Panel debates a way out of the economic quagmire

Debate over the role of economic growth and alternative focuses for the economy in upcoming years dominated a forum at the St. Lawrence Centre on Front Street Wednesday night.

A panel of economists gathered at the Jane Mallett Theatre to focus on solutions to the global economic downturn. One, panelist Peter Victor, an ecological economist on sabbatical from York University, believes a focus on the environment needs to play a strong role in building a new, more stable economy.

“We need to dethrone economic growth as the overarching economic policy of government,” Victor said. “A growing economy (doesn’t) automatically mean that we are doing better if it’s undermining, even destroying, the natural systems in which we all depend,” he said.

Finn Poschmann, of the C.D. Howe Institute, disagreed with Victor’s theories. According to him, growth is more than necessary for people.

“Growth is in the nature of mankind,” he said. “The urge to build wealth, income and do better next year is innate to human behaviour.”

According to Victor though, growth is not necessarily part of human nature and it comes down to the nature versus nurture debate. He drew on the ideas of humans being naturally competitive versus humans being cooperative and said that it is cooperation we need to focus on, since growth may not be in our interest any longer.

“The first step in trying to get people to take action is to open up alternatives,” Victor said.
Derek Burleton is associate vice president and director of economic studies at TD Bank Financial Group. He pointed out that the environmental cause might actually be benefiting from the economic crisis and may be a good alternative focus for the economy.

“The (fuel) boom actually contributed to the environmental cause in some respects because . . . that certainly kick started a lot of talk about getting ethanol going,” he said. “To some extent I know that the movement was in place before that, but it really got going when energy spiked and we thought, ‘this isn’t sustainable.'”

It is through alternatives, Victor and Burleton said, that people would be able to get through these economic and environmental crises.