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Sarkozy deserves applause for his stance on growth

Jonathon Porritt

23rd September, 2009

Few people in policy work have nice things to say about the Treasury, especially if you produce reports challenging economic growth. So Sarkozy's recent move on GDP is welcome

I can’t help it, but I love seeing the Treasury discomfited.

Through my nine years with the Sustainable Development Commission they set up so many barriers to promoting more sustainable economic growth, did so many foolish things, and missed so many opportunities, that I can’t help but feel a little bitter. They were particularly obstructive in terms of the work the Commission did on economic growth, seeking to open up the debate about the completely irrational way in which the pursuit of GDP has come to dominate all economic policy debates.

The Commission’s report, ‘Prosperity Without Growth?’ was met with a combination of disdain and indifference that only the Treasury is capable of. The Commission was told, in no uncertain terms, that this just wasn’t the kind of advice that the UK Government needed.

So I had particularly good reason to celebrate the publication of a new report, authored by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen on the 'Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress’, commissioned personally by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, questioning the continued obsession of nations with conventionally measured economic growth.

'For years, statistics have registered an increasingly strong economic growth as a victory over shortage – until it emerged that this growth was destroying more than it was creating,' said Sarkozy, endorsing the report. 'The crisis doesn’t only make us free to imagine other models, another future, another world. It obliges us to do so'.

President Sarkozy has instructed France’s national statistics body to update its gathering and reporting of economic statistics in line with the report’s recommendations.

Better yet, he will invite other world leaders to join his crusade against what the report describes as 'GDP Fetishism'.
'France will put this report on the agenda of all international meetings, including next week’s G20 Summit,' Sarkozy said. I fear he’ll get very short shrift from Gordon Brown, who will see it as an irritatingly Gallic distraction from the serious business of getting the global economy back on track.

Inconveniently, that’s precisely the same track that has caused such devastating damage to the Earth’s life support systems that sustain us, has unleashed what could still prove to be irreversible climate change, has left between one and two billion people living in conditions of dire poverty, and has ruthlessly promoted private greed and avarice over social wellbeing and community cohesion.

In other words, exactly the kind of growth-based economics that “destroys more than it creates” – to paraphrase the French President.

Jonathon Porritt is director of Forum for the Future and former chair of the Sustainable Development Commission. Visit his blog page here.

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