Is Capitalism Possible Without Economic Growth?

Tony Hall/CC BY-ND 2.0

Yesterday I asked whether multinational corporations are ready to question capitalism as we know it. Readers were skeptical. And yet with every new report about the European debt crisis or a miserably slow recovery, it's getting increasingly clear that business-as-usual is not just a bad idea, but it's bloody impossible.

So what comes next?

No growth or steady-state economics has already gotten a lot of attention in recent times. But my eye was drawn to an interview over at Transition Culture in which Rob Hopkins talks to economist Peter Victor about his book on Managing Without Growth.

Among the fascinating questions and discussion, Rob posed a rather interesting question—can we have capitalism without economic growth? Victor's response is illuminating not just in what it tells us about the viability of no growth economics, but the nature of change itself. We get so fixated on what we should replace the current system with, it can be hard to remember that both the status quo and whatever comes next are as much emergent systems as they are deliberately designed creations:

These are questions that I and some others are investigating right now and whether we end up with a view of an economy that we’d say doesn’t look anything like capitalism, we don’t really know yet. My own sense at the moment is that if we do effectively come to terms with these limits on how we interact with the biosphere, we’ll be looking back maybe half a century or a century from now and saying well, there was no one time when the economic system was transformed but it has evolved into something which we may or may not chose to call capitalism at that time.

Whether or not what emerges is still known as capitalism seems almost academic at this point. What does matter is that we tool it to reflect that happiness is real, that there is more to economics than money, and that resource extraction has astounding economic and environmental consequences.

Roll on the Plenitude Economy, whether you call it capitalism or not.

Head on over to Transition Culture for part one of Rob Hopkins' interview with Peter Victor. Part two to be posted soon.

Tags: Activism | Economics | United Kingdom