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Club of Rome presents its new book "One percent growth is enough" in Berlin (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

'One percent growth is enough'

Kay-Alexander Scholz / tk
September 14, 2016

A renowned think tank is calling for a radical shift in solving the world's problems. Among other things, countries should slow down economic growth to only 1 percent, and promote a one-child policy. Wishful thinking?


The Club of Rome's new report includes some drastic claims. The think tank's mission is to reinvent prosperity through managing economic growth, reducing unemployment and inequality, and addressing climate change. Its new hardcover "One percent growth is enough" was officially launched in Berlin on Tuesday (13.09.2016).

The calls for action do come from experts - the organization has more than four decades of experience. The think tank's 1972 book "The Limits of Growth" brought it to prominence internationally.

Its members include entrepreneurs, scientists, industrialists and other prominent figures. Like US economist Joseph Stiglitz, former Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh, and German natural scientist and politician Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker. Weizsäcker has been the co-president of the Switzerland-based Club of Rome since 2012.

Brainwashed by neoliberalism?

Authors Jorgen Randers and club general secretary Graeme Maxton argue that after 30 years of globalization and economic growth, the world has become an unpleasant place. Millions of people have lost their jobs, and the gap between rich and poor has been growing steadily.

Smoke is discharged from chimneys and cooling towers at a coal-fired power plant in Shanghai, China
The Club of Rome calls for fossil fuel fees - on both production and consumptionImage: picture-alliance/dpa

According to Randers and Maxton, the current economic system puts development on a path driving society toward a hopeless direction, socially and environmentally speaking.

Conventional solutions like wealth tax, boosting infrastructure spending or encouraging more entrepreneurs will not help to reduce climate change, inequality and joblessness, they write.

Thus there is only one - unconventional - solution: paradigm shift. The current growth-based economic system is behind global crises. To Maxton, the fault clearly lies in upholding the neoliberal economic project - a doctrine that has brainwashed too many people, he argues.

But what is neoliberalism exactly? It's an economic theory that refers primarily to extensive economic "liberalization" policies such as privatization, deregulation of markets, free trade, and reductions in government spending to promote the private sector.

Such unregulated economic activity and lax state regulation, for example of pollution, has had severe environmental impacts and is leading to overexploitation of the world's limited natural resources, neoliberalism's opponents argue.

A mine pit in Bayan Obo, north China (Photo: Xinhua)
Lax environmental standards allow for overuse of resources and pollution problemsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

But what could systemic change look like? The authors propose: "One percent growth is enough."

Not all the recommendations are revolutionary. They call for increasing the retirement age to 70, higher excise duties and a universal basic income for those who need it.

Yet there's also plenty for the Earth in the authors' list.

What's in for the environment?

  • More public money to be spent on green economic stimulus packages through higher taxes, to finance measures against climate change
  • Imposing taxes on fossil fuels like brown coal, in order to promote alternative energy sources
  • Ecological transformation in the workplace, including subsidies for employees who switch to a more eco-friendly job
  • Introducing a tax system for consumption of natural resources. In plain terms, for consumers: More expensive flight tickets and higher heating costs

Germany to provide technology and innovation

German Development Minister Gerd Müller at the Club of Rome press conference in Berlin (Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska)
Müller: "It's about a different kind of growth"Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Skolimowska

"It's not about less growth, but about a different growth," said German Development Minister Gerd Müller at the public launch in Berlin. He said that the planet is on the brink. Global society has to choose to either walk towards that brink, or shape sustainable growth, he argues.

Yet Müller seemed quite optimistic about the future. Germany and Europe are clusters of know-how, he said. The region has a lot to offer with regard to technology and innovation.

Such technologies can be used to alleviate hunger amid rampant population growth. There is enough room for 10 billion people on the globe, he said - but only if economic growth can be de-coupled from resource use.

According to the minister, western consumption habits, "like our cars, our lifestyle," cannot be the way to go for India or Africa. There's just not enough resources and energy available, he stressed.

But why should anyone want to withhold that lifestyle from people in Africa or India? This was followed by a ripe silence.

View over Mexico City (Photo: AP/ Gregory Bull)
A one-child policy would save resources for a more equitable global society - but how could it be implemented?Image: AP

Fewer children, more resources

Particularly controversial is the proposal of a one-child policy, which industrialized countries are supposed to promote.

Randers argues that a child born in an industrialized country consumes about 30 times more resources than a child born in India. The West could lead by example - by bringing fewer children into the world. Women giving birth to only one child would receive cash bonuses, should this wish list be implemented.

Development Minister Müller welcomed the new report, despite some of its polarizing suggestions. But he thinks it necessary to have discussions based on concrete proposals. Apocalyptic warnings don't help, he added.

Despite its prominence, the Club of Rome remains contested. Critics say the "neoliberal" economic system has not failed in every country. It's lifted millions of people out of extreme poverty. Some of them are now part of an emerging middle class. China and India are leading the way, proponents argue.

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