The Economics Of Arrival: Ideas For A Grown Up Economy by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams

The Blurb On The Back:

What do we want from economic growth?  What sort of a society are we aiming for?  In everyday economics, there is no such thing as enough, or too much, growth.  Yet in the world’s most developed countries, growth has already brought unrivalled prosperity: we have ‘Arrived’.

More than that, through debt, inequality, climate change and fractured politics, the fruits of growth may rot before everyone has a chance to enjoy them.  It’s high time to ask where progress is taking us, and are we nearly there yet?

In fact, Trebeck and Williams claim in this ground-breaking book, the challenge is now to make ourselves at home with this wealth, and to ensure, in the interests of equality, that everyone is included. They explore the possibility of ‘Arrival’, urging us to move from enlarging the economy to improving it, and the benefits this would bring for all. 

You can order The Economics Of Arrival: Ideas For A Grown Up Economy by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Katherine Trebeck is a senior researcher for Oxfam and Jeremy Williams a writer specialising in environmental and social issues.  In this thought-provoking but in places flawed book, packed with figures and research, they use the notion of ever-rising GDP being a damaging fallacy as a starting point to consider what an ‘Arrived’ economy would look like and how it can be transformed to focus more on environmental and equality.

The first thing to say about this book is that it’s pretty accessible for non-economist readers.  I don’t have much knowledge of the subject but for the most part was able to follow the arguments and points that the authors raise here.  The exception for me was in some of the charts and graphs, which I wasn’t able to follow for the purposes of some of the authors’ points.

Trebeck and Williams lay out their arguments in an easy-to-follow way, using each chapter to reinforce their key points.  The book starts by examining the benefits of GDP growth in terms of improving life expectancy, lifting people out of extreme poverty, reducing child mortality etc. The authors are keen to emphasise that growth itself is not a bad thing but that there comes a point when (a) you can’t keep sustaining that growth and (b) the GDP growth itself does not make much difference to the opportunities within that nation.  I was particularly interested to discover that GDP is itself an artificial construct that wasn’t designed to suggest that a society was improving.

The authors are particularly good at highlighting how growth and economic improvements are not spread equally within a society.  I have read a number of books about this subject so many of the arguments – from inequality to the detrimental environmental impact – were familiar to me.  However the authors do well at drawing out how GDP doesn’t equal quality or distribution and how the commodification of work increases anxiety and alienation.  

In terms of ways of transforming ‘Arrived’ economies there’s a big focus on increasing employee ownership of companies and representation on boards and Trebeck and Williams make some interesting suggestions for how that can be done (although given some of the recent scandals in Germany involving trade union and worker council representatives makes me a little sceptical).  There’s also an emphasis on redistribution by focusing tax on wealth, unearned income, luxury goods and common goods, e.g. mining resources, pollution, and land taxes and take a look at the benefits and downsides of automation in terms of freeing up time (albeit only when considered with redistributive policies).  I was particularly interested in the chapter looking at the circular economy (something that I had not seen discussed before).

Trebeck and Williams acknowledge that making the switches they talk about requires political will and this was where the book fell down for me because although they set out ways of agitating and campaigning on these kind of issues, I struggle to see the political powers that be acceding to them at this time.  (Although as the authors say, this should not stop you from trying).

Ultimately there is a lot of interest here for those curious about the subject and on that basis I think that it’s worth a look.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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