Reviews of the Second Edition of
Managing without Growth
Reviews of the First Edition of
Managing without Growth
‘At last, Managing without Growth, a book that puts economics in its proper place within the real world and points the direction we much go in confronting the ecological crisis of the planet. As an economist, environmental studies professor Peter Victor is eminently qualified for the task. He examines some of our most fundamental assumptions and beliefs about the market, pricing, free trade and growth, prosperity and happiness that too often preclude a serious consideration of the environment and economy. His book couldn’t be a more timely and important analysis of the destructive consequences of aspiring to endless growth and downloading the costs onto nature itself. He makes a powerful case for the need to work deliberately towards a steady state economy where the real world of the biosphere should set the limits to our activity. Victor’s book should be at the basis of our discussion of these critical issues today.’
David Suzuki, scientist, broadcaster, and activist, Canada
‘Peter Victor analyses the critical policy question of our time, how to manage our economy equitably and efficiently without growing beyond biophysical limits. He reasons carefully and rigorously, yet pulls no punches in drawing conclusions that some will consider radical. A superb book!’
Herman Daly, University of Maryland, USA
‘Overcoming our addiction to economic growth is one of the most important challenges for the 21st century. Peter Victor’s masterful summary of the history and fallacies of this particularly pervasive and increasingly dangerous addition will be a great help in getting over it. A sustainable and desirable future requires clearly differentiating between “bigger” and “better” and a recognition that in the overdeveloped West these two have parted ways. Peter Victor’s book will help us slow down by design, not disaster, and understand how that slowing down will in fact increase our quality of life.’
Robert Costanza, The Australian National University, Australia
Peter Victor’s book is a carefully crafted argument for “managing without growth”. It is not only an up-to-date survey of the latest thinking on energy, climate, and population, it offers practical policy responses to these challenges. This book is a must read for academics and policymakers concerned with environmental integrity and human well-being.
John Gowdy, Rensselear, Polytechnic Institute, USA
Reviews of the Second Edition
of Managing without Growth
BOOK REVIEW published in Local Environment, 2019
Managing without growth: slower by design, not disaster, 2nd ed.,
by Peter A. Victor,
Halina Szejnwald Brown
Professor Emeritus, Environmental Science and Policy Program, Clark University, USA
When the economist Peter Victor, Professor at York University in Canada, published in 2008 the first edition of “Managing without Growth: Slower by Design, not Disaster” he was a pioneer. Since then, questioning of economic growth as a national policy objective has become more common in some progressive circles. And the de-growth social movement, which took off in the early 2000s, has rapidly expanded with very large international conferences and many local and regional gatherings.
The idea of limits to growth goes back to the 1972 monograph by the same title, authored by a group of academics known as the Club of Rome. It was not the first, but certainly the most influential such treatise. Its authors deployed a very new at the time computer-based dynamic modelling to show that continued economic growth will over time lead to an ecological collapse. The authors challenged
the prevailing economic theory that technological innovations will always compensate for the scarcity of natural resources and diminished assimilative capacity of natural systems, thus allowing for infinite economic growth. A few years later Herman Daly, a senior economist with the World Bank, followed in 1977 with “Steady State Economics”, in which he introduced the idea of non-growing
Since “The Limits to Growth” significant advances have been made in understanding and modelling of the economy and ecological systems; in particular, the concept of planetary boundaries has been introduced in 2009 by Rockström and Steffen. But much less progress has been made in the understanding whether slow- or no-growth economy can be attained while providing for human
and societal well-being. This is largely the result of the politisation of the debate. The de-growth advocates point out to the increasingly unequal distribution of the fruits of growth, and frame the debate as an issue of social justice, built-in capitalist excesses, power and ecology. The pro-growth advocates focus on the great benefits that growth has brought to societies in the past three centuries, human
ingenuity through technological innovation, the potentially disastrous consequences of no-growth, and on defending the free market economy. Each side sees the other as intellectual, political and ideological adversaries. Under these conditions it is very difficult to have an open and balanced debate.
And yet Victor’s book accomplishes just that. Written in a crisp, clear, concise style, almost totally free of jargon, deeply grounded in data, and superbly referenced, the book is a must-read for those who want to form their own informed opinion about this subject, with or without economic education. Starting with the historical origins of the concept of economic growth, Victor covers a very wide multidisciplinary territory. The author takes sides. The main argument of the book is that important social goals can be achieved in rich countries without relying on economic growth; and that the rich countries should manage without growth and the associated greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), so that the poorer countries can enjoy the benefits of growth which they desperately need to improve lives. His approach is to examine the issue from multiple perspectives and to let the evidence
speak for itself.
