Macro N Cheese devotes considerable attention to ecological economics and environmental justice. We’re always working to expand our understanding of both. Dr. Hail connects the dots between environmental sustainability and the broader public purpose. It’s a focus of his new podcast, “Modern Money Doughnut”.
But that's done best of all in Kate's book, when she talks about the doughnut, when she talks about moving away from growthism, from pursuing the growth of GDP as though that is an end in itself, and towards identifying those things which ought to be true of a successful society that provides everybody with the best possible chance of living a secure and safe and rewarding, engaged, empowered life while living within those planetary boundaries.
By expanding our scope, the problems appear more complex and vast but, paradoxically, everything starts to make more sense. The goal cannot be just to clean up the planet. If we want to sustain and prolong life on this planet, shouldn’t it be a life worth living, free of exploitation and inequality? Isn’t it kind of like trying to solve healthcare without addressing health?
Steven Hail, along with others such as our recent guest Phil Lawn, has been working to bring MMT to ecological economists. At one point there was a danger of people seeing MMT as just a more efficient way of growing the economy faster.
Steve Grumbine first heard the term “degrowth” from Steven Hail at the 2018 MMT conference in New York City. Hail says at the time he wasn’t necessarily talking about decreasing the GDP, but about living within our planetary boundaries.
Or to put it another way, to a situation in the future where we are obeying Herman Daly's three principles of sustainability, not emitting waste like carbon dioxide more rapidly than the environment can safely absorb it, not using up renewables like fish in the sea faster than our environment can renew those resources. And not using non renewables like lithium that you're digging out from under the ground at a rate which is faster than you can develop renewable alternatives for them.
When it comes to the need to reduce the GDP, Hail says he’s agnostic. Clearly, only a tiny minority benefit from its growth. Grumbine brings up the inadequacies of the GDP as a measure of those things or activities we value. Cleaning up an oil spill increases the GDP. Hail says “We don’t value a forest in GDP until we cut it down” and goes on to talk about the history of the GDP and our worship of it. They also discuss alternative measures like the Genuine Progress Indicator and the dashboard approach Jason Hickel spoke of in a recent Macro N Cheese episode.
We saw a decrease in carbon emissions in 2020 (thanks, COVID!) but now we’re approaching the global peak again – about seven times as high as in 1950. Hail says we’ve been talking about carbon emissions for 30 years and at this point it’s not enough to get them to fall, we need to get them down to zero.
We're not cutting them at all at the moment. And the message of lots of people, the Mark Diesendorfs of this world, even the Kate Raworths of this world, is that we have the technology so that we could do this. Can we do it within capitalism? Jason Hickel would say no. I think probably Bill Mitchell would say no.
Hail is known to be optimistic. His message of hope is that we have the science and resources to live within biophysical boundaries while meeting the needs of the people. How will we make that happen? He admits he may soon find himself in the streets with Extinction Rebellion.
Steven Hail is an Adjunct Associate Professor at Torrens University, having previously been a Lecturer in the School of Economics at the University of Adelaide. He is the author of Economics for Sustainable Prosperity. Find the Modern Money Doughnut podcast and Dr. Hail’s other work at Modern Money Lab.