The ‘GDP fetish’

The FT’s Janan Ganesh recently ‘dismissed the Green Party as hippy eccentrics for, among other things, contemplating zero per cent gross domestic product growth’.

cropper five seasons kindle unlimited coverCardiff author Don Cropper counters: “In this respect, the Greens are only as eccentric as the boy who pointed out the problem with the Emperor’s new clothes”.

He explains: “GDP growth broadly equates to a growing throughput of energy and material resources in the economy. How much sense, then, does it make to advocate exponentially increasing GDP, for ever and ever, within the limits of a finite biosphere? The laws of physics are not trumped by free trade, or innovation or whatever else is supposed to make infinite economic growth come true.

“Yet this is exactly what our entire corporate and political establishment professes to believe.

“Moreover, the evidence indicates that biodiversity collapse, catastrophic depletion of soil and freshwater resources, and dramatic alteration in the dynamics of the oceans and atmosphere, are today unfolding at a rate unprecedented in the known record of life on Earth. The biosphere on which we depend is being lethally reconfigured by our ever-expanding appetite for nature’s resources. In short, by economic growth.

devinder 6 ndtvIndian analyst Devinder Sharma also raised the issue of ‘the GDP fetish’ this morning: “The fact is that the more you destroy the environment (and the planet) the higher is the economic growth. You can bomb a city, and then rebuild it. The GDP soars. Similarly, if you allow the biotechnology companies to contaminate your food and environment, the health costs go up and so does the GDP. The more the application of all kinds of deadly pesticides and chemical fertilizers the higher is GDP growth.

The Chinese precedent

Sharma points out that more than seventy of China’s smaller cities and counties have dropped GDP as a ‘performance metric’ for government officials, in an effort to shift the focus to environmental protection and reducing poverty. The move, detailed in two articles in the Financial Times, follows a directive by leaders last year – one of the first concrete signs of China switching the pursuit of economic growth at all costs towards measures that encourage better quality of life.

As Fortune magazine reported last March, local governments in China were pursuing growth at any cost and food safety was being compromised. Pollution is still widespread.

Shanghai has now become the first major city to abandon GDP targets

This is a bid to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to economic expansion. Zhou Hanmin, vice chairman of the top Communist Party committee in Shanghai, told the BBC in London that the goal is a more balanced economy.

Cropper summarises: “Time has run out for the doctrine of infinite GDP growth. The Greens, though not perfect, are at least willing to discuss what no one else in the political and economic mainstream seems to have the courage to confront”.

Localise Birmingham? A lead from India

The sheer size of the city was brought home to the writer who accidentally travelled the 49’s circuitous bus route which crossed many city wards. With the exception of glossy Longbridge – a ‘revolution in regeneration’ – it was clear that there was a great deal to be done in several rather neglected and dismal wards, but that the indebted and over-stretched city council is fully occupied by city centre development.


A local blog’s August recommendation:

bvt logo

Combine Dr Dick Atkinson’s concept* of returning the city’s administration to its original villages with Localise West Midlands’ data in their full Mainstreaming Community Economic Development report.

atkinson urban village

Then enlist the highly experienced and successful Bournville Village Trust to oversee and guide the setting up of ten such village trusts. With appropriate capital and income – not just a Neighbourhood Community Budget – this would leave the council to co-ordinate services such as refuse collection and transport.

narendra modi (2)The Times of India reports that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the way by adopting one Indian village after initiating a village development campaign: “Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana”.

In a pleasing example of cross-party co-operation – opposition leaders, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi have followed suit . . .

devinder 6 ndtvThis has some relevance to the proposed urban villages – and Delhi’s Devinder Sharma adds to our designers’ preoccupation with aesthetics and logistics, the link with the ‘rural hinterland’:

“A smart village will not only bring internet connection into the rural hinterland but also provide support to sustainable agriculture practices. A smart village will automatically link local production with local procurement and local distribution”.


*Dick Atkinson: ‘The Common Sense of Community’ (Demos, White Dove Press, 1994 pp13-14)



A message from Delhi about growth blindness: a manufactured disease

An economic system created by and for moneyed interests:

devinder sharma 4Analyst Devinder Sharma writes about universities, educational institutes and business schools which are churning out graduates and postgraduates who are made to believe in the magic potion of growth. Newspapers are full of reports and quotes about growth. Finance ministers everywhere in the world swear by economic growth.