In the opening chapter Victor examines the origins of the idea of economic growth. He links it to the idea of progress through science and technology, which emerged during the age of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. During the nineteenth century, this progress greatly enlarged the size of the economy, produced a huge new national wealth in Europe and
North America, and significantly improved people’s lives. Over time, progress became conflated with economic growth. As technological advances kept improving productivity in the twentieth century, economic growth transitioned from being the means for satisfying human needs to become a political necessity for avoiding unemployment and social unrest.
Chapters 2–10 explain, chapter by chapter, how modern economy functions, its relationship to the social and natural world in which it is nested, and the prevailing theories of efficiency and prices; it highlights the positive impacts of growth as well as its disappointments, such as fostering wealth and income inequality, not eliminating unemployment and poverty, not improving people’s life satisfaction,
and others; it explains the strengths and limitations of using cost-benefit analysis in environmental protection; it explores the relative merits of reducing carbon through regulations, carbon tax and cap-and-trade policies. The book devotes three chapters to the two central ideas: ecological limits to growth; and decoupling of growth from material and energy consumption through technological
In the last two chapters Victor focuses on the case of Canada. Chapter 11 is based on his research with Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey over the past decade developing a macroeconomic simulation model of low- or no-growth economy in Canada. It uses two composite indications of social prosperity and of environmental burdens in order to model, under three scenarios, the path toward radical reductions in GHG over a 50-year period. The authors conclude that social prosperity
with substantial reductions in GHG emissions can be achieved under low- or no-growth scenarios, while securing full employment, economic security, less inequality, more leisure time and control of national and personal debt.
In the final chapter, Victor considers policies necessary to realise this scenario, including those related to population stabilisation, pricing carbon, immigration, economic inequality, workweek, taxation, international trade and others. Many of these policies have been applied in various contexts in the past, though perhaps in milder forms. But the challenge is to muster the political will, courage and
leadership to adopt them as a bundle. Furthermore, this scenario requires a shift in culture, away from the consumerist rat race as an organising principle of social life. It also is not clear, even to the author, if this can be achieved within the capitalist economy.
This excellent book left me both encouraged and discouraged. The former, because a transition to a more balanced society is in principle possible; the latter, because it will not be easy to find the type of leadership this transition requires.
Daly, Herman E.  1991. Steady-State Economics. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Meadows, Donella H., Dennis L. Meadows, Jørgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. 1972. The Limits to Growth: A Report
for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books.
Rockström, J., W. Steffen, K. Noone, Å Persson, F. S. Chapin, E. F. Lambin, T. M. Lenton, et al. 2009. “A safe operating space
for humanity.” Nature 461 (7263): 472–475.
BOOK REVIEW published in The Earth Bound Project, March 18, 2019
Managing without Growth. Slower by Design, Not Disaster. 2nd ed.,
by Peter A. Victor
If you are sceptical about the virtues of economic growth, some people will assume you just don’t know anything about economics. That’s going to be true in some cases, but there are of course plenty of serious and well-informed thinkers who question GDP growth as a policy objective in rich countries. Some of them are economists, and Peter Victor is one of them.
In Managing Without Growth, Peter Victor describes why growth needs to be left behind in wealthy countries, and how economies can be managed without it:
“The biophysical limits of the planet will prevent the kind of economic growth enjoyed by rich countries from being extended to all peoples of the world. Rich countries should make room for economic expansion in those countries where the need is greatest.”
Regular readers will note that this quote is basically identical to the central premise of this blog.
Managing Without Growth is a comprehensive look at GDP growth, starting with where the idea came from, what we want from it and whether or not it delivers. It assesses the real and the perceived limits to growth, both environmental and social. And having found growth wanting in developed countries, the later chapters of the book turns to how an economy could be run without it. This is its most significant contribution, as there are many critiques of growth, but fewer economists have really studied the practical side of postgrowth economics.
In particular, Peter Victor has designed economic models that can put ideas to the test, mainly using economic data from his native Canada. They show how various combinations of policies could bring economic growth onto a sustainable plateau – reducing carbon emissions while ensuring a high quality of life. It depends on a stable population, shorter work hours, and shifts in taxation from income to consumption, among other things. This is the second edition of the book, which is updated and includes some new modeling work done with Tim Jackson, who co-authors a chapter.
The most important message is that a sustainable postgrowth economy is not impossible. As the book’s tagline has it, it could be run “slower by design, not disaster.” All sorts of other questions follow however. For example, is it still capitalism? (Short answer: the definition of capitalism is flexible enough, but why does it matter what we call it if people and planet are flourishing?) If we’re looking for a stable population, what does this mean for immigration? What about international trade, or the deficit?
