″No Economic Growth at any Cost″ | Best of GMF 2014 | DW | 03.05.2013
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Best of GMF 2014

"No Economic Growth at any Cost"

Aart De Geus, chairman and CEO of the Bertelsmann Stiftung, to speak at the 2013 Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum.

When presenting your goals as the new chairman of the Bertelsmann Foundation you said that Europe should not degenerate into a purely economic project because it was primarily a union of shared values. What makes you believe that profits and values can be reconciled at all?

Profits and values are not mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary; I would say that you can't make a profit without having strong values. Why? Because businesses, needs rules and compliance. To enforce rules and to balance freedom and security you need values. Without values there is no integration.

In general, we all profited greatly from the European integration process, the common market and the euro. But now we are taking a closer look. We can see that not everything was set up well, and that not everybody profited equally. Some countries, like Germany, benefited more than others. And also at domestic level we see growing inequalities. The balance was lost, and that has created both political and economic problems. Reviving and maintaining this balance between profit and values is crucial. If we lose it, we are all worse off.

Europeis extremely important to us. We cannot imagine our future or our countries' future in this world without it. But we are in a truly challenging situation. We had better get it right this time, and maintain our awareness of those who are suffering.

You aspire to internationalize the Bertelsmann Foundation, especially in light of the financial crisis. Your answer to the crisis is the formation of the “United States of Europe”. Is that a realistic goal or more of a vision for the future?

We strongly believe that we need a Europe that is better-built, and we strongly believe that the time to build it is now. We need not just more integration but better integration. One example is the banking sector. There is no such thing as a national finance sector any more; finance is highly internationalized. If we as states wish to improve our rules and secure our businesses, then we need to work together. Another example is the social dimension. If Europe cannot create perspectives for employment we lose the support of electorates.

In years past, we have focused on opening markets. That's not bad, but it can't be the only answer, either. We need to act on our social challenges, and we need to tackle the credibility and trust issues that concern the European people. If our citizens are not with us, then we don't have a mandate. We need to bring them into the process. Europe has been under construction for too long without their say.

Growth and prosperity are traditional goals of economic policy. Against the backdrop of increasing globalization, what role will sustainability come to play in the future?

World population is projected to grow from seven billion, where it stands today, to more than nine billion in the next few decades. The mere fact of global population growth means that economic growth will remain an important goal of economic policy. However, we will also encounter more social and ecological limits on growth. Hence, in future, there will be no "economic growth at any cost". Instead, economic policy must pay attention to, firstly, avoiding the destruction of our ecosystems and, secondly, stabilizing social cohesion. In sum, economic policy must ensure the long-term stability and productivity of ecological, sociopolitical and economic systems. Economic policy therefore needs to take into account more than just GDP. Metrics such as life expectancy, income distribution, employment rates, the quality of local water and air pollution - just to name a few - should also be taken into account.