Brian Czech, from the Center of Advancement of the Steady State Economy on Degrowth
The founding President of Center of Advancement of the Steady State Economy an organization that studies the conflict between economic growth and sustainability, joins us today for a short interview.
“The term degrowth refers to an economic situation during which the economic wealth produced does not increase or even decrease. This concept is to be distinguished from the recession, a simple observation of a negative growth rate in the context of a productivist economy. The concept of degrowth is a voluntary process and not a reality. It is based on the principle of awareness of a finite world, with limited resources, and on the idea that only a reduction in global production and consumption can ensure the future of humanity and the preservation of the planet. ”
So, tell me a bit of yourself, and how your career as a conservation biologist progressed to an economist.
My Ph.D. dissertation was focused on policy analysis of the Endangered Species Act. Part of it was looking at causes of species endangerment. Causes turned out to be a Who’s Who of the American economy, but politicians were out there rhetorizing, “There is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment.” So I took a deep dive into ecological economics, to better explain the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection.
What brought upon your interest in degrowth economics?
We need degrowth toward a steady state economy. I was an early conferee in the Degrowth movement.
Each year we (on Earth) further surpass long-term ecological capacity, so we need more degrowth with each year we delay a transition out of growth.
What kind of difficulties have you encountered in your job?
Neoclassical (economics) bias.
With CASSE, funding is very hard to come by as Big Green and of course Big Money in general (plus almost all foundations) are very pro-growth.
Has the idea of giving an economic value to biodiversity become more acceptable with governments?
Sure, but it’s not such a great idea to start with. It subjects biodiversity conservation to a tool (markets) woefully mal-designed for conservation purposes.
How does the U.S compare to countries in Europe in terms of managing emissions?
What are two policy recommendations you have for the American government?
Here are 14 policy recommendations :
CASSE’s Top 15 Policies for Achieving a Steady State Economy
- Formally adopt the steady state economy as the overarching economic goal. In the USA, for example, this should be specified in legislation, namely a Full and Sustainable Employment Act (1).
- Maintain a network of conservation areas sufficient in size and diversity to ensure the long-term provision of vital ecosystem services. (6)
- Stabilize population, and aim for a long-term population size that enables a high standard of living for everyone without undermining ecological systems and the life-support services they provide. (4)
- Gradually reset existing fiscal, monetary, and trade policy levers from growth toward a steady state. For example, manage the money supply and redevelop the tax code with the new macroeconomic policy goal as a guide. (1,2)
- Limit the range of inequality in income and wealth, including both a minimum and maximum allowable income. Implement tax reforms to tax “bads” (e.g., pollution and depletion of natural resources) rather than goods (e.g., income from wages). (1,4)
- Employ cap-auction-trade systems in the commons sector for allocating basic resources. Set caps based on biophysical limits. Use auctions to distribute rights to extract resources. Equitably redistribute auction payments through public trusts. Implement a trading system for extraction rights to achieve efficient allocation of resources to those uses with the highest demand. (4)
- Establish a more flexible working day, week, and year to provide more opportunities for people to decide how to use their own time and to alleviate employment pressures. (4)
- Overhaul banking regulations, starting with gradual elimination of fractional reserve banking, such that the monetary system moves away from a debt structure that requires continuous economic growth. (3)
- Adjust zoning policies to limit sprawl and promote energy conservation.
- Continue to monitor GDP, but interpret it as a measure of the size of the economy and an indicator of environmental impact. Use other indices to measure economic welfare and social progress, such as the Genuine Progress Indicator. (1,3)
- Prevent unconstrained capital mobility so that financial resources are more directly tied to the real assets they represent. (4)
- Work toward full internalization of costs in prices (e.g., costs associated with environmental protection and fair labor laws), and adopt compensating tariffs to protect efficient national policies of cost internalization from standards-lowering competition from other countries. (4)
- Institute policies that move away from globalization and toward localization to conserve energy resources, provide high-quality local jobs, and maintain local decision-making authority. (3,4)
- Limit the scope of advertising to prevent unnecessary demand stimulation and wasteful consumption.
- Establish a Bureau of Population and Consumption to replace the Council of Economic Advisers and to report on sustainability criteria. (1)Covid has displayed how vulnerable our economic system is.
How do we move in that direction of prioritizing degrowth before the risks become unmanageable?
I still think it starts by raising plenty of awareness about the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, economic sustainability, national security, and international stability.
What are the next steps for CASSE and the valuing ecosystem services research area more generally?
We say: Don’t spend time estimating economic value of natural capital and ecosystem services unless you concurrently raise plenty of awareness of the macroeconomic context; i.e., the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. Otherwise these monetizing exercises, especially if they result in natural capital markets, lead us right into the “trophic conundrum” whereby it takes money to play, but generating the (additional) money liquidates even more natural capital.
What’s your sense of how the conservation community views the role of economic analysis and accounting?
It’s split on that.
The burning question is, can we have prosperity without growth?
Actually the real burning question is: How could we expect to retain prosperity with a perpetually bloating economy?