The book deals with these questions, and many more, in technical detail. As a reader with no formal training in economics, I did get lost a few times in the numbers, the modeling, or the discussions of pricing mechanisms and market information. It’s not a book for a mainstream audience. If you want something more introductory, try Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth. There’s lots of crossover with my own The Economics of Arrival as well, and we cite Victor’s work extensively. But if you want to get into the nuts and bolts of postgrowth economics, then Managing Without Growth is the book for you.
BOOK REVIEW by Peter C. Grosvenor
Pacific Lutheran University, Sociology & Global Studies, Tacoma, WA, USA email@example.com
Since the Great Crash of 2008, and the ensuing Great Recession, the previously dominant neoliberal economic paradigm has been on the defen- sive in the economics profession. Liberal Keynesianism has undergone a significant revival, as have democratic socialist critiques of capitalism, and Marxist economic commentators have begun once again to envision post-capitalist models of political economy. But equally prominent has been a flourishing of green economic theory – fuelled both by the Crash and by the manifestations of anthropogenic climate damage – to the extent that it is now possible to speak in terms of an ecological macroeconomics.
Much of contemporary green economic analysis has been enlisted in support of the Green New Deal (GND). Inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, the GND is a government stimulus package designed to promote environmentally sustainable growth and social justice through financial re-regulation and the encouragement of green technolo- gical innovation, especially in the areas of carbon reduction and sequestra- tion, energy efficiency, and the development of renewables. Its goal is the creation of a green capitalism.
But there is a rival school of green macroeconomics for which growth is an integral part of the ecological crisis and therefore cannot be the solu- tion to it. Green growth, from this perspective, is a contradiction in
terms – a case stated robustly in George Monbiot’s polemical Out of the Wreckage (2017). In Managing Without Growth, Peter A. Victor has pro- duced an authoritative economics textbook for the de-growth school. Drawing on H.W. Arndt’s The Rise and Fall of Economic Growth (1978), Victor shows how the preoccupation with growth has its origins in the Enlightenment concept of progress: growth was adopted as the measure of progress and, following the work of Simon Kuznets on national income accounts in the 1930s, gross domestic product (GDP) was adopted as the measure of growth. This erroneous equation of growth in GDP with human flourishing has been well understood since the 1950s and has been critiqued in landmark works such as J.K Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (1958) and Fred Hirsch’s The Social Limits to Growth (1976). Yet it is an equation that persists and is still promoted today in the guise of free trade, competitiveness, productivity and, since the publication of the Brundtland Report in 1987, even sustainable development.
Victor attacks the growth paradigm on two levels: analytical fundamentals and claimed empirical achievements. At the analytical level, he distinguishes between open and closed systems: an open system requires ‘an inflow and outflow of energy from and to its environment’, while a closed system ‘exchanges energy with its environment but not material’ (p.45). Economies are open systems but they are dependent upon the planet, which is a closed system. Rendered more simply, economies are bound by biophysical limitations, and these limitations are not accounted for in the growth paradigm. This omission leads to a proliferation of analytical errors in conventional economic theory. For example, the price mechan- ism is held up as the principal transmitter of information in a market economy. Yet petrol prices reflect the relationship between the supply of and demand for petrol but do not reflect the externality of environmental damage caused by car use. Similarly, economists cannot price the ecosystem services on which humans depend, such as pollination, or the sequestration of carbon in soils, even though human pressures on those services now constitute a more pressing limitation to growth than do shortages of raw materials.
In terms of empirical achievements, Victor concedes that people in devel- oped countries live longer and healthier lives. But growth always entails envir- onmental costs such as spoliation, waste disposal, and the depletion of habitat and species. And then there are the social costs, including community break- down, alienation, overcrowding, and crime. Drawing on Richard Layard’s Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (2005), Victor disputes the connection between income growth and increases in the human sense of wellbeing and goes on to challenge other claimed benefits of growth in respect of full employ- ment and of income and wealth distribution.
This book will appeal to both technical economists and to general readers. It advances a compelling case for the abandonment of growth as a policy objective for rich countries, while acknowledging that more growth is still essential in poorer ones. But, as GND advocate Robert Pollin (‘De-Growth Vs A Green New Deal,’ New Left Review, Vol.112, July/August 2018) has pointed out, the anti-growth school needs to consider the merits of growth in some sectors, such as clean energy, whilst making the case for de-growth in others, such as the fossil fuel industries.
© 2019 Peter C. Grosvenor