Sustainable Welfare in a Global Steady-state Economy: The Role of the State

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Global comparative studies of the links between economic growth, carbon emissions and ecological footprints as well as social inequality demonstrate that current Western production and consumption patterns and welfare standards are incompatible with environmental limits and IPCC climate targets. To allow for catch-up' development in poorer countries, rich countries would need to ‘degrow’. Against this backdrop the paper argues that conceptual understandings of Earth System Governance could benefit from a dialogue with steady-state economics, the degrowth/postgrowth literature and the emerging sustainable welfare approach. The paper starts with core principles of steady-state economics – particularly a sustainable scale of material throughput and social equality – and applies this to the global level. It is argued that achieving this would presuppose a move beyond the existing global governance networks in the sense that the profit motive as the pre-dominant steering system of the economy would be deprioritized, while bio-physical parameters would be prioritized. Second, it introduces the concept of ‘sustainable welfare’, which is oriented towards the satisfaction of human needs within ecological limits, from the intergenerational and global perspective. Third, the paper considers spatial scales in the provision of steady-state economics and sustainable welfare – the requirement to share and coordinate responsibility across global, national, regional and local levels. It is at global level that thresholds for matter and energy throughput as well as for greenhouse gas emissions would need to be determined in order to effectively mitigate environmental challenges such as climate change. Such thresholds would delineate the room for manoeuvre within which national and local economies can evolve and within which welfare can be provided. This also suggests a new mix of private, state, ‘commons’ and individual property forms. Fourth, the paper addresses the role of the state in this transition. State economic, social and environmental policies would be (re-)oriented towards the provision of sufficient need satisfiers for all people now and in future. Robust (welfare) states would be required to steer a mixed economy that functions within environmental limits and serve as primus inter pares in a governance network of various state, private, collective and non-profit actors.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Oct 11
EventEarth System Governance Conference, 2017: Allocation and Access in a Warming and Increasingly Unequal Wold - Lund University, Lund , Sweden
Duration: 2017 Oct 92017 Oct 11


ConferenceEarth System Governance Conference, 2017

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Sociology

Free keywords

  • Sustainable Welfare State
  • State
  • Degrowth/Postgrowth
  • Global Steady-State Economy


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