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Economic Advisor Warns British Defense Planners Growth Is Ending

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Economic growth isn’t coming back. While some level of growth might continue in coming decades, the boom era of seemingly unlimited material throughput we became accustomed to in the middle of the twentieth century is unlikely to ever return again as we enter a fundamentally new age of diminishing returns

These are the conclusions of a new working paper by leading ecological economist Professor Tim Jackson, Director of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP).

And the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) is taking notes.

An earlier draft of the paper, notes Jackson, was “prepared as input into the UK Global Strategic Trends Review”, a forecasting research programme run by the MoD’s Defence Concepts and Doctrines Centre (DCDC), which every few years produces an updated Global Strategic Trends report for the MoD and wider UK government. Jackson also acknowledges feedback from MoD officials in revising that draft to create the concurrent version.

Jackson is former Economics Commissioner for the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission. From 2010 to 2014, he was Director of the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group, funded by the UK Department for the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Scottish Government, and the Economic and Social Research Council. He also advised many other government departments, and held advisory roles for the UN Environment Programme, the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the UN Industrial Development Organissation, the European Environment Agency, the European Parliament, and the New Zealand Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

The long crisis

Professsor Jackson’s paper examines a range of new data suggesting strongly that chronically low rates of economic growth in recent years since the 2008 crash, far from representing a temporary phase soon to be overcome by a resounding ‘recovery’, are in fact a ‘new normal’ — from which the global economy may never truly recover.

“There remains a disturbing possibility that the huge productivity increases that characterised the early and middle twentieth Century were a one-off, something we can’t just repeat at will, despite the wonders of digital technology,” writes Jackson:

“A fascinating — if worrying — contention is that the peak growth rates of the 1960s were only possible at all on the back of a huge and deeply destructive exploitation of dirty fossil fuels; something that can be ill afforded — even if it were available — in the era of dangerous climate change and declining resource quality. Low (and declining) rates of economic growth may well be the ‘new normal’.”

Jackson draws on a number of prominent economic voices in putting forward his diagnosis, most of whom are widely respected. He cites former World Bank chief economist Larry Summers, for instance, who has recently observed:

“The underlying problem may be there forever.”

Different economists emphasise different causes for the phenomenon. Some point to problems with “sluggish demand”, a deeper reluctance from business and consumers to invest and spend due to new economic uncertanties. Others, like US economist Robert Gordon, point to a supply challenge relating to an escalating decline in the pace of industrial innovation and productivity.

Whatever the underlying drivers of the problem, Jackson shows that the phenomenon is very real — the 2008 financial crash was indeed a major catalysing event. But it was only a particularly bad blip in an unmistakeable long-term downward trend for the rate of global economic growth.

Growth rate in GDP per capita from 1966 to 2016, calculated by Jackson

In 1996, the trend rate of growth in the global GDP was 5.5%. By 2016 it was little more than 2.5%.

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

‘Advanced’ economies trending to zero growth in a decade

When Jackson breaks down the data regionally, the picture is more complicated. After the financial crisis, some of the poorest economies in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia had per capita growth rates below 1% per annum. But in emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, economic growth rates had overtaken growth rates in more advanced economies such as the OECD countries.

Extrapolating the current downwards trend forward has some interesting results:

“Whereas for the global GDP per capita, the point at which growth disappeares is more than 60 years into the future, for GDP per capita in the OECD nations, the point is brought forwards dramatically. In less than a decade, on current trends, there would be no growth at all in GDP per capita across the OECD nations.”

As an indicator of how bad things are looking, Jackson focuses on trends on labour productivity growth. First of all, he looks at the OECD, where we see plummeting rate of productivity growth since the 1970s.

Labour Productivity Growth in the OECD from 1971 to 2016, calculated by Jackson from OECD data

If we extrapolate this trend forward, labour productivity growth would reach zero by 2028.

Then Jackson looks at the UK, a particularly useful case study of the future pathways of industrial development due to being one of the world’s earliest industrialisers.

Labour productivity growth in the UK from 1900 to 2016, calculated by Jackson from Bank of England data

The data shows that the peak of Britain’s labour productivity occurred between the 1950s and 70s, after which it declined quite steeply, reaching extraordinary low levels after the 2008 crash which are even lower than pre-1900 levels.

