If Growth Isn’t The Solution, Then What Is?

Plenitude Cover

This semester, Bucknell University hosted a variety of guest speakers in its Sustainability Symposium. Tonight, students had the opportunity to hear Professor Juliet Schor discuss her book Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. To give you an understanding of her writing, Plenitude focuses on the current economic and sustainability issues our globe faces today. In Schor’s presentation, she provided students with illustrations demonstrating the growing periods and recessionary periods of the past 50 years. She also linked this to the changes in employment. One specific illustration that remains clear in my mind was one that showed productivity vs. hourly compensation. Since 1948, the U.S. has experienced a productivity increase of 250%. While this is impressive, the hourly compensation level only rose by a miserly 110%. She argues that this is not sustainable by any means.

Regional_trends_in_annual_per_capita_carbon_dioxide_emissions_from_fuel_combustion_between_1971_and_2009Schor also discussed global CO2 emissions. To the general public’s knowledge, this is the main factor causing increases in global warming. In one of Schor’s slides, she showed a graph that illustrated immense CO2 growth since the year 2000. Although researchers can attribute this increase to the fact that the U.S. are more productive then ever, the truth is that other nations with comparable wealth (European countries) have half the CO2 emissions per capita as the U.S. The reason for this is that European countries possess different policies, infrastructure, and consumer patterns. They understand that growth is no longer a viable sustainability solution for wealthy countries. If we are to be sustainable, the answer lies within working less hours and spending more time concentrating on home production and less on consumerism and market exchange.

I think Schor makes a very good point when she states that we need to spend more time focusing on how to be self-sustainable by weaning ourselves off of the consumerism craze; however, I disagree about her thoughts on working less hours. While she may be focusing on the sustainability aspects in her book, her presentation provided me with the notion that working less hours was solely a solution to unemployment. Although less work hours may decrease unemployment, I think the people working those jobs would be overall less experienced. This would therefore cause a lack of efficiency and effectiveness in one’s work. If we are to solve the sustainability crisis, I believe that we must focus on consumer habits as opposed to unemployment.


3 thoughts on “If Growth Isn’t The Solution, Then What Is?

  1. I think you make a lot of great points here. I like how you bring up that working less hours could cause a lack in efficiency. Working less hours would help increase more jobs, but would the new workers be as efficient? In the short-run I think the answer is no that they would not be as efficient. New workers are most likely going to have to learn the ropes of the job before efficiency goes back up. In the long-run I don’t see how this efficiency couldn’t be regained though. The even bigger challenge I see from this would be convincing the existing workers to work less hours and how that will be beneficial for them. I think this ties into your point on focusing on consumer habits. If people didn’t feel the need to consume as much they would not have to work as much to support their spending habits.

  2. Good summary of her talk. I like how you found that one slide.

    She ended up focusing so much on reductions in hours worked. As you know from the book chapter, she has lots of other ideas for reaching plenitude. Did you try to find anyone else’s critiques of her ideas?

    I am less convinced then you are about the lack of experience. It makes sense logically, but I think the empirical record in general wouldn’t bear out what you are saying. The lower hours countries are just as productive per hour worked as the US. If what you say is true, then in France or Germany, as the average worker worked less, productivity would slow. Put another way, there may be a lower limit of working less past which learning, efficiency and productivity would suffer, but we are so over-worked, we are nowhere near it.

  3. John, I feel like your post had similar thoughts and ideas as my own. I too struggled with her argument that people should work less hours so more people can be employed. This may solve the unemployment crisis, but there are so many other issues that our world is facing. CO2 emissions are at an all time high and need to be lowered immediately. This will not, however, happen without a radical change being made to our current lifestyle. I think a good step for our world would be to actively focus on lowering these emissions before it is too late.

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