“It was a sense for me of how the economy fails us in relation to care, because it doesn’t understand the needs of the most vulnerable in society.”
For over three decades, economist and award-winning playwright Tim Jackson has been at the forefront of international debates about sustainability. He was Economics Commissioner for the UK Sustainable Development Commission between 2004 to 2011, and since 2016, he’s been Director of the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP). In his latest book, ‘Post Growth: Life After Capitalism’, he sets out a manifesto for a new meaning of prosperity in a world of finite resources.
We asked Tim what one word he thought was key to a kinder, more equitable, and greener world.
Read the full interview here:
I was always interested in writing stories; I remember that as a kid. To me, it was a place to go where I could explore what being human meant. There’s something that happens when you’re writing in which it draws you out of yourself and into the lives of others. That love story is profoundly important to me, because it’s what allows us to connect to each other and to understand these bigger narratives of which we’re all part.
If I think about my role as a playwright and as an economist, the thing that connects them is this sense of drawing attention to ourselves as part of society and as part of a living web of organisms on our planet.
When I was looking after my mother in the final days of her life, I always had to make a physical journey to go and see her. I came out of this very busy working life, into a world where the tasks of the day were very visceral. I remember these journeys as being like going through a kind of a tunnel, because the two worlds were not connected to each other. It was a sense for me of how the economy fails us in relation to care, because it doesn’t understand the needs of the most vulnerable in society.
I think we found out early on in the pandemic that the basis of prosperity is health rather than wealth. The mantra that’s written into our economics is continually pushing us towards more and more. The World Health Organisation tells us that more people die from diseases of overconsumption and obesity than die from undernutrition and malnutrition.
We should not go back to those old faulty measures of ‘more is better’ and we should replace them with better measures of what it means to be well. That to me is the essence of the word care. How are we doing in terms of end of life care for our elderly and the mental health of our children? How are we doing in our sense of the strength of community? How are we doing in peoples’ relationship to their local environment? It’s a very different decision making process than saying: “let’s just put money into the most profitable industries because that’s going to maximise the GDP”.
I do think it’s possible to have an economic system that takes care seriously and that pays attention to meaning and purpose. I think that in a way that’s the guiding principles for a different kind of economy: drawing attention to those parts of ourselves that we can’t buy and sell.
“We should not go back to those old faulty measures of ‘more is better’ and we should replace them with better measures of what it means to be well.”