August 11–12, 2017, ‘Unite the Right’ white supremacist rally in Charlottesville

Political instability

We are already seeing the destabilising social and political impacts of this situation. The rise of Trump, his turn to neo-fascist policies toward Black and ethnic minorities, immigrants and Muslims, and his alliance with far-right extremist networks in Europe — all driven by an alarming resurgence of populism across both sides of the Atlantic — are direct symptoms of a new economic reality of slowly dying growth:

“Electorates tend to punish administrations badly when social investment falls. If declining growth is met with fiscal austerity it is likely to lead to progressively worse social outcomes and increasing political fragility.”

At the root of the political instability we are seeing in the world, Jackson suggests, is the breakdown in the dynamics of “the existing growth-based paradigm.”

This old dying paradigm is driving environmental damage, exacerbating social inequality and contributing to increased political instability.

Net energy decline

Jackson then goes further, stepping outside of economic orthodoxy to point out the striking evidence of a correlation between the long-term decline in economic growth and underlying resource constraints:

“The suggestion that the rise and fall of productivity growth is associated with the availability of physical resources such as energy and minerals is clearly one that merits further attention. The similarity between the rise and fall in labour productivity shown… and some recent studies of the energy return on energy invested (EROI) in fossil fuels is striking.”

EROI is a measure of the amount of energy used to extract energy from a particular resource. The more energy one can get out compared to what is put in, the better, and the higher the ‘net energy’ available to society. Lower EROI, however, means that less and less energy can be extracted despite increasing investments of energy.

Recent economic research previously reported by INSURGE suggests that the maximum EROI levels for global oil and gas production were reached around the middle of last century.

“Most EROI studies across multiple countries show declining EROI in the last two to three decades,” says Jackson. “So the idea that the rise and fall in labour productivity growth has something to do with the underlying physical resources is certainly not fanciful.”

There are strong grounds then to recognise that the long-term decline in the rate of economic growth is partly related to industrial civilisation’s intensifying exploitation of material resources on the planet, and the diminishing returns from doing so.

The economic crisis is not just about ‘economics’, narrowly conceived: it is about the human species’ accelerating breach of planetary boundaries.

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

The debt machine

But Jackson points out that declining EROI is unlikely in itself to be the sole driving factor in this broader trend of declining economic growth, which will also be intimately related to a combination of supply and demand issues within the economy.

Among those issues is that to keep growth growing, industrial economies have sought to financialise their economies, even more so as they deal with rising costs of material production. The idea is to increase “liquidity”, spending power, by essentially creating more cheap money — which in simplified terms means flooding the economy with credit. This temporarily lubricates spending power in the economy, but at the cost of expanding levels of debt.

“This has tended to stimulate speculative investment at the expense of productive investment in the real economy,” says Jackson. It also means that the global economy is increasingly unstable, with growth hinging very much on the expansion of debt whose repayability is in question.

And that has meant that this concurrent structure of economic growth has inevitably benefited a tiny rich minority, who sit at the helm of this parasitical financial system — while the vast majority of the world’s poor have seen little or negligible benefits.

What Jackson then shows is that the neoliberal story of growth that has accompanied these processes in recent decades has seen a dramatic increase in structural inequality.

Gutting the poor, working and middle classes

From 1980 to 2014, average income growth in the US was only 1.4%, already quite low overall.

“But the striking part of the story was the reversal in the fortunes of the poorest and richest as beneficiaries of that growth,” observes Jackson.

The bottom 50% of Americans saw their income grow “at a meagre 0.6%, only half the average rate of growth of the economy as a whole. Meanwhile, the incomes of the richest 5% “grew at 1.7% per annum, significantly above the average income growth.” Increasingly, the super-rich benefited from the tepid growth being squeezed out of the planet:

“The average growth rate of the top 0.001% of the population was over 6%, allowing them to increase their post-tax earnings by a factor of seven over the last three decades. The poorest 5% saw their post-tax incomes fall in real terms over the same period.”

This sharp rise in inequality illustrates how the poor, working and middle classes have been gutted — with even reasonably well-off working professionals experiencing an overall unprecedented decline in their purchasing power.

Faced with such diminishing returns, powerful economic producers and shareholders have “systematically protected profit by depressing the rewards to labour.” This has been exacerbated by governments pushing forward fiscal austerity, deregulation, privatisation and liberalisation along with “loose monetary policy”:

“The outcome for many ordinary workers has been punitive. As social conditions deteriorated, the threat to democratic stability has become palpable.”

Rather than rising inequality being an inevitable result of a decline in the growth rate, Jackson argues that rising social-financial instability and inequality result directly from “trying to protect the growth rate in the face of an underlying decline in productivity, by privileging the interests of the owners of capital over the interests of those employed in wage labour in the economy.”

