The economics of arrival: Ideas for a grown-up economy by Katherine Trebeck & Jeremy Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have followed the writings of Jeremy Williams for many years. His articles on environment, technology, architecture and a host of other areas concerned with stepping us ‘back from the brink’ have been inspiring reading for me for longer than I care to remember.
I’ll be candid from the start: this book is phenomenal. In my opinion, it should be on the shelf (having been read from cover to cover) of every intelligent person who has even the remotest concern about the environment, economics and the future health of nations and, indeed, all life on Earth. I can’t stress this fact enough, quite honestly. Yes, I know, that sounds rather an overblown statement to make, but in this case I think it warranted.
The premise of the book is explained in the foreword by Kate Raworth. She starts with R. R. Rostow’s 1960s theory of economic growth which uses allusions to journeying which could be imagined as being on a plane journey ( pre-flight, take-off etc.) but seems to stop in its analysis with society mass-consuming as the final end (and goal) with the journey in ‘mid-flight’ as it were. Trebeck and Williams pick up from where this theory ends. If the history of economics is like a flight, they say, then sooner or later you have to land and ‘arrive’ at your destination if you follow the metaphor through; hence, the title of the book.
The authors posit the theory that, globally, we have arrived at our destination and are now over-using resources which cannot be sustained at current rates. Poverty continues, not because we don’t have enough resources, but because ‘developed countries’ are greedily pursuing growth. Indeed, the authors argue that so-called ‘developed’ countries are misnamed and are in some ways the poorer in terms of mental health and social well-being. We have to change from a growth economics to one of maintaining what we have and bringing the consumption of wealth for the sake of it to an end. In short: everything you think you know about what’s good for the economy is actually bad.
Using a range or statistics, quotes, theories and logical thinking about economics, social well-being, psychology, politics, company policies and more, Trebeck and Williams mount a convincing argument that we need to change the very essence of how society perceives success – and time is running out to do so. Every single page oozes with expert understanding and urgent call to action – you can literally open a page at random and read something challenging. They don’t just point out with evidence what is going wrong, they also reveal what is going right – companies, governments and movements which are heading into the right direction of living with ‘enough’ in a sustainable fashion, benefiting humans and nature alike. Changing the whole of human society, they argue, is achievable and actually desirable; it’s also quite literally vital.
The first half of the book is damningly critical of current economic and political reasoning. GDP as a measure of success, they argue, is the worst kind of measure you can use. The myth that growth is essential and lack of growth spells doom for a country is, they say, utter rubbish. They provide ample examples of why this is so wrong and what better measures to use. The second half of the book, having effectively told us ‘we’re all doomed’ goes into detail about ways forward – not just pie-in-the-sky theory but actual examples of how this is working right now in a myriad micro and not-so-micro ways around the world. Both authors write so well that you actually feel uplifted by their words rather than all-but-suicidal!
Had this book published ten years ago, we could have safely dismissed it as cleverly written academic tosh from a couple of environmental extremists. Certainly, at times, the authors allow themselves to step out of the shadows and speak personally and passionately like the activists they truly are, before stepping back into academic and impersonal rigour. But the timing of their book couldn’t be more perfect. With scientists globally all but screaming that the planet is in serious trouble and the headline-hitting actions of Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg among others, the world is talking about environmental issues like never before and changes from the bottom up (such as recycling and eating less meat) are beginning to happen. Less speedily, but happening nonetheless, are changes from above, with governments finally beginning to make policies which matter. Indeed, it is the conservative naysayers like Trump who now sound like the extremists. Times are changing – but will they change fast enough?
Trebeck and Williams offer a very readable introduction to saving the planet without sounding too much like a party manifesto. It’s a book which should, as I said, be read cover to cover, But then it is also one you can usefuly open at any page and read something which will challenge you, appal you, amaze you, and/or inspire you to action. That fact makes this book worth its weight in gold – or, perhaps better, in recyclable material.
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Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.