by John Brenton
17th July 2019

John Brenton, Sustainability Manager at the University of Bristol, shares his thoughts on The Economics of Arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams.

What happens when economic growth offers diminishing returns on wellbeing? This is the embarkation point for The Economics of Arrival by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams.

The book has an excellent narrative arc examining first the fruits to growth and the delivery of better living standards for a large proportion of the world’s people. The authors move on to look at the problems that have accrued from economic growth in these areas and also the other parts of the world that serve highly developed economies but do not share the fruits of that growth. There are diminishing returns – and even harm – from growth in the rich world as wealth becomes concentrated in relatively small areas and small groups of people. Growth for growth’s sake in rich economies, they argue, makes very little sense, if the negative consequences outweigh the positive. The rest of the book looks at what economies focussed on wellbeing and growth would look like.

Probably most compelling parts of the book are those which give sketches and vignettes of how life could be under a wellbeing focused economy. These are descriptions of initiatives which have helped to strengthen social bonds between communities and reduce resource use by changing the relationship between firms in the workforce, governments and citizens and consumers and providers.

However, the authors also make the point that the transformational shift from quantitative to qualitative development needs to be a deliberate process, and meaningful change needs to start with more than a network of beacons and good practice. It has been and will be difficult for political parties of all colours in the developed world to propose programmes in which growth is no longer front and centre.

The simplicity and sure-footed narrative of the book has the potential to make these ideas accessible to a new, more mainstream audience. I think it is a book which could easily make the crossover from an academic niche to a mainstream audience. It is a hopeful, enthusiastic and accessible book that would be as much at home at the station bookshop as it would be at the campus bookseller. I hope many people read it and are encouraged to work towards the futures it describes.


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The Economics of Arrival, by Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams is available on the Policy Press website. Order here for £11.99.

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