2015/07/05 09:20 Tim Jackson, “The Price of Everything and Value of Nothing”, ISIE, U. Surrey

Plenary talk by @proftimjackson Tim Jackson, University of Surrey  at “Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology”, 8th Biennial Conference of the International Society for Industrial Ecology, University of Surrey, Guildford, July 7-10, 2015

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship by David Ing.

Plenary talks for ISIE 2015 are by contributors to an open access volume, Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology, available online as open access e-book from Springer in fall 2015.  See the table of contents and the Springer book description.

Introduction by Roland Clift

Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development, University of Surrey; and Director of the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group

DI_20150707 033435 ISIE plenary TimJackson

[Tim Jackson]

We should call no man happy until he’s dead

Prosperity is slow, hard to attain, over time

  • Moral meaning as well as hedonism

Incorporating into modern economics

Reflect on the nature of propersity

Graph, Resource Revolution (McKinsey Global Institute, September 2013, p. 6):  average prices of a basket from 1900 to 2000

  • Price has fallen to late 1990s
  • Now price spiking

Growth rates in high income countries in decline since 1960

  • Low growth in developed countries

The price of everything:  planetary boundaries

  • Materials looking inaccessible, even for gifted few

Dilemma of growth:  innovation focused on labour productivity

  • People out of work, business out
  • Governments in a problem
  • Life expectancy of Russian men has fallen over the last decade
  • Maybe most profound dilemma
  • Decoupling:  doing more with less, continuing economic output while decreasing inputs
  • Success in doing this is scarce
  • Scale, in environment targets, is heroic

Chasing green growth, presuming 2% growth per year

  • To meet 450ppm target in 2050
  • Would need carbon to fall 768 gCO2/$
  • Would need a 130x improvement
  • Possible?
  • Can’t be answered in economic terms, needs deeper understanding of capitalist economies

Circular flow in economies

  • Labour and capital  <–> Goods and services
  • Income  <–> Spending
  • People saving –> Investment

Unemployment is flip side of labour productivity — the dilemma of growth

Playing the game of the new

  • Schumpeter creative destruction
  • Human beings have an appetite for novelty, we love new stuff (experiences, ideas, things)
  • Materials, in a language of goods
  • Tell stories about how good we are
  • Solon’s distinction between story and stuff has been eroded, we’re always interested in each others’ stories
  • Recipe for economic expansion
  • Almost irrelevant if we need it, because if we stop consuming, economy will drop

The engine of growth, chart from 1993

  • Person dept incresting
  • Housing savings ration falling
  • End of 2008, savings rate increased, as people hunkered down to save more
  • This is the value of nothing, not doing
  • Almost as important as not doing
  • Savings events in recession, Keynes says, is the wrong thing to do, as it slows things down further
  • Growth at all costs
  • Selfishness not just a virtue, but almost the only virtue is show in paying bankers, etc.
  • Economics has only offered more of the same
  • Withdrawing more, in name of recovery

Need to shelve anger to build alternatives

  • Soft underbelly of capitalism
  • Role of anxiety
  • Risk of capital flight, innovate or die
  • Not just doing well, but being seen to be doing well
  • Smith says living a life without shame
  • Propelling towards greater consumption

Mindfulness and consumerism, Armstrong and Jackson 2015

  • Shopping too much
  • Compulsive shopping and mindfulness
  • Higher levels of mindfulness correlate with higher quality of life, lower consumption
  • Potential for change, with value of nothing

Anxiety is around us, not specific to capitalism

  • Success or failure in navigating capitalism
  • Cornucopia where consumer more is always better
  • Whispers of immortality
  • Big Daddy, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof:  hope one of purchases will be life everlasting
  • Pursuit is destroying the environment
  • Consumption papers over the anxiety
  • Only economists elevate selfishness to a principle
  • Capitalist believe that poor people should pay more taxes

Economics wasn’t about selfishness at the beginning, it was about the anxiety of people

  • What could economics look like?
  • Solidarity and collaboration

Enterprise as a service, contributing towards others

  • Resource light in material economic activities
  • Also rich in employment: time spent in human labour
  • Logic of productivity growth breaks down
  • Focus on productivity breaks down service, e.g. public transportation is crowded
  • Productive education system is where teachers are stressed
  • Productive health system means doctors seeing more patients every hour
  • Want dedication, skill and time
  • We benefit as workers and consumers
  • Service-based economy, not just chasing growth to keep people in employement

More sustainable post-growth society

  • Enterprise as service
  • Decent jobs
  • Stable money
  • ..

Has been working with Peter Victor (on sabbatical at York U.) on ecological economics to bring these ideas together

  • Fit for purpose in a sustainable word
  • Economics where can slow down use of resources

FALSTAFF: Towards an ecological macro-economics http://www.prosperitas.org.uk/FALSTAFF

Rebuilding economics

  • Prosperity beyond the individual game
  • Abundance
  • Price of everything is occasionally eclipsed by the value of nothing


Advice to Apple, McDonald’s?

  • Pay your taxes
  • Much of Apple’s progress is funded by military developments
  • 1. Industrial architecture, infrastructure
  • 2. Financial architecture and institutions
  • 3. Social system and expectations of companies and products
  • Electronic / virtual companies are trying to deliver Solon’s idea of creating the story of our lives
  • Society / debt, as a way of engaging?  Or a distraction?
  • McDonalds is giving us fast food, seems to be valuable to nutruition with bringing prices down and throwing product at us
  • More social products?
  • Accounting structures that feed back into society?