Many people, as they begin to consider the problems with pursuing
perpetual growth, ask with some trepidation what a non-growing economy
(i.e., a steady state economy) would look like. Having lived life
embedded in a growing economy, they find themselves fearful of a
transition away from growth. This fear is primarily based on experience
with failed growth economies Ė the social unrest associated with
recessions and depressions. Such fear should not be taken lightly, but a
steady state economy is not the bogeyman. Economist Peter Victor has shown through his modeling efforts
that we can have a non-growing economy that achieves full employment,
virtually eliminates poverty, reduces carbon dioxide emissions to
sustainable levels, and avoids overwhelming debt. And we have a
collection of intriguing policy ideas
for creating a sustainable, fair and efficient economy. Knowledge of
these ideas should go a long way toward putting the fears to rest.
A secondary bogus bogeyman, however, lurks in the shadows. Herman
Daly has joked that some people believe a steady state economy is
synonymous with starving in the dark under a harsh communist regime.
But a steady state economy is not about deprivation, and it doesnít
require the planning of a Politburo. Itís not even about a return to
the Good Old Days. It is, in fact, a progression to the Good New Days.
An elementary description of life in a steady state economy should
also help put aside fears and illustrate the desirability of pursuing enough instead of constantly chasing after more.
The transition to a prosperous yet non-growing economy may prove to be
a perilous passage, but the destination will be well worth the
The Scenario of a Steady State Economy
Imagine that we are a ten years down the road. In the intervening
time leading up to today, social and economic snafus (e.g.,
unemployment, stock market downturns, banking crises, crime, and wildly
fluctuating energy prices) have shaken people up pretty badly.
Environmental miseries, such as continuing climate destabilization and
agricultural failures, have awoken people to the consequences of
unmindful economic growth. Culture began to adjust, and citizens
demanded sweeping economic reforms and changes in how we interact within
both local and global communities.
Waking Up in a Steady State Economy
You wake up refreshed, the way youíre supposed to feel in the morning
after a restful sleep. With plenty of time before the dayís activities
unfold, you begin the morning with a light exercise routine, stretching
and moving your body to get the blood flowing. After a quick shower
(with water pleasantly heated by your rooftop solar water heater), you
head to the kitchen. You whip up a simple breakfast using tasty and
fresh ingredients from the weekly delivery of food from the local farm.
You make a mental note to mention to the farmer how much you enjoy her
organically grown strawberries the next time you see her.
Besides enjoying your meal, you use your leisurely breakfast time to scroll through the dayís headlines:
- Prison begins makeover into community college as former guards tackle the task of redevelopment
- Fans anticipate tonightís season opener of the Cross-town Football League
- Work time reduction paying dividends: unemployment falls for 3rd straight quarter
- WTOís 6 remaining members wonít disclose secret meeting location
- Land of a thousand currencies: museum exhibit puts the artistry of local currencies on full display
Going to Work
Stepping outside, the sky looks cloudy, but itís not raining, it
doesnít look threatening, and the temperature is pleasantly cool. You
decide to ride your bike to the office, pedaling four miles along the
designated cycling corridor. It certainly has become agreeable cycling
to work since the community re-designated some of the old auto routes
into a network for people-powered transportation. And youíve noticed
how much better youíre feeling at the end of the day with the exercise
and fresh air (and itís been noticeably fresher since the conversion
away from internal combustion engines).
You arrive at work with a clear mind, ready to tackle some tough
tasks over the next four hours. After making solid progress for a
couple of hours on your project for the day, you break for the big co-op
meeting. You and your fellow employee-owners of the co-op have
scheduled an environmental audit and remuneration review for today. The
meeting is not without contentious points (after all, democratic
governance and consensus seeking are messy processes), but it turns out
to be highly productive. The nonprofit organization you hired to
perform the environmental audit has found some dramatic ways for the
co-op to reduce its material and energy throughput to levels below the
goals set at the end of last year Ė a prospect thatís good for the
environment and good for business. The remuneration committee reports
on the salary structure of the co-op, assessing the fairness of pay for
all employee-owners. Over a series of meetings, the co-op has settled
on a ratio of no more than 3 to 1 when it comes to the pay differential
between the highest and lowest paid employee-owner. Based on surveys,
short interviews, and co-op performance, the 3 to 1 ratio is working
out, and the employee-owners are happy with the way things are going.
