By Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams

Book Cover: The Economics of Arrival; Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy (2019)

What do we want from economic growth? What sort of a society are we aiming for? In everyday economics, there is no such thing as enough, or too much, growth. Yet in the world’s most developed countries, growth has already brought unrivalled prosperity: we have ‘arrived’.

More than that, through debt, inequality, climate change and fractured politics, the fruits of growth may rot before everyone has a chance to enjoy them. It’s high time to ask where progress is taking us, and are we nearly there yet?

In fact, Trebeck and Williams claim in this ground-breaking book, the challenge is now to make ourselves at home with this wealth, to ensure, in the interests of equality, that everyone is included. The Economics of Arrival explores the possibility of ‘Arrival’, urging us to move from enlarging the economy to improving it, and the benefits this would bring for all.

Reviews:Anne Ryan on The Foundation for the Economics of Sustainability (FEASTA) wrote:

"It’s a great book and a must-read for anyone who has recently become interested in environment, ecology, social justice and economics. The concepts and ideas in The Economics of Arrival won’t be new to Feasta members and many others who are concerned with steady-state and post-growth economics, but the writing is fresh and accessible. It has helped me in my efforts to communicate the issues and possibilities to people who are not familiar with the need for limits and an end to aggregate growth. [...] The book uses the Doughnut Economics Model developed by Kate Raworth, who posits a ‘sweet spot’ of ‘enough’ for countries (Raworth has written the book’s foreword). If countries fall short, there is a lack of services and wellbeing for inhabitants, and if they overshoot, there is social and environmental destruction. [...] The authors take a holistic view of development (pp140-44), and do not assume that people all around the world will want to follow a uniform model of development and participation in the global economy. That said, the book is primarily about where rich countries need to go and how they need to arrive. The authors’ assert that we need ‘new business models, ways of raising finance without interest, sharing to end poverty rather than relying on “growing the pie”, recasting notions of productivity and a focus on cooperation as well as competition’ (p77). [...] Trebeck and Williams are also clear that degrowth and steady state thinking does not involve a blueprint and I found their discussion of this helpful. [...] This is a gateway book that looks at policies and systems focussed on sharing and degrowth, with the aim of wellbeing for all. They give numerous examples of pioneering movements, companies and some governments that are trying to do just that: on small and big scales. [...] The authors make the point, however, that more is needed than movements and companies modelling good practice. Politicians of all hues need to take this knowledge seriously and make economic decisions based on it. They need to go beyond the rhetoric of green growth to a genuine understanding of post-growth and steady state. Could this book go beyond the marginalised community of those who currently promote sufficiency and related systems?"

John Brenton on TransformingSociety wrote:

"What happens when economic growth offers diminishing returns on wellbeing? This is the embarkation point for The Economics of Arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams. The book has an excellent narrative arc examining first the fruits to growth and the delivery of better living standards for a large proportion of the world’s people. The authors move on to look at the problems that have accrued from economic growth in these areas and also the other parts of the world that serve highly developed economies but do not share the fruits of that growth. There are diminishing returns – and even harm – from growth in the rich world as wealth becomes concentrated in relatively small areas and small groups of people. Growth for growth’s sake in rich economies, they argue, makes very little sense, if the negative consequences outweigh the positive. The rest of the book looks at what economies focussed on wellbeing and growth would look like. Probably most compelling parts of the book are those which give sketches and vignettes of how life could be under a wellbeing focused economy. [...] However, the authors also make the point that the transformational shift from quantitative to qualitative development needs to be a deliberate process, and meaningful change needs to start with more than a network of beacons and good practice. It has been and will be difficult for political parties of all colours in the developed world to propose programmes in which growth is no longer front and centre. The simplicity and sure-footed narrative of the book has the potential to make these ideas accessible to a new, more mainstream audience. [...] It is a hopeful, enthusiastic and accessible book"

Silver Donald Cameron on OpenDemocracy wrote:

