockström et al, 2009; Barry, 2012: 78-116). What Jackson’s analysis points to is the need to reverse an all too common reality within capitalist economies, namely ‘jobless growth’ and to rather focus on providing policies which can deliver a ‘work-rich’ (which is not to be confused with formally paid employment) post-growth economic strategy. This is of course a challenging and provocative proposal, but one that has the weight of evidence and argument to back it up. While much of the book is taken up with familiar arguments and the evidence for ecological, resource, energy and pollution (especially CO2) ‘limits;’ or ‘thresholds’ for continual economic growth and consumption of material goods and services, Jackson’s book also highlights an often under analysed dimension of modern consumerism, namely its connection to personal debt. So, alongside the problems of consumerism, we also have the problems of debt-based consumerism. Being in debt and the encouragement of debt, should be a cause for concern. Debt brings with it the danger of domination and lack of self-mastery, i.e. getting into debt entails being at the will of another—the person, organization, or institution to whom the debt is owed and this can and does restrict one’s freedom (Barry, 2012: 256-7).

 A related problem in Jackson’s book (though perhaps implicit rather than explicit) is the lack of self-mastery and disregard for limits and restraint that a debt-based consumerism creates, and how an ethos of reckless license attendant upon such unearned credit, can and does lead to over-consumption. Debt is problematic since in short, it shackles, enslaves, constrains, and disciplines, narrowing the sphere of agency available to the debtor—whether that be an individual consumer or a highly indebted nation (Mellor, 2010). Debt, especially in economically difficult times (when people cannot pay back the debt), is a form of risk-taking and therefore creates and exacerbates vulnerability. The dangers of debt-based consumption is aptly captured by Jackson, who argues that, ‘People are encouraged into debt by a complex mix of factors, including their own desire for social status and the incentives put in place to boost high-street sales. . . . The important point here is that when this strategy becomes unstable it places large sections of the population at risk of lasting financial hardship. Inevitably, that risk falls mainly on those who are most vulnerable already....Far from delivering prosperity, the culture of “borrow and spend” ends up detracting from it’ (Jackson, 2009: 26). Jackson’s work provides some optimism of the potential of more participatory community-based approaches to changing patterns of over-consumption, and also to the promotion of alternative accounts of human flourishing. In a previous work, Jackson suggested that: ‘The role of community in mediating and moderating individual behaviours is also clear. There are some strong suggestions that participatory community-based processes could offer effective avenues for exploring pro-environmental and pro-social behavioural change. What is missing from this evidence base, at present, is unequivocal proof that community-based initiatives can achieve the level of behavioural change necessary to meet environmental and social objectives’ (Jackson, 2005: 133; emphasis added).

 In Prosperity without Growth (Jackson, 2009a), he has clearly found this evidence, since in it he identifies a leading role for the social economy with local and community-based enterprises as important loci for sustainable consumption and therefore an important basis for the transition to a less unsustainable economy. This suggests a ‘happy marriage’ between less unsustainable economic activity and the social economy. The emergence of grassroots initiatives such as the Transition movement do offer excellent case studies for testing this point, namely whether such community-based innovations do lead to sufficient behavioural change to move those communities away from unsustainability even as they increase human well-being (Hillier and Cato, 2010). It is significant to note that many aspects of the Transition movement ethos (Hopkins, , echoing long- standing green principles and ideas, namely, relocalization, rebuilding com- munity, grassroots practical action, ‘reskilling’ people, and so on, converge with the list Jackson provides above. However, it is clear that a central element of the creation of a new account of economics for sustainability—and one that to date does not figure greatly in Jackson’s analysis—is the pressing need to avoid confusing formally paid employment and work. This is as important as not confusing quality of life or human flourishing with economic growth, or ‘the economy’ with ‘capitalism’. Concluding comments Tim Jackson’s book has done much to publicize long articulated green economic ideas (especially in relation to questioning conventional ‘economic growth’), at a time when such ideas are needed more than ever in our public debate about and responses to the current global economic recession. Jackson’s work and the associated research output of the RESOLVE group has done much to provide the intellectual and economic and policy roadmap and evidence base needed to move high consumption and carbon and resource intensive societies beyond the structural imperative of more is better, economic growth. While still a minority position in terms of political or public support, Jackson’s book represents a important intervention and hopefully turning or tipping point in shifting these societies towards making the achievement of a low carbon, resource efficient, less unequal and high human flourishing economy and society their imperative for the coming decades. In persuasively suggesting the need for greater methodologically-grounded interdisciplinary working between natural and social science, and in the process helping to provide answers to the question of what would an economy look like designed with knowledge and appreciate of the basic biophysical laws and realities of life on earth (to overcome what Jackson rightly terms of the ‘ecological illiteracy’ of conventional economics (Jackson, 2009a: 123)), Prosperity without Growth sets out both a research and political/policy agenda that others (including myself) will follow.

 The book can be described as ‘path breaking’ or perhaps ‘path rediscovering’ in the sense of reviving older debates about ‘limits to growth’, what constitutes human flourishing, the role of values and ethics in public life, including ‘economics’ etc. which had become maginalised or conveniently forgotten. In the context of the worrying and continuing failure to reach ‘a safe operating space for humanity’ (Rockström et al, 2009), whether judged in terms of reducing carbon emissions and associated global warming to a 2 degree increase or the preservation of biodiversity globally, as well as the mounting evidence of the lack of correlation between endless consumption and growth and human flourishing beyond a threshold, if humanity (and the minority rich societies in particular) does manage to navigate towards a less ecocidal and unsustainable development trajectory, it will be due in no small measure to Jackson’s book.


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