TV anchors, most of whom have not ventured out of their plush offices for years, are hung up on economic growth because that is what they have read in the university, and if they ever try to question the growth paradigm, the business house owning the channel will throw them out.

He concludes: basically, it’s all about protecting and saving your job. Whether you are a journalist, economist, academician, credit rating analyst or a politician, singing the growth chorus will help to save your job.

  • When we are told 80% of Americans live in ‘near poverty’ we just ignore it.
  • When we read that pollution levels in China and India are reaching dangerous levels, we take it as a small sacrifice that people must make for the sake of growth.
  • When the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that the world is getting closer to a tripping point, we go back to textbooks which tells us that every disaster is a business opportunity – meaning more growth.

The EU’s 5th Project: transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies

Olivier de SchutterOver the years, a handful of thinkers, including some economists, have begun to question the sustainability of growth economics. Their number is growing with each passing week. While the objective of this piece is not to take you through the corridors of alternative to growth economics that is building up, look at the latest initiative by Olivier De Schutter, who till recently was the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food. He called for a conference: The EU’s 5th Project: transitional Governance in the Service of Sustainable Societies, which has just been held in Brussels, May 8-9, 2014. Olivier says:

We need alternatives to GDP growth as the goal of public policy, and we need alternatives to work and wealth accumulation as the driving forces in our lives. A genuine transition in the way we live is the only true path to sustainability. But it must be accompanied by a transition in the way we govern. This is Europe’s fifth project.”

 Schutter header

Booking closed well before the event as demand exceeded the number of places. Among the speakers noted were Rob Hopkins of Transition Towns, and social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson.

The EU’s 5th Project Conference posed a few key questions. These are the basic questions that every sensible person should be asking:

There are already distinguished people working on a radical overhaul of the food system, making it more local and sustainable. There are social entrepreneurs, academicians, thinkers, writers and activists who are talking of the Economics of Happiness. There are environmental movements across the globe that are fighting for bringing in some sanity in the economic growth paradigm. Their voice is growing.

Sharma ends: “Meanwhile, stand up and be counted. It’s time to remove growth blindness. At stake is your own survival, and the future of your children. You can’t leave a dead planet behind”. #

Extracts from a post by Devinder Sharma to Ground Reality

Farmers’ markets in India, Poland, England and America


farmers market 2 krakow. jpeg.

Julian Rose sends a link to a video about a new farmers’ market set up in Krakow: When questioned about the web’s reference to many farmers’ markets of long-standing in the city, Julian explained:

“Most of these markets are not authentic ‘local’ suppliers and are also often fronted by middle men. Probably around half the sellers can’t (or won’t) tell one where their produce came from. In many instances it is shipped in from surrounding countries that have surpluses – and is sold very cheap.

Shortening the supply chain

”So this market in the film is an initiative of Krakow local authorities to highlight those farmers/growers/processors who operate close to the city and who sell good quality and fresh produce. We support this initiative – and take the view that there are still far too many heading out to the supermarkets – with the consequential loss of local markets. A familiar story . . .”


“It is clear that organized retail is not the answer to food mismanagement“

onion trader medium cartoonIn the Deccan Times, analyst Devinder Sharma records that in August, hoarding and speculation in India led to middlemen making huge profits from creating an artificial scarcity. Prices rocketed. The organized Indian retail chains were supposed to remove the array of middlemen and provide vegetables and fruits much cheaper to the consumers, but their prices had remained almost at the same level as the open market.  He writes:

“But there is a renaissance in food delivery, quality of produce and economics that I find is slowly but steadily taking root. From Australia to United States, from Japan to Argentina, local food systems are changing. Enhancing the livelihoods of local producers, and meeting the consumers’ aspiration, food markets are now becoming popular . . .

“Farmers Markets provide farmers and consumers with a suitable environment to interact, and that enables farmers to meet the specific needs of the consumers. They enable greater consumption of fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables, and reduce the carbon footprint. Since consumers are now increasingly aware of the damage chemical pesticides and fertilizers do to health and immune systems, demand for organic food is growing by approximately 20% every year. Moreover, since farmers come and sell directly to consumers on a regular basis, farmer’ markets eliminate middlemen and provide stable prices”.

