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855. Happier and Sustainable. Possibilities for a post-growth society

Working Paper n.855 - Giugno 2021

Stefano Bartolini

DEPS, USiena

Francesco Sarracino

National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (STATEC), Research Division, Luxembourg

Abstract

Empirical evidence suggests that achieving sustainability requires reducing economic growth, not just greening it. This conclusion often leads to ecological pessimism, based on two beliefs. The first is that there is a human tendency to unlimited expansion; the second is that lack of consensus makes limiting growth politically unfeasible. We challenge both beliefs. The decline of fertility and per-capita income growth provide reasons to expect decreasing human pressure on ecosystems. Moreover, the lack of a clear alternative to growth as a means to increase well-being creates the widespread perception of a trade-off between sustainability and current well-being. This hinders the consensus to the policy of limits to growth. Drawing on a large literature on happiness, social capital and other topics, we argue that policies for social capital can decouple well-being from economic growth. Indeed, the crisis of social capital experienced by much of the world's population is at the origin of the current unsustainable growth of the world economy. Declining social capital leads the economies to excessive growth, because people seek economic affluence to compensate for the emotional distress and collective disempowerment caused by poor social capital. We then suggest policies that, by promoting social capital, would expand well-being, and shift the economy to a more sustainable path characterized by slower economic growth. Such set of proposals is more politically viable than the current agenda of limits to growth and reconcile sustainability and well-being

Keywords

sustainability; social relations; subjective well-being; economic growth.

Jel codes

I31, J1, O1, Q56