Time to slay the sacred cow of economic growth – guest post by Joe Peacock

So, we’re going to solve all our long-standing social, environmental and economic problems through better transport links to the rest of the world that will mean all these rich business people will suddenly want to invest lots of money into the city, are we?

Growth is the panacea that will cure all ills and make Birmingham into one of the best places to live, is it?

I may not be an economist myself, but I have read enough about the world we live in to know that these ideas are not just fanciful, but dangerous and could leave our city in a very vulnerable position if we do not re-think our approach to regeneration and economic development.

As Paul Dale’s excellent blog post suggested, relying on the same old approaches is unlikely to deliver the numbers of new jobs being promised by politicians and the LEP unless the economy picks up dramatically.

The chancellor and many mainstream politicians like to pit environmental protection and economic success as somehow opposing interests that cannot both be pursued at once, but this is, of course, complete rubbish.

Not only are they compatible, but they are intrinsically linked as many mainstream economists will tell you, however little this is reported in the media. The long-term value to our economy of ensuring that we have a stable climate, healthy eco-systems, sustainable use of resources and a healthy population in body and mind is higher than any amount of economic growth could ever contribute.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth‘s “City of the Future” event on March 20th aims to look beyond the traditional economic views and four expert speakers will put forward three ideas each to go into a manifesto for a better economy for Birmingham. We have Julia Slay from the New Economics Foundation, Dr Helen Borland from Aston Business school, Dave Powell from Friends of the Earth and Oliver Bettis from the Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy speaking and Alun Thorne from the Birmingham Post chairing.

To ensure this isn’t just theoretical and abstract, we will also have representatives speaking on behalf of local youth groups, business groups, debt charities and others cross-examining these experts.

This is a time of change for politics in Birmingham, with the possibility both of a change of governing party on the council and an elected mayor on the horizon. We want to promote some positive ideas that look at how we can make a real difference to the lives of people in Birmingham who may have lost hope in the current system. This is not a time to lecture about what has gone wrong, it is a time to discuss what we can do better.

The riots last year should have made us look at what we can do to stop such things happening again and how we can really make Birmingham’s economy thrive for people from all different backgrounds. Clearly there is something wrong or such things wouldn’t happen and you only have to travel short distances from the glittery prosperous centre to see real deprivation.

We’ve had years of large-scale unemployment, so we need to tackle this while also reducing CO2 emissions and respecting environmental limits in terms of all natural resources.

We invite you to come along on March the 20th to what should be a fascinating debate on how to shape a sustainable economy that works for our city in the future.

City of the Future is taking place in the Banqueting Suite at Birmingham Council House on March 20th at 6.30pm. The event is free, but you need to reserve a place online in advance at www.birminghamfoe.org.uk/other/city-of-the-future

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