In other words, trying to keep the growth machine growing when the machine itself is running out of steam is precisely the problem — the challenge is to move into a new economic model entirely.

Wither the Singularity?

Having demonstrated an alarming correlation between efforts to accelerate growth at all costs and the systemic deepening of economic inequalities, Jackson goes on to show that an effort by business and government to adapt to the reality of a post-growth economy may hold the best prospects for more equal and prosperous economies of a different kind.

The problem with business-as-usual, he points out, is that it is based on assumptions for which the evidence is rather thin.

The idea is that productivity growth will return, driven chiefly by technological breakthroughs either in low carbon technologies, or in “increased automation, robotisation, artificial intelligence” — or by some combination of both.

In other words, technology, at some point, will save the day. The most explicit variation of this circulating today is the idea of the Singularity — which is when artificial intelligence (AI) reaches a level of super-intelligence that will drive exponential, runaway technological growth, that in turn will solve all our problems.

But in reality, it’s simply not clear that techno-focussed investment strategies alone will actually lead to the hoped for outcomes. The low-carbon revolution is not, as yet, actually taking off. The Paris Agreement still lacks any tangible delivery plans. And it’s not clear that low carbon technologies, even if viable, can simplistically substitute for fossil fuels with the same levels of growth industrial civilisation is accustomed to.

As for AI-driven automation, it is widely recognised that its social consequences might be devastating. It involves essentially replacing workers with technological material assets owned centrally as capital. This means it is not only likely to require increased material inputs and therefore have a higher resource footprint, it is also likely to create “an unequal and increasingly polarised society”:

“There is a real danger that new digital and robot technologies will remove the need for whole sections of the working population, leaving those who don’t actually own the technologies without income and without bargaining power. Meanwhile the owners of these technologies are likely to acquire unprecedented market power, and the conditions for ordinary workers will deteriorate even further.”

Like others, Jackson suggests a Universal Basic Income as a potential mechanism to address this mass disenfranchisement of workers. But there remain serious unanswered questions over how governments committed to austerity in an era of diminishing resource and productivity returns would be able to afford this.

More usefully, Jackson calls on governments, businesses and communities preparing to respond to these issues to begin actively adapting to the underlying drivers of an emerging new economic reality.

Pointing to new research on de-growth and ‘post-growth’ economics, Jackson notes that these approaches increasingly accept that endless “economic growth is neither desirable nor indeed feasible” for the world’s most advanced economies.

If these approaches are not pursued, then we are faced with the probable impacts of business-as-usual: :

“In a growth-obsessed world it is easy to end up overlooking the parts of the economy that matter most to human wellbeing. By understanding and planning for the conditions of the ‘new normal’ associated with low growth rates, it is possible to identify more clearly the features that define a different kind of economy. A simple shift of focus opens out wide new horizons of possibility.”

138 Comments on "Economic Advisor Warns British Defense Planners Growth Is Ending"

  1. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 1:40 pm 

    Oh look someone is thanking MM

    I want to thank you for recommending the book “The end of more” a good read.

    See this is the thing the bigots don’t realize..Is I get ten times more compliments than I do attacks..

  2. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 1:44 pm 


    You win first prize for using logical fallacies..”Red Herring”..Its okay, boomers do it without even noticing because they are in general very uneducated and unenlightened compared to my generation..

    A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion..

  3. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 2:03 pm 

    Antifa beating the shit out of fascist!

  4. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 2:14 pm 

    We are locked into an unimaginably complex predicament and a system of dependency whose future seems at growing risk. To avoid catastrophe we must prepare for failure.

    We are entering a time of great challenge and uncertainty, when the systems, ideas and stories that framed our lives in one world are torn apart, but before new stories and dependencies have had time to evolve. Our challenge is to let go, and go forth.

    Finally, neither wealth nor geography is a protection. Our evolved co-dependencies mean that we are all in this together.

  5. Boat on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 2:31 pm 


    Bla bla bla. Just another day. Don’t squirm like a child. Face life like a man.
    Just in time ecomomies are always on the cusp of some kind of disruption. Seems like you would have adjusted your emotions to constant disruptions.

  6. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 2:38 pm 

    Is it too much to ask to expect the President of the United States to be able to spell “too”?

    I doubt his supporters will notice..

  7. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 2:40 pm 

    The south will rise again… and quickly need to take a break. Maybe have a mountain dew.

  8. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 2:52 pm 

    21:45 – Extra German news, “ever less likely that an agreement will be reached”. The CSU could decide to act in Bavaria independent of Berlin and close the border. This would force Merkel to fire Seehofer, which would lead to the CSU breaking the government.

