Is there Life Beyond Growth? The new report by that name declares decisively yes, citing more and more countries that are seriously questioning the “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP) and traditional economic growth as their default definition of “progress.”
Despite all the economic and political turmoil of the past year — from the Arab Spring to the Great East Japan Earthquake, from the “Occupy” movement to the near-meltdown of the Eurozone — a quiet revolution in economic thought has continued to gain steam. Concepts such as “Green Economy,” “Green Growth,” “Gross National Happiness,” and even “National Wellbeing” have governments around the world exploring new ways to frame, and measure, the idea of national progress. Most recently, the United Nations formally joined the conversation, with its own high-level panel calling for “new ways to measure progress” in advance of the Rio+20 global summit.
These ideas are not new; some are decades old. But the political willingness to engage with them is *very* new. Leaders are realizing that social and environmental conditions simply demand a different approach. As Angel Gurría, head of the OECD, declared last year, “Growth as usual is no longer an option.”
Commissioned by the new Institute for Studies in Happiness, Economy, and Society (ISHES) in Tokyo, Life Beyond Growth was written to help people (especially decision-makers) come to grips with the sudden rise of these new ideas, frameworks, and alternatives to the GDP as the sole measure of “Growth as Usual.” Meant to be the first installment in an annual series of reports, Life Beyond Growth 2012 traces “the evolution of a revolution,” from the origins of traditional economic growth to the present day rise of the candidates to replace it, or complement it, as the principal goal of national development.
Life Beyond Growth also takes a geo-political look at ideas like Green Economy (popular among environmentalists) and Green Growth (embraced especially by dynamic Asian economies such as South Korea) and maps out their future prospects: Who promotes them? Who is adopting them? Where are they gaining traction or meeting resistance? And what is the impact of trends such as the rise of Corporate Social Responsibility, the protests of the Occupy movement, the persistence of armed conflicts, or the upsurge in United Nations activity tied to the Rio+20 summit? Life Beyond Growth attempts describe and even visualize these influences, and come to some conclusions.
Will measures of “Green Growth” replace the GDP in the future? Or will “Gross National Happiness” and indicators of national wellbeing eventually take an equal seat at the table? The authors and sponsors of Life Beyond Growth do not pretend to know the answers in any definitive way. But after a review that attempts to be thorough, balanced, and sympathetic, the report does take a stand. The complex global realities of our time, where one billion lead charmed lives and another billion live extremely deprived ones, demands a differentiated view. Some concepts logically, and ethically, hold more meaning for some groups than for others.
But in the end, says Life Beyond Growth, a consensus does seem to be emerging: we should all be aiming for a world that is environmentally green, economically secure, and happy, for all. Does that sound visionary? It should: if there was ever a time when the world needed a clear consensus on a new economic vision for the future, that time is now.