Monday, October 1, 2012

Dear Mitt

Thank you for your letter.  I have to say that it surprised me to learn that I am "one of the Republican Party's most prominent members" (although I suppose you should know).  And I must decline your invitation to "join your team as a major contributor".

In your letter, you describe your "pro-growth agenda" and promise a fundamental shift from "Washington's view of how economic growth and prosperity are achieved".  But both you and your opponent assume that those two things - "economic growth" and "prosperity" - are one and the same.  I wonder whether you are right.

Mitt, you know what it is to make wise use of inherited wealth.  Two hundred and fifty years ago, our civilization came into a vast inheritance - of natural resources like coal, oil, and ores, and of the ingenuity to make use of them.  We've paid for the growth that we have experienced since then - with all the many blessings that it has brought - by treating natural capital as income: by spending down that inheritance at an ever-increasing rate.

That is not wise use: it is not the conservative way.

Perhaps Americans are ready for leadership that acknowledges that Prosperity Without Growth (that is the title of a detailed book by UK government adviser Tim Jackson) is a possible, even perhaps the only possible goal.  Certainly statistics suggest that the growth of the US economy since the 1970s has had very little effect on the nation's self-reported happiness.

In a recent column, Ross Douthat notes this change of mood.  In keeping with the conventional wisdom, he sees it as a Bad Thing ("stagnation", "resignation"), and he suggests that it is an obstacle to your campaign. 

But perhaps you - or perhaps President Obama - may turn out to be the clear-sighted leader who can help us see that the end of growth may not be the end of the world, but the beginning of a new kind of society, as different from our growth-powered industrial age as the industrial age was from the agricultural: less frantic perhaps, but prosperous and happy, and with meaningful work for all.

You want to "restore our country to greatness" (I am quoting your letter again).  But when it was founded, America did not simply restore some Old World ideal of greatness: it defined for the world in a new way what greatness could be.  By showing the way beyond growth, could it do so again? On your watch?

No comments: