The COVID pandemic has many asking if there might be a ‘better life for us outside of capitalism’, says the award-winning ecological economist and writer, Tim Jackson, my guest today on Inside Ideas.
The Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) at the University of Surrey since 2016, where he is also Professor of Sustainable Development, Tim was previously the Economics Commissioner for the UK Sustainable Development Commission, where his work culminated in the publication of Prosperity without Growth, which was named the Financial Times ‘book of the year’ in 2010, and has subsequently been translated into 17 languages. His latest book, published this year, is called Post Growth – life after capitalism.
Do not forget these people who came before, not because they will overshadow you but because they will support you.
At the heart of a post growth economy, Tim says, lies the need for balance, that sweet spot of life people have been thinking about more deeply while at home during the pandemic.
“Health is a very good metaphor for what we mean by prosperity, because health really is a kind of balancing act,” he said. “It’s about the balance between having too little and too much; it’s about the balance between self and other; it’s about the balance between continually innovating and being bedded in tradition. And these balances that we had to learn and re-learn through the pandemic in our lives are also important in thinking about what prosperity is, what the economy should be doing and how there might be a better life for us outside of capitalism.”
He continued: “Behind all that there’s this interesting lesson for us, that we think what we want is some kind of empty relaxing space where everything is provided for us and everything is materially comfortable and actually there’s something else that is more important to us. And in learning that lesson through the pandemic, I think it is something that we can take forward in understanding how society may change and how we might actually construct meaning and purpose beyond the consumer society that really just stopped when the pandemic struck.”
Part of this reimagining, he told me, can come from believing in the value of a collective purpose, rather than in a dog eat dog mentality.
“We’re not just about competition, we’re equally about cooperation and collaboration and it’s a fantastic way of rethinking who we are, and it also opens up all these new possibilities for us. If we buy the capitalist myth that everything is a struggle for existence, in which only the fittest survive, then we lock our vision of humanity down into this narrow cage.”
Do not forget your elders
In shifting to this new world there is still much to learn from those who have gone before, the Professor often tells his students.
“It’s people’s stories that really motivate me, that connect me to ideas and all the ideas we have were the ideas of people, those people had lives and all of those lives had their own characteristics, and so embedding the life and the story together, in some ways, is a bit of a device, but it’s a very effective device because it is to people that we relate. So you can do all the concept and theory and all the textbooks that you like but it doesn’t necessarily reach people.”
Jackson added: “You’re not in a vacuum. You’re not in the wilderness, these ideas and the people who had them, to some extent their spirit lives on through those ideas, their influence is important to you. And in a world dominated by the likes that you get on Twitter you’re inclined to forget that ideas have depth, and they have history, and they have biography, and they have personality. And I find that sometimes with my students that they, perfectly understandably, want to make their mark but what I say to them is ‘do not forget your elders. Do not forget these people who came before, not because they will overshadow you but because they will support you and they will be a part of the resource through which your work will become richer.”
The pandemic stopped the world and the big question now, as we sit at the crossroads, is where should it go next? And as the attention turns to the different futures up for grabs I am delighted to welcome Tim on to the show to explore the many exciting routes that might lie ahead.