Economist Kenneth Boulding has famously said that "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist".
Anyone with an ounce of numeracy can understand the deep truth in the claim that exponential growth is impossible in the long run (as such curves inevitably turn to the heavens and beyond). But at the same time, our everyday experiences (and those of our parents and of their parents and of relatives, neighbors, journalists, politicians and "captains of industry") seem to contradict this statement. We have come to take (exponential) economic growth for granted. Anything less than 3% or perhaps 2% or even 1% economic growth year-on-year "forever" is taken to be an aberration. Few people seriously consider the implications of a steady-state economy - an economy that doesn't grow. I could write whole essays about this topic, and I have (in Swedish).
There are however a few people who do consider and plan for a steady-state or even a shrinking economy, and some of them have gathered under the umbrella of the organization Steg 3 ("Step 3"). Step 3 is thus a Swedish growth-critical (or as they prefer to say, a "growth-realistic") grassroots movement that wants to raise the dilemmas of economic growth into the public debate. How can the single-minded goal of economic growth be dethroned from its position as the one and only goal worth discussing and indeed thinking about in our society? How can we instead discuss life quality above and beyond (only) economic values and economic dimensions?
I saw an invitation and went to a November Step 3 meeting that apparently was some kind of kick-off activity. People clustered in more than a dozen different groups and talked about specific issues that were close to their hearts ("sustainable city development", "decreasing working hours", "visions of alternatives (to the current system)", "influencing media", "influencing politics", "denial", "inner change"). Some of these spontaneous discussion groups have later turned into Step 3 working groups. I personally suggested there should be a group working on "growth-critical research" - specifically targeting those of us working at universities and/or within research and higher education.
We have thus formed such a group and we held our first meeting yesterday (four persons showed up). We discussed what the function of such a group could/should be, and what we (us four) would personally like to get from such a group. The activities of the group will be organized though a distribution list tying researchers in different parts of Sweden together, as well as complemented with local meetings in cities with a critical mass of people.
At the moment, eight persons are interested in coming to physical meetings in Stockholm and 12 persons have expressed their interest in being on a distribution list. I think these numbers will rise when there is a group and a distribution list to point at.
So, what kind of activities would such a group do? We floated some ideas and I think the number of ideas will increase further when more people join in. Still, I think we managed to together formulate an impressive list of uses - definitely enough to make such a group instantly useful for me personally. Here is a selection of stuff we want to use this group for:
Things we can do directly:
- Start a distribution list (a Google group with automatic archival functionality)
- Ask members to post a short presentation of themselves on the list
Things to then do:
- Keep track (repost) info about upcoming conferences (workshops etc.).
- "Best paper award"; each member lists his/her three favorite Step 3-related (annotated) scientific articles
- My interests: three research questions I would love to explore
- Find co-authors for contributions to conferences, workshops etc.
- Keep track of grant proposals
- Find co-authors for grant proposals
- Form a reference group that could give feedback on not-yet-handed-in grant proposals
- Exchange lectures in university courses (or tips about guest lecturers)
- Organize a retreat/workshop at a members country house (should be several to choose from in this particular group...) to get to know each other better, find people with overlapping interests and form smaller groups with people you could/would like to cooperate with
- Write articles together
- Help other university teachers create Step 3-inspired or Step 3-related university courses (or activities/modules in courses)
- Facebook group? Blog with more advanced functionality?
We did not think the primary purpose of the distribution list should be to discuss different issues. The functions above are less "interactive" and geared more towards networking and disseminating information. I think that is as it should be. I like discussions, but perhaps not in a distribution list...
We didn't think too much about the interaction between our group and the larger Step 3 network - that is still to come. There are probably many other things we haven't thought about yet, but I'm pretty happy about the meeting and about the outcome.
If you are interested in joining our growth-critical research network/group, please first sign up as a Step 3 member and then get in touch with me!