More commission agents are now operating in India’s traditional markets and Sharma calls for a mechanism to be evolved that makes farmers’ markets only accessible for genuine farmers. He suggests encouraging them to form cooperatives for marketing purposes – each cooperative to participate in farmers’ markets, leaving farmers to undertake other farming operations.

Problems of authenticity also surfaced in Britain and America

national farmers markets association logoHeathfield News reports from Sussex: “Unfortunately soaring popularity has spawned a new problem – bogus markets that claim to offer food from local farmers promoting locally-grown produce – but are in truth shops and businesses selling goods from widespread sources.

“Now the Farmers’ Markets are fighting back with a series of measures aimed at protecting the original ethos of local growers selling their produce direct to the customer. America’s National Association of Farmers’ Markets has launched the world’s first accreditation system for Farmers’ Markets”.


’New’ weather demands a new politics – and economics?

“Isn’t it time to rethink our international trade policies?” asks New Delhi agricultural scientist and trade policy analyst Devinder Sharma today, just before a powerful summary of the crucial importance of a healthy environment to the global economy on Radio 4 this morning by Tony Juniper and complementing a recent article by George Monbiot.

Creating and popularising local markets: the alternative to WTO ‘madness’

Food_Miles_Report_coverSharma writes: “In 1994, I remember reading an excellent report, Food Miles, produced by Sustain – now updated and republished. It told us about the dangers of shipped food across the continents, processed and repacked elsewhere, and then shipped back to the same country from where it all started.

“There were several glaring examples, which should have woken up the policy makers and of course the economists who talk of everything but make little sense. Food on an average travels 3,000 miles before it reaches your plate. This itself was such a startling revelation that should have made consumers to rethink, but somehow it did not.

“Supermarkets excel in globe-trotting for food products, taking advantage of the cheap processing costs (and also taking advantage of the massive fuel subsidies), remaining unmindful of the carbon footprint they generate in the process . . .

Is aviation fuel cheaper than Coke?

himachal apples2“I have never understood the logic of allowing apples to be imported all the way from New Zealand and Chile into India while there are no takers for apples from Himachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Similarly, what is the logic behind allowing Washington apples to be exported to India, while Chinese apples travel all the way to the US, controlling roughly 45% of the US market. The food globe-trotting is happening because the aviation fuel is damn cheap. Many have said that aviation fuel actually works to be cheaper than Coke! (Ed. See the Himachal Live News describing local markets as a boon for their apple growers.)

airport watchSharma cited the 2007 Airport Watch post, recording the Sunday Times’ finding that supermarket chain Sainsbury’s Traidcraft coffee is grown in Bukoba, Tanzania; the coffee beans then travel 656 kms to Dar-es-Salaam and are shipped to Vijaywada in Andhra Pradesh, 3,250 miles from Dar-es-Salaam. In Vijaywada the beans are packed and shipped to Southampton in UK – 5,000 miles. From there it goes to Leeds and is then redistributed to Sainsbury stores worldwide.

He expects that, with the approval granted recently to FDI in retail in India, Sainsbury will find it convenient to ship the packed coffee from Leeds to New Delhi.

World Trade Organisation (WTO) and climate negotiations work at cross-purposes

Going to the heart of the matter, Sharma points out that the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Climate negotiations actually work at cross-purposes:

“While WTO will push for more of such trade, it doesn’t pay any heed to the resulting carbon footprint such trade generates and the impact it has on global warming. Similarly, Climate negotiators are not calling for restricting such unwanted trade as a precursor to climate control standards”.

His recommendation: creating and popularising local markets is perhaps the only viable alternative to the madness of making food travel across the globe.

Consumers have a very important role to play here. Try to avoid being lured by products which claim to have brought you the same processed stuff from far away which is grown in your neighbourhood. Keep a close watch.

apple juice urban harvest

Why go for processed orange drink from Chile or from US, when you have fresh and tasty juice available in your local market (eg. courtesy of Urban Harvest above)? By making such sensible choices you will have played your small but effective part in limiting the global carbon footprint.#

Read Sharma’s article at Ground Reality at 1/14/2013