Is any economic growth good?
Covid-19 has put this old debate back at the centre of politics. Is economic growth always good? Is it worth the risk of the virus spreading further?
It’s a similar question to ‘is growth good if contributes to climate change?’ and ‘is growth good if only a few people benefit?’. A common argument is that economic growth can only be good if it helps everyone in the community. This is often called ‘inclusive growth’.
But when we talk about ‘inclusive growth’, it can’t just be about having economic growth and then sharing the benefits afterwards. Inclusion has to be a deeply embedded component of economic growth. The how matters.
That’s why we believe that active citizen participation in designing economic policy is an essential part of an inclusive economy. And the quality of that engagement matters, not just the quantity. Using a fig-leaf of ‘engagement’ to rubber-stamp pre-existing strategies just ends up damaging trust between local government and communities.
In times of crisis – like now – there’s always the temptation to rely on a top-down ‘emergency response’. Of course, at times this year we’ve needed quick decisions. But that can’t be the way we move forward into an uncertain future. We need processes that allow real and authentic feedback.
Local government needs a way to really listen to communities. And national government needs to listen to local government. Advisor dominance has failed to deliver.
We are partnering with the new Inclusive Growth Network (IGN) to help make it happen.
Public participation and inclusive growth
We are excited by the potential for bottom-up models of economic growth. Cleveland, Ohio and Preston, England have been leading the way in experimenting with ‘hyper-democratic’ community wealth building.
We’ve looked at the benefits of public participation in our own projects: the Citizens’ Economic Council, the Forum for Ethical AI, Innovation in Democracy. Our work on inclusive growth and participatory democracy includes working with Core Cities on a green recovery, and global work in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New Zealand.
All of this has taught us how closely connected public engagement and inclusive growth are. Involving the public:
- helps surface new ideas and evidence – creating better decisions.
- can creates a mandate for politicians – helping them make difficult decisions with confidence
- builds trust, confidence, tolerance, and public spirit in the people who take part – creating communities
- brings high-quality information and long-term strategy to the fore– reducing the influences of short-termism and misinformation.
The Inclusive Growth Network
The RSA Inclusive Growth Commission reported in 2017. A lot has changed since then. The field of inclusive growth has grown, been co-opted by politicians, and evolved. The next step in this journey is the new Inclusive Growth Network.
This network will offer practical peer support to make inclusive growth happen. It’s exciting, and we are pleased to be part of the leadership group. In the first network-wide learning journey on ‘inclusive voice’ here are some questions we hope to look at:
- How do we make the case for public participation? How is that different around the world?
- How can we manage a community process ethically, including reaching the most underserved groups?
- How can we demystify the different types of ways citizens can be involved? (Citizens’ assemblies, participatory budgeting, advisory groups, etc.) What helps us decide what is the best approach in each situation?
- How can we help create an inclusive economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19?
- How can we create the right governance structures and institutional context for these processes?
Every crisis creates a turning point. The possibility of worse futures. The chance of a better one.
Inclusive growth could become a slogan that’s applied to business as usual, and gets in the way of real change. But if it’s built on people power, with everyone having a strong voice, it can create a recovery for all.