- The circular economy is not fully circular
- The future of care: A grey future?
- Getting to well-being in a no-growth society
- I have seen the future – and it’s clusters
- Bureaucracy will prevail, but we could change the way it works
- How we see the future depends on our vested interests
- THE GUIDE TO SURPLUS ENERGY ECONOMICS
- Good Idea, Bad Idea: The Merits of Renewables, the Folly of Electric Vehicles
- No matter where you live
- Left or right, up or down?
This is an attempt to devise a way of finding our way through the connectedness of how things are – that is if you want to do this. Most people don’t want to because they are perfectly content with where they are.
A good reason for wanting to find out about the connections is to enable better decisions to be taken about personal or institutional development. Things like buying a house, dealing with old age or developing incapacity, planning housing development, building or improving transport infrastructure (roads, railways, telecommunications), even thinking about possibilities for the future of a local authority or a country. Any kind of development where you want to fathom out the potential consequences of different actions.
This blog is not structured in the usual top-down way, with categories and tags. My current idea is to think in terms of topics. Each post will have one or more topics attributed to it. If you click on the title of the post you will then see, at the bottom, that you can receive future posts on these topics by signing up at the bottom.
The underlying aim is to explore the future, from the bottom up.
This adds something to my piece on clusters, which I see as an ingredient of how things will be in a future in which there is no growth in prosperity.
Having suggested clusters as the way forward, it is a different matter to say how things would then turn out. Such prognostications must be seen as no better than science fiction.
We are all used to growth. We are used to the notion that, when there is growth, the amount of money circulating within an area gives an indication of the prosperity of people within that area.
But what will happen when there is no growth? What does no-growth mean? When prosperity is not growing will people see consumerism as less important than how they feel about how things are? Will wellness or well-being become all-important, rather than how much disposable income people have?
Although there will be no national growth there will still be areas of growth. Elsewhere there will be no-growth or decline.
People will move from areas in decline to those seen to be better. This is nothing new – it was always so. In my own experience, for example, in the 1960s there was an area of mid Wales where there was no growth. People had moved out, when the slate quarries closed, leaving cottages behind which became derelict and for sale for around £100 (at that time new-build estate houses in better-off areas sold for around £5,000).
After a while, with increasing disposable income (funded by debt) these areas became clusters of second homes and holiday lets. This increased the money in circulation locally and the well-being of established residents improved. Now the area looks to be declining, albeit propped up for the time being by tourism and EC funding.
Getting more money circulating in an area which is seen to be “dying” is important if the aim is to reverse the process of decline. For this to happen, conventional thinking on what is good for a locality must be turned on its head. Attracting capital and revenue spending into the area become important. Allowing outsiders to have houses built, for second homes or letting, will help to improve the well-being of an area. But this may not be enough.
Spending on local public services is now reducing and local consumer spending is expected to reduce. This must be made up by a change of local mindsets, from money to perceptions to do with human energy and happiness. Energy spent growing and processing food and making things. Energy used for bartering, for giving away (freecycling) and for familial sharing. Getting resources of all kinds circulating locally, not just money, will lead to perceptions of better well-being.
For any of this to happen, top-down development control must be changed fundamentally to enable local resource circulation to develop, as suggested in my piece on clusters.
From the grassroots, subjective perceptions of well-being will then replace objective measures of prosperity. How this will play out in reality must be a matter of science fictional speculation.
Note: Those who have a top-down mindset may find it difficult to see that top-down concepts, such as classical economics, have no place in the world seen from the bottom up. The word “economic” is used from the bottom up to describe the financial efficiency of pursuing a particularly line of action. Thus “it can be more economical to join with other like-minded people to do something.” I have deliberately avoided the use of this word, hence my use of the phrase “well-being”. Which I sense is consistent with current thinking by economist Kate Raworth on doughnut economics. She suggests that “we need an economy that makes us thrive, whether or not it grows”.
During the past 50 years or so, growth has been part of my mindset. I thought my prospects were good when the GNP was predicted to increase. Not so now, maybe?
In the past it was assumed that growth would underlie our thinking about the future. Even in the aftermath of the Second World War, when the UK was heavily in debt, growth was assumed to be on the horizon.
But what kind of growth? From the top down the talk was of growth of the national economy, the GNP. It was generally assumed that our prosperity would increase along with GNP. For some years it seemed to, but now we are not so sure.
People who understand how things really are, such as Tim Morgan, have pointed out that “the long years of growing prosperity are over”. I believe this to be so.
