Add Your Voice to the Vision

05/20/2015 - 9:49am
Illustration of a family standing in front of a futuristic city, featuring solar panels, high-speed rail lines and a mix of residential and commercial businesses. Other people are visible in the city.

Working to build a new economy from the bottom up will require a lot of experimentation. Having a long-term vision can help make sure such new experiments open the door to even more transformative change in how the economy works.

The Great Transition Initiative was founded twelve years ago by a group of academics and activists in order to think more deeply into how to make such progressive social transformation happen and how that vision of a transformed society should look. The term “Great Transition” comes from the work of the Global Scenarios Group, founded in the 1990s in the wake of the growing discussion around sustainable development. The GSG traced potential pathways into the future—evolution, decline, and progressive change. It offered a foundation for hope by showing that a better world of greater equity, enriched lives, and ecological resilience was possible.

Last year, the Great Transition Initiative (GTI) launched a new website to provide a platform for the exploration of the theory and practice of such a transition. We have been hosting discussions every other month oriented around upcoming GTI publications in the corresponding Great Transition Network (GTN), a wide network of scholars and practitioners from around the world.

New economy thinking plays a large role in these discussions because moving toward a planetary civilization rooted in individual well-being, social solidarity, and ecological stewardship requires re-imagining and redesigning the economy. Already many of our GTI publications have addressed these issues and more:

  • Can the commons provide a template for such a social and economic transformation?
  • Does the monetization of nature in new instruments like payments for ecosystems services or GDP alternatives help us see the real value of nature or subject it to the corrosive forces of commodification and privatization at work in today’s capitalist economy?
  • Given the negative social and environmental impacts of growth, can degrowth theory present a viable and desirable path forward, and if so, how?
  • As we near or pass key ecological tipping points, how can we create an economy that functions within planetary boundaries?

On May 1, we opened a discussion around a new essay by renowned ecological economist and grandfather of steady-state economic theory Herman Daly, entitled “Economics for a Full World.” Daly argues that the founding assumptions of neoclassical economics no longer hold, as we have moved from an “empty world” of seemingly boundless resources to a “full world” characterized by clear resource constraints. Although qualitative development is still possible and, of course, desirable, the quantitative growth experienced in the past is not. In order to adapt to this new world, economists must begin viewing the economy as a subsystem of the wider ecosphere, rather than vice versa. He presents the vision of a steady-state economy as well as a series of policies that could help us actualize such a vision. Economic debates are often, at their core, ethical debates, and Daly tries to restore that connection between ethics and economics, calling us to think deeply and critically about what the purpose of the economy should truly be.

We hope these discussions and publications help us envision what we need to make the Great Transition happen. We invite New Economy Coalition members and individuals interested in the deeper exploration of these ideas to join us on the GTN and help us explore these topics. We invite anyone interested in exploring these ideas to join us here.


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I'm a high school science

I'm a high school science teacher with a strong interest in the role of education in the global transition. I'm currently studying my Masters and hope to complete my thesis in this area and would greatly appreciate being a part of the GTI discussion from this perspective. 

I live in Canada.

I live in Canada. I feel that providing a basic income for each person might be the answer to some of the problems that face our world. That way they can at least look after their own basic needs like food and shelter.  I think that the idea of the Basic Income movement has great potential but only if we are able each to have our own voice and receive our own "dignity cheque".     Why do we need to lobby politicians? The politicians should already know about the choice that basic income offers. If they don't know then what are they doing there? Who are they representing?    Contrary to what we are led to believe, the politicians we are given to vote for are not chosen by the people but by whatever group happens to make up the nominating committee of whatever political party happens to be chosen by that party.  And yes, he will be chosen because he is seen as being a winner.  It is doubtful that any homeless person has ever been on one of these nomination committees let alone been chosen as a candidate. Homeless people are not exactly seen as winners, are they?     Party members themselves are a particular breed of followers who are expected to comply and once their winner gets in, the party members are expected to support him unconditionally. I say he because women are not usually favoured under this system.   Anyone who has had to deal with civil servants or politicians or other agents soon discovers that the individual person matters very little. What matters is where some rulebook places you on whatever bell curve the agent is using during that budget period.  If you happen to be favoured with a job or an education or nice housing or a lucrative contract or a good career are you going to dare speak up and endanger your own chance in order to speak up for those who are not so fortunate?    We all know what happens to the individual who does not quietly go along with mob-rule of any movement that claims to act in their best interest. This mob may be run by families or governments or religions or powerful corporations or CEOs or NGOs or other groups we might not even know about.  It really doesn't matter. Mob is still mob.  I think of it as the Godfather Clause.  It is some group taking advantage of some system for the benefit of its own members. This is what now happens all over our world.    If we think it should be the people then it is to the people we need to appeal, not to politicians. Going to politicians for support is yet another top-down way of operating and not the grass roots I believe we need.   My one real concern is that, like any movement, this will turn into yet another cash cow to provide power and position to those who are able to grab what they can. Will people be forced to choose once more between blindly joining in or risk being left behind jobless, powerless, voiceless and destitute?