You roll out in the early afternoon to get together with your band
mates. Since cutting back your working hours, youíve really been
improving on the guitar, and the whole band has been practicing more
often. You canít wait to discuss the set for your first public gig (a
casual appearance at the Saturday farmerís market) at lunch. Feeling
slightly drained from the work meeting, you rack your bike on the
electric bus and cruise across town to your favorite restaurant. Your
three friends are already sitting on the patio along the bustling
sidewalk, sipping some outstanding local brews, and thereís an extra one
sitting there waiting for you. You share a delicious meal, feeling
fortunate to have such tasty foods fresh from the nearby countryside.
In such a pleasant atmosphere, itís a simple matter to agree which songs
to play and in what order. Itís your turn to pick up the tab, so you
hand your local-currency debit card to the server. After saying goodbye
to your friends until Saturday, you roll out onto the bike path and
pedal back home.
Every time you arrive at your supremely sufficient home, you smile to
yourself. You recognize how you and so many of your friends had become
swept up in the "consumption as a substitute for happiness" culture
back in the day. Now your home and modest possessions seem to fit like a
glove. You have what you need and enough time to enjoy what you have Ė
youíre not buried under a bunch of stuff, the place is tidy, and itís
After stowing your bike, you decide to amble over to the community
garden before dinner. This seasonís tomato experiment seems to be going
better than it did last year. Janeís advice about compost and nutrient
recycling was incredibly helpful. As youíre adjusting the water drip
system, you hear Janeís voice behind you, "Nice tomatoes Ė should I
claim my share now or just harvest them when youíre not around?" You
turn around with a smile and get to talking. After harvesting a few
choice veggies from your plot and hers, you invite her to help you cook
and share the meal back at your place.
Going to Sleep
At the end of the day, youíre thoroughly sleepy Ė a lot happened! It
was a happy and productive day. You tumble into bed in anticipation of
another night of sound sleep and more fulfilling days yet to come.
This scenario may sound improbable, but it is not unobtainable.
People are overburdened by the litany of social and environmental
problems around the world. They want to figure out a way to improve
society, so that it can be sustainable and fair. They want to blaze a
path forward that will lead to a better place for their children and
grandchildren. The steady state economy represents just such a path.
Motivated people can overcome high hurdles and achieve tremendous
results. We have enough knowledge, we have enough ideas to get started,
we have enough motivation, and weíve certainly had enough of the
consequences that stem from mindless pursuit of economic growth. Letís
recognize where we stand and start walking in a new direction. Enough
For more on the theme of the article reprinted above, readers may want to check the following book:
Enough Is Enough: Ideas for a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE), November 2010.
From the CASSE web site: "Do you suspect that the idea of perpetual economic growth on a finite planet is folly? Are you searching for ways to solve our profound social and environmental problems? "Do you want to know how we can construct an economy that (1) meets our needs without undermining the life-support systems of the planet and (2) achieves sustainable and equitable well-being for all people?
"Enough is Enough is the single most complete collection of policy initiatives, tools, and reforms for an economy that makes enough its goal instead of more. The report, generated from the inspirational ideas of the Steady State Economy Conference, consists of three parts: Part One describes why economic growth is becoming an obsolete goal and provides a crystal-clear description of the desirable alternative ó a steady state economy; Part Two examines ten key areas where change is needed to achieve a steady state economy; Part Three provides a blueprint for moving boldly from ideas to action.
"Please read the report, discuss the ideas contained in it, and do what you can to help get us on the path to a better economy. If you are interested in engaging with others in online discussions of report topics, then please visit the SteadyStaters Google Group and request an invitation to join."
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