"Is there life beyond growth, and wealth beyond money? This is where The Economics of Arrival really shines. The work of Trebeck and Williams is part of a growing worldwide trend to explore the possibilities of another kind of economy, variously described as an economy of life (as opposed to our current economy of death), an economy of happiness, an economy of freedom, an economy of genuine wealth, even an economy of love. [...] Trebeck and Williams list off new forms of socially-oriented business – co-operatives, foundations, charities, non-profit corporations, and so on. They note that assets that rightly belong to the whole community, like air, water and land, can be vested in trusts owned by the whole community and managed for the common good, including future generations; and they cite research showing that human beings do work together in this way when the structure and culture are supportive. The commons do not always become a tragedy. [...] Trebeck and Williams stress the rise of businesses that allow us to share, rent or lease everything from automobiles (through car-sharing) and accommodation (AirBNB) to films and music (Netflix and iTunes). We have long had libraries for books, but we can also have libraries for tools, toys, electronics and farm equipment. Today, in various settings, it is possible to buy a service where we used to buy a product. [...] Trebeck and Williams also stress the relationship between equity, democracy and environment, and note the emergence of participatory budgeting and planning (which can be done right now, anywhere) as models of long-term thinking based in community-wide values and aspirations. [...] The Economics of Arrival is a truly remarkable book, describing both the frightening political and economic errors of the present and also the enormous range of projects through which human ingenuity is attempting to resolve them. With a substantial bibliography and extensive notes, it also provides an impressive guide for further reading and research."

Jacob Debets on New Economy Journal wrote:

"The premise of Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams’ new book The Economics of Arrival boils down to the following: (1) the concept of endless growth as the overarching goal of an economy is unsustainable and misguided; (2) the world’s richest countries (including Australia) have Arrived at a place where continued expansion is incapable of -- and indeed antithetical to -- the resolution of its social and economic problems; (3) if the benefits of growth were distributed more fairly, a decent standard of living could be universal; and (4) nation states should re-orient their economies around maintenance, qualitative improvements, sharing, fragility and adaption to natural limits, which they term making ourselves at home. Trebeck and Williams’ critique of infinite growth, and in particular mainstream economists’ obsession with GDP as the metric for a nation’s overall health, is a familiar one to critics of neoliberal orthodoxy. However, the framework that they apply for disrupting this paradigm -- and the nomenclature they propose for understanding and implementing a genuine alternative to ‘unaimed opulence’ -- is both accessible and compelling. [...] There is nothing about Trebeck and Williams’ analysis that shies away from the enormity of what they are proposing. But by combining a devastating critique of our current status quo with a comprehensive, convincing and practical framework for an alternative society, one is left feeling hopeful and empowered."


Relevant Links

Katherine Trebeck on Building a Global Wellbeing Economies Alliance

Highlights:

  • Just before 6 minutes in: how can we shift our economy so that it is better for people and for planet?
  • Just before 15 minutes: an introduction to the work of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance (WeAll) and their theory of change.
  • At 27 minutes: exploration of the most important steps we can take to build a global alliance around the wellbeing economy.
  • At 36 minutes: ideas on communicating the wellbeing economy to wider audiences.
  • At 47 minutes and 30 seconds: start of audience question and answers.

Table of Contents of The Economics of Arrival

with a foreword by Kate Raworth

  1. Introduction
  2. The fruits of growth
  3. Are the fruits of growth beginning to rot?
  4. Stockholm Syndrome
  5. Rushing past our stop
  6. Embracing Arrival and making ourselves at home
  7. What we might find in making ourselves at home
  8. Arrival and making ourselves at home in the real world
  9. Are we nearly there yet
  10. From individual initiatives to system change
  11. Choosing Arrival
  12. Conclusion

About Jerry Williams and Katherine Trebeck

Jeremy Williams is an independent writer and campaigner. He studied journalism and international relations and specialises in communicating social and environmental issues to a mainstream audience. He has worked on projects for Oxfam, RSPB, WWF, Tearfund and many others, and is a co-founder of the Postgrowth Institute. His award-winning website was ranked Britain’s number one green blog in 2018

Katherine Trebeck is a researcher and advocate for a new economic paradigm and is based in Scotland. She has many years' experience, including as Knowledge and Policy Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and over eight years for Oxfam GB. She has a PhD in Political Science from the Australian National University and honorary posts with the University of Strathclyde and the University of the West of Scotland. Her work has ranged from construction of a new measure of progress for Scotland to rapporteur for Club de Madrid's Shared Societies and Sustainability project.