    The real question is: will the CSU begin to operate in entire Germany and shift the current vote balance CDU/CSU ca. 22/7 to 16/16%?

  9. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 3:12 pm 

    Americans grapple with recognizing facts in news stories: Pew survey

    Only a quarter of the people polled were able to correctly distinguish between a factual statement and an opinion claim.

  10. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 3:18 pm 

    The $6.3 trillion debt binge: American companies have never owed this much

  11. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 3:21 pm 

    “The $6.3 trillion debt binge: American companies have never owed this much”

    That is 4 months US GDP


  12. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 3:52 pm 


    Lehman Brothers was worth around 600 billion and it almost brought down the entire global economy..So 6 trillion is nothing to scoff out..

  13. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:01 pm 

    “Lehman Brothers was worth around 600 billion and it almost brought down the entire global economy..So 6 trillion is nothing to scoff out..”

    US companies can handle 6T.

    The socalled Lehmann crisis was in reality a “subprime mortgage” crisis. In real language it was about mortages mostly supplied to “minorities” under political (pc) pressure. The US bankers knew long in advance that Leroy would not service his debt and decided to shove their paper garbage to unsuspecting Europeans with unjustified faith in the strength of the US economy.

    You cannot compare that to corporate debt.

  14. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:05 pm 

    *** Breaking News ***

    Horst Seehofer resigns from the Merkel government and all CSU posts:

    This is unexpected.

  15. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:18 pm 


    Great sold source lewrockwell..You are a fucking moron..

    You can’t make this stuff up..


  16. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:19 pm 


    You are a moron who knows nothing about business..

    America’s companies have binged on record amount of debt; a reckoning looms

  17. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:28 pm 

    Climate change winner UK.

    Growth ending, really?

    Not for crops. Record harvest:

  18. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:45 pm 


    the daily mail is a tabloid you moron..

    Here is Cloggs great race with the high iq’s


  19. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 4:58 pm 

    “the daily mail is a tabloid you moron..”

    Standard leftist tactic: if you don’t like a message, demonize the source. Not for nothing was the #1 Soviet newspaper called “Pravda”, that is truth. “We habe the truth, nobody else has”. That is the leftist attitude.

    Lefties don’t like free speech and debate, because they always loose.

    “Here is Cloggs great race with the high iq’s

    Ah yes, you jews want to equate the European world with a few stupid Hillbillies. I can google pictures from antifa trash that is even worse.

    But by all means, millimind, start your civil war, so Eurasia can finally trash the entire empire in the garbage can of history.

  20. fmr-paultard on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 5:02 pm 

    good news guys, eurotradland bans the bag.

    Netherlands bans Islamic veils: “The first step to de-Islamize the Netherlands”

  21. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 5:25 pm 

    “Netherlands bans Islamic veils: “The first step to de-Islamize the Netherlands””

    BS, sending them back is the only way to deislamify Holland. It has been done on a European scale three times before and the fourth time is in the works.

  22. Antius on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 5:26 pm 

    “good news guys, eurotradland bans the bag.

    Netherlands bans Islamic veils: “The first step to de-Islamize the Netherlands””

    Wrong. They are banning clothing that allows anyone to cover their face. It is not a step towards de-Islamification, it is a step towards mass surveillance. Europe will not be safe until we give up on the idea of racial equality. This is in no way a step in that direction. Ultimately, there is no way we can live with a situation in which racial foreigners have the same rights as white European citizens. That is what needs to happen. The end of racial equality.

  23. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 5:43 pm 


    Europe’s economy is going to collapse in the next doesn’t matter what happens in America or who is leading your region..Nothing can be done to prevent it..

    Do you want me to got mediamatter and cite a few fake news stories from daily mail? And you can’t cite any from CNN or NYT..I can site hundreds from Fox and Beitbart and infowars..

  24. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:10 pm 

    “And you can’t cite any from CNN or NYT.”

    I do not cite your kosher liars. It is a permanent warfare of kikes against Trump and white America.

    Here (((John Berman))) as an example:

    He is behaving exactly like you do. But both your days are numbered.

    Look at me, I’m a train on a track
    I’m a train, I’m a train, I’m a chucka train, yeah
    Look at me, got a load on my back
    I’m a train, I’m a train, I’m a chucka train, yeah

  25. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:19 pm 


    Like I said you can’t cite any fake news..You are a fraud, just like your ww2 ideas you wont get fact checked by a third party expert..