It is time to think about contingency planning for a different kind of future, in which – although the GNP may be positive – there will be a decline in prosperity, because income growth will not keep up with inflation.
Most people – politicians, bureaucrats, business people and Uncle Tom Cobley and all – are committed to achieving growth in their organisations and their lives. It is an invincible part of our mindsets. It would be considered perverse to think, or rather say, otherwise.
For the first thirty years of my life there was no growth in prosperity, as a result of the war and its aftermath. I don’t remember how I saw the future during the war because I was too young to understand what the endless hum of war-planes, the barrage balloons and the air-raid sirens meant. Silver paper from the sky was a pleasurable mystery. Recycling was part of childhood then. Clothes and toys were passed on within and between families as we grew up. It was the way things were.
Sweet rationing ended in 1953, the year I left school. Other rationing ended the following year. But disposable incomes didn’t seem to be growing. I didn’t feel better off, but that didn’t matter because I didn’t expect to. No-growth was an unconscious part of my mindset. My 10p (old pence) a week pocket money and then my income of less than £1,000 per annum, as a Chartered Engineer, dictated how much I had to spend. Spending kept down, because borrowing was not an option.
Then, in the late 1960s, local authorities were allowed to give 100 per cent mortgages to their employees, up to 2.5 times their income on new houses. About the same time credit cards appeared. From then on, inflation ruled our spending and my income kept up, because public sector salaries were linked to inflation. We were able to take equity out of our property by getting larger mortgages, some of which was spent on things other than property. Materialism had become an integral part of my mindset, and borrowing became OK. The UK had become gripped by materialism.
However, my thinking has changed. I have read so much about the end of growth that I now believe it is likely. No doubt those who believe in unending growth also believe they are right. So why not have two contingency plans, for both possibilities?
If I am right I believe that, sooner or later, there will be general acceptance, politically and in the media, that growth of prosperity is no longer possible. This will then lead to a national change of mindset from materialism to something else. Which will be difficult in all sorts of ways. Especially politically.
It seems to me that there is a general state of denial about the possibility that the years of increasing prosperity are over. This denial is understandable because people have a well-established vested interest in growth, for themselves and their children. The reason I believe in no-growth is because I have no interest in becoming better off. This is because I am in my 80s and I have no familial interest in growth.
It is only when you strip away your vested interests that you can begin to see things as they really are, and be able to make meaningful political judgements. Contingency planning for both growth and no growth in prosperity would be a good step to take, without revealing your bias.
Post Script: there is a conundrum underlying this issue. In my experience, no-growth was not a negative experience. I was as happy then, as in later years, when I was doing my best to keep up. In today’s world, no-growth would have outcomes which are undeniably good. Re-cycling is an example, not just of our daily doings, but also as advocated by the Ellen Macarthur Foundation with its partners, including the likes of Google, Phillips, Renault and Unilever, whose mission is “To Accelerate the Transition to a Circular Economy”.
I regard this as one of the most important and useful explanations of surplus energy economics.
This is important!
The ‘rules’ which determine the modus operandi of local bureaucracies are set by laws made by the government at some time in the past, subsequently codified by the civil service as a basis for local implementation.
Much of how we are made to live now is a result of Acts of Parliament passed by the Attlee government in 1945/46 with subsequent minor changes which didn’t alter the fundamental Fabian inspired concepts of the initial enactment, such as in welfare and health. Political changes in government and locally, left to right and so on, don’t change how things are done locally. It is a flatland of sameness which does not alter with time. A national revolution in thinking and practice would be needed to alter how local services are planned and managed.
Over the year,s the day-to-day activities of the bureaucracies, within their established legal frameworks and practice codes, have become professionalised, leading to technocratic languages and processes which only those in the know can understand. In effect, the professions have become established as the foot-soldiers of bureaucracy, with aims and practices which enable them to do what they want, despite any political notions that there may be alternative ways.
The technocratic procedures officers follow are so embedded that they are taught in universities as the proper way to do things, leading to professional qualification.
Local politicians do not realise that they have so little power over what happens on the ground.
In looking generally for new ways of doing things, there seems to me to be an obsessive preoccupation with finding a centre ground, between left and right. If the ground level effect of changes between left and right have little effect, I suggest that a middle ground would be no different. They are all the same.
If it is the command and control nature of the established isms which now need to be questioned, we must begin to think in a different dimension. Up or down maybe? Upwards towards totalitarianism and downwards to local community control.