Is the Party Over for Economic Growth?

When economic stagnation becomes the new normal

Monday 16 May 2016, 7pm | PODCAST & VIDEO NOW ONLINE

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It was a blast. Since the Industrial Revolution, we enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, propelled by a seemingly unstoppable wave of technological innovation. For 100 years from around 1870, life in the West was transformed by inventions such as electricity, the car and domestic appliances, which led to soaring growth, better lives and booming wealth for all. The poor became less poor, and the number of middle income earners exploded. In the second half of the 20th century the rest of the world began to catch up, with China lifting hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty and the rise of the BRICs.

But then it stopped. Since around 1970, middle incomes in the US have stagnated, while the top 1% have pulled away in terms of earnings and wealth. Productivity growth fell. The great recession of 2008 was expected to be a blip but we are still in the doldrums. China’s miracle growth has shuddered to a slowdown and is set to drop even further. Just last week, the European Central Bank announced fresh rounds of quantitative easing to try and pump life into the eurozone’s flagging economy.

Many economists are now predicting that stagnation is here to stay. We may hear a lot of excited talk from the techno-optimists about the Second Machine Age and the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rewards they are set to bring us, but some say that most of the fruits of the IT revolution have already been harvested. For example, driverless cars may be the future, but they will change the world far less than the invention of cars in the first place – and put millions of professional drivers out of a job.

If the age of endless growth is over, how should we assess the implications? Does the developed world face decades of misery-inducing recession, or – given that the planet’s resources are finite – can we look forward to a more sustainable future where ever-increasing consumption does not count as the main good? Or are the economic doom-mongers wrong? Will capitalism, that engine of human ingenuity, continue to be the route to rising prosperity for all? If so, what are the mechanisms that will kick-start the global economy again?

In May 2016 a star panel including Stephanie Flanders, JP Morgan’s chief market strategist for Europe, and acclaimed US economic historian Deirdre McCloskey, came to the Intelligence Squared stage for this major discussion on the future of the global economy.

Praise for Tim Jackson’s Prosperity Without Growth

‘A new movement seems to be emerging, and this superbly written book should be the first stop for anyone wanting a manifesto. In terms of a worldview for the new decade and beyond, this could well be the most important book you will read.’
— The Guardian

‘A must-read for anyone concerned with issues of climate change and sustainability — bold, original and comprehensive. We have to define prosperity and welfare differently from the past and separate them from economic growth measured as GDP: this work shows how we should set about the task.’ 
— Anthony Giddens, Emeritus Professor, London School of Economics

‘In a world of massive inequality and limited resources, Tim Jackson asks the fundamental questions of what prosperity really is and how we can invest not just in material goods but in each other. This is an outstandingly intelligent and creative contribution to debate.’
— Dr Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

Praise for Deirdre McCloskey’s Bourgeois Equality

‘A giant of a book about a giant of a topic: the “great enrichment” of humanity over the past 300 years. It is so rich in vocabulary, allusion and fact as to be a contender for the great book of our age. Dump your copy of Thomas Piketty and put Deirdre McCloskey on the bookshelf instead.’
— Matt Ridley, The Times

‘It is richly detailed and erudite, and will join its companion volumes as essential reading on the industrial revolution, as well as a model of the intellectual depth and breadth achievable through the study of economics.’
— The Financial Times


Stephanie Flanders

BBC economics editor from 2008 to 2013. She presented numerous BBC television and radio programmes, including her own economics discussion show, ‘Stephanomics’, named after her influential blog. She is now chief market strategist for the UK and Europe for J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

Tim Jackson

Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey. He has been at the forefront of international debates about sustainable development for over two decades, and was appointed Economics Commissioner of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission. His book Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet was described by Le Monde as ‘one of the most outstanding pieces of environmental economics literature in recent years’.

Deirdre McCloskey

Distinguished Professor of Economics and History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is the author of the acclaimed multi-volume history The Bourgeois Era, which traces the expansion of wealth in the 19th century and proposes that economic prosperity comes not through investment but through innovation. Her memoir Crossing was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times.



Kamal Ahmed

Economics Editor of BBC News. He was formerly the Political Editor and Executive Editor of News at The Observer, and Business Editor at the Telegraph Media Group.

Speakers are subject to change.