10:45 GMT +322 February 2019
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    Brave New World

    Finally, the 'Circular Economy'

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    John Harrison

    There is considerable support for a new economic theory called: ‘the circular economy’ amongst western economists. We could at last be seeing the birth of an alternative economic system which has sustainability built in.

    Stephen Keen, Professor of economics at the School of Social And Behavioural Sciences at the University of Kingston, UK, participates in this program.

    The current mainstream global economic system seems to be constructed on the idea that satisfaction and happiness come from growth, indeed the success of our economies is measured in terms of growth. But what if we are making a fundamental mistake here. What if growth was never actually intended to bring about wellbeing? and what if economics as a whole should be integrated into the wider picture of what the planet on which we live on can actually support. This sounds obvious, but in fact, economists and even some (outstanding) politicians are only now coming around to realizing that we have to make fundamental changes to our systems not only to achieve a happy future but a future at all.

    It was the Nobel Prize winner, Simon Kuznets of Russian origins, who formulated the classical method of calculating GDP. But in 1934 he warned: “The welfare of a nation can scarcely be inferred from a measure of national income.” Professor King refers to GDP as being an accurate measure of an economy, but only in limited terms, because it does not take into account that the resources of the planet are being used up one and a half times more quickly than they are being regenerated, so any growth is taking place on borrowed time. The idea of capitalism itself has not produced the Shangri-La that perhaps we thought it was going to, and Professor Keen highlights the main problems with the ‘system’ as it exists now.

    Professor Keen describes the basic idea of the ‘circular economy,’ from a critical point of view, however he makes it clear that whatever we may think, we will all be forced, in the very near future – because of the way that climate change will threaten our very existence – to adopt a new economic system. We could have changed the way we do things 40 or 50 years ago Professor Keen says, but because we didn’t, we are simply going to have to make changes very soon.

    Professor Keen talks about the Achilles heel of this new model – that the ‘doughnut economy’ as envisaged by Kate Raworth will still need a ‘market’ to make it work, and it is not immediately clear how this will work. Professor Keen sees that the ‘market’ will still be able to function if caps are placed on the rewards gained by capitalists in recognition that many of the successes which they achieve are the results of hard work by others. Professor Keen is very clear that the circular economy does not aim to create a kind of Marxist economy. Rather a soft capitalist model. He describes Marxists as having made the mistake of thinking that wealth came from labor, and that this was based on the exploitation of labor. “That’s flat out wrong. Where the wealth has come from is the exploitation of energy; labor and machinery are two ways in which we harness this energy. But then we have a struggle over the distribution of the wealth from that, … and the appalling machinery that people had to use of course gave rise to evolutionary fervor…” Professor Keen says.

    The ‘circular economy’ is well worth thinking seriously about.

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    labour, doughnut economics, circular economy
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