    All you have are childish amateur videos on youtube..Sad..

  26. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:23 pm 

    Chaos in Germany… did Seehofer resign or what?

    Now he comes with a new ultimatum for Merkel: cave in on refugees/invaders or I’ll resign:

    Apparently he did not resign but has put his jobs as minister of the interior and party leader on offer.

  27. Cloggie on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:30 pm 

    “You are a fraud, just like your ww2 ideas you wont get fact checked by a third party expert..”

    O, but I have numerous history experts who back me: Irving, Weber, Scheil, Suvorov, Schultze-Rhonhof, Post, etc., etc.

    But interesting is that nobody here dares to debate me. Neither ZOG-bots like you, nor meathead, who seems to be on the run (to Italy?). He was begging you for help last week, but you refused to come to the aid of this loyal ZOG-servant.

    You are losing it.

  28. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:47 pm 

    If Apple Were A Worker Cooperative, Each Employee Would Earn At Least $403K

    Seize the means!

  29. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:49 pm 


    I tried to have you ask a third party expert..One who is biased like the ones you claim..And you refused..You wouldn’t even try..That proves you know its all fake and lies..No one wants to debate you for the same reason they don’t want to debate a flat earther..You are a lunatic who has escaped the asylum.

  30. MASTERMIND on Sun, 1st Jul 2018 11:53 pm 


    The only chaos is inside your paranoid schizophrenic mind..You have to exaggerate everything..

    Imagine wasting your life hating others for no logical reason? I can’t believe you live this way clogg..something must have happened to you along the way..I feel sorry for you..You are like a dog who has been whipped too much and has turned mean..

  31. Makati1 on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:14 am 

    MM/Davy, you might try to read and comprehend the facts in this article.

    Or this one:

    They both indicate why the US has the most pain coming and not the Asian countries. BTW: Japan is not Asian but an American poodle who wants to be Western but is failing. Yet, they will survive as a country. The Us may not.

    I do not base my comments only on current events, but on my experience and education in the real world for the last 10 years or so. I have read and thought about tens of thousands of articles about the global situation from all sources. My picture is much better than any you will find coming out of most American brainwashed minds. Much better. But then, those same closed minds will argue the point with immature putdowns and bullshit. Ref Davy and MM.

  32. Cloggie on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:14 am 

    Any expert proof yet that Hitler and not the Americans, wanted to conquer the world?


    I mean, this should be obvious to anybody who regularly reads a newspaper and then connects the dots.

    Well millimind, you may write an email to an expert to solve this matter. Or use an electronic calculator or a slide rule, if you remember those.

  33. Cloggie on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:20 am

    German media lefties promoting autonomous driving. “Let robots work for us so we have more free time”.

    “Wir lassen keinen fahren”
    (We let nobody drive)

    Perhaps a nice compromise for the Kingdom of Saudi-Arabia! MBS! (are you still alive?)

  34. Makati1 on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:23 am 

    WW2 was instigated by the Us to prevent Japan and Germany from becoming rivals and limiting the young Us Empire. (Just like today with Russia and China) The Us oligarchs got rich as a result with only a few thousand American casualties when they finally got into the war at the last moment. Even then, the corporate rich were running the Us. It’s eye opening when you learn the REAL history of the world. Hint Americans, it is NOT what you were taught in school. LOL

  35. Cloggie on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:26 am 

    The Germans are afraid too that their growth might be over. This week’s Spiegel cover:

    “Once upon a time there was a strong country…”

    Reason: humiliating soccer defeat at Russia-2018, the political turmoil around refugees/invaders/asylumtourists and now the economy is showing signs of stalling in Germany too.

    On a positive note, with a crashing economy it is far easier to achieve the renewable energy transition, as the current 36% wind share in total electricity generation will substantially increase without anybody having to do anything. Just switch off the fossil fuel power stations producing electrickery nobody needs anyway and you’re good.

    End good, all good.

  36. Cloggie on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:29 am 

    One of the gems from my youth: “electrikery”

  37. Cloggie on Mon, 2nd Jul 2018 12:44 am 

    One thing keeps growing in Germany, renewable electricity:

    104 billion kWh Q1+Q2/2018 or a whopping growth of 9%!!

    Wind 55B
    Solar 20B
    Hydro 8B

    This does not include privately generated solar, not being fed into the grid.

    Millimind: “Yabut, solar and wind globally at 1%”.ROFL

  38. betfair sportsbook mobile on Thu, 5th Jul 2018 3:41 pm 

    By taking part in Scratch & Match you agree to those phrases.

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