Conceptualising Implications for Human Welfare of Socio-Economic Transformations to a Sustainable Steady State

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 14:15
Location: Hörsaal 11 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Milena BUCHS, University of Southampton, United Kingdom
If degrowth scholars are right in assuming that current societies need to transition away from economic growth to prevent environmental collapse and maintain human welfare in the long term, we need to ask how this transition will impact on human welfare. The degrowth literature has argued that economic growth is not a condition for maintaining or improving human welfare and wellbeing because they do not depend on material consumption, at least not beyond a certain level of standards of living. Examples for human needs and capabilities that are thought to be relatively independent from material consumption are autonomy, security and safety, and social integration. Many of these arguments are plausible, especially when we are thinking of these relationships under conditions of social stability. However, if we are to transition to a no-growth society, this is likely to require a rapid phase of economic contraction and social change. What has been discussed less systematically in the degrowth and sustainable welfare literatures is the question of how phases of rapid socio-economic transition impact on these vital conditions for human welfare and flourishing. This transition will not only mean a rapid reduction of material consumption – and thus possible distributional conflicts – but also require a fundamental transformation of practices of how we work, consume and live our lives, all of which are closely connected to our identities and values. If changes in these different spheres happen on different timescales, they may still have negative implications for human welfare in the short to medium term. This paper will review the theoretical and empirical literature with the aim to conceptualise a possible range of implications for human welfare of transitions to a sustainable steady state with particular attention to the role of social context and institutions in mediating these implications.