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Donnie Maclurcan is co-founder of the Post Growth Institute, an international group exploring innovative paths to global prosperity that are not dependent on economic growth.
By Louisa Clarence-Smith
We spoke to him about his latest collaborative book project, How on Earth? that will explain how not-for-profit enterprise can be the primary business model on a local, national and international scale by 2050.
When did you personally start campaigning for an alternative to economic growth?
The campaign stemmed from my PhD, which concluded that we need to innovate without economic growth. Around 2006 I started talking about this kind of thing and during a discussion by the future Australian Minister for the Environment [Peter Garrett], I raised a question from the back of the audience: “But how does this work in a world with finite resources?” And he just fobbed it off. I got so passionate about the idea and that he was ignoring it, because he was the former frontman of the band Midnight Oil and President of a very big environmental organisation in Australia called the Australian Conservation Foundation. So that was the activation point now that I think about it.
Is there a strong movement towards an alternative to growth in Sydney, Australia?
Not so much in Sydney, but definitely in Australia. On the back of the shift to a carbon tax and the environmental crises we face, there’s a percentage who are questioning the techno-fix approach and realising that government policy is never going to be enough. Australia has become one of the world leaders in collaborative consumption and the overall trajectory has been towards the emergence of different business models: social innovations and social enterprise – something which the government still lags behind on, but the people are moving in that direction.
Community mobilisation around the rise in bush fires, droughts and floods over the last 10 years, particularly via internet platforms, has enabled people to glimpse how we could build an asset-based economy – one that actually uses the resources that are existing locally. So all of these things put together have managed to open up in peoples’ imaginations a different economy that could exist beyond growth.
What was the impetus for How on Earth?
The real impetus was looking around at what we could see. We documented almost 5,000 things that we could see that capitalized post growth futures and looking at all that, we see a formula that not many people have alluded to.
We’re using this inductive approach that really motivates us to do something different because, having been to a lot of New Economy conferences, we see the same approach again and again which is: problem; solution. Or, what’s the problem? Let’s walk back and work out how to respond, which usually results in a regulatory response and pitches state vs market which is old-school cold war style politics and it never gets anywhere because it gets bogged down in the politics of difference and the politics of big government small government.
So the motivation here was the excitement of seeing something that could transcend left-right boundaries and look at something that could decrease the size of government whilst increasing the size of service provision which doesn’t fit within a small or big government, conservative or liberal model that’s typically put forward by people envisaging alternative economic futures.
Describe your vision of a Post Growth world.
The exciting thing is that we don’t have to put a vision out there, so much as a formula. The 21st century is about co-designing. So it’s not so much about saying, this is how it should look. Although I think some of key aspects would be:
Re-localisation: a move towards people using the internet and the digital tools available to us to re-localise production and exchange and trade so that you actually know what your neighbours have around you and thereby increase service provision and decrease the distances associated with service provision.
A monetary system which is much more grounded in reality, rather than speculation; that has incentives for maintaining that groundedness, to actual meaningful transactions.
Redistributing business models: As we allude to in our book, we think that the business models would be different, that every business will have a re-distributionary process that occurs with its income and works to increase overall wealth, rather than driving inequity which drives over-consumption.
A participatory approach: the key thing here that I just alluded to is about reducing inequality; but reducing inequality in a way that also reframes wealth from something of this mindless consumption towards meaningful connection.
In your view, what are the key drivers of the unsustainability of our human system?
Unsustainability in a practical sense is caused by overconsumption of key natural resources which is primarily driven by an accustomed, eaze and laziness for the well-off, or necessity through lack of alternatives, both real and perceived for those who are struggling, which is primarily caused by manufactured status-envy and aspirations in relation to material wealth and manufactured social inequalities, which is mostly spurred on by financial inequity and vested interests, which are central features of a system which holds, at its core, the centralised accumulation of money, wealth, assets and power.
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