ARRIVING IN A PLACE WITH BEAUTIFUL POTENTIAL
Katherine Trebeck & Jeremy Williams, authors of The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy
Our book closes with the suggestion that ‘if you are lucky enough to drink wine by the sea, you are lucky enough’. We don’t know who first wrote down or uttered the mantra, but we chose to end our book with this simple sentence that combines, in the most poetic of images, several possible benchmarks for a fullfulled, contented life.
It implies that a person drinking wine by the sea has suficient income to purchase wine – so they are not experiencing income poverty. It implies that a person drinking wine by the sea is not so overwhelmed by work or care commitments that they cannot take time out for themselves – so they are not experiencing time poverty. It also implies that the seas are worth being near – so they are not polluted with industrial emissions or plastic waste, nor are they rising due to climate change.
And thus it positions the possibility to appreciate natural beauty as an indicator of having attained a good quality life. Aggregating individual experiences could measure one of the key pillars of a better economy, one defined by people flourishing and the environment thriving. Imagine if national statistics offices could measure how many citizens are able to drink wine by the sea, rather than consumer confidence or the increasingly meaningless mean income levels...
Prioritising wellbeing goals could help tell a new story for the economy. A broader set of goals that reflects what matters most to us would underpin a new agenda. It would stand in contrast to the stories that inform the agenda currently pursued by politicians in capital cities around the world, the policy advice offered to so-called ‘developing countries’ by international agencies, and the metrics that nowdays rank the success of a country and thus the prowess of its leaders. These stories – such as that of infinite growth on a finite planet or trickle-down economics, or the rising tide that lifts all boats – are stories misaligned to reality and the possibility of a better economy.
Yet they pervade much of the public imaginary. They are the terrain in which our imaginations for a better world walk. If they are narrow and flawed, full of blindspots and miscalculations, our ideas for a better world will be narrow and flawed and full of blindspots and miscalculations.
These dead-end stories must be countered with another story, a better story. One in which possibility of appreciating natural beauty could be a useful waymarker.
The story of Arrival
A new story is found in the twin concepts from our book: ‘Arrival’ and ‘making ourselves at home’. Arrival is a recognition that economies do not need to grow forever and ever. That there comes a time when no ‘more’ is needed, enough wealth and resources have been accumulated. From here the benefits of any growth to date start to tail off and pursuit of more and more risks harm to people and planet as pursuit of ever more growth is often driving more problems that require yet more resources to fix. This is called ‘failure demand’ in social policy terms. It also speaks to the notion of defensive expenditures used in ecological economies and underpins the concept of uneconomic growth in respect to the economy writ large.
The idea of Arrival does not imply that all problems are solved. It does not suggest that everything is resolved and everyone has what they need (nor the time and resources to drink wine by the sea). It is the idea that a society collectively has the means for this. Addressing such inequalities is a story of distribution, and that makes it a story of politics.
Making ourselves at home
Getting a sense of what making ourselves at home would entail is a matter of listening. There are clear commonalities from different corners of scholarship, religious texts, and more popular songs than one could mention. The answer is also innately within us as human beings. Whenever people are given time and space to reflect or when they are surveyed about what matters most to them, they point to things that are rarely connected to mountains of money. A suite of evidence also tells us that people are not happiest when they are consuming, but when spending time socialising and engaged in meaningful activity. Not when working longer hours to make more money, but when they are in nature, learning, and undertaking fulfilling activities. This is revealed in emerging research in neuroscience, epidemiology, and psychology.
Reaching these ends requires an economy focused on making itself at home: one that uses resources in a smarter, fairer way (rather than wasting or hoarding them) and that gets things right for people in the first place, rather than having to constantly repair the damage created by an economy set on growth at all costs. It attends to distribution, focusing on how resources are shared, taking a long-term perspective and applying measures and goals that align the purpose of institutions and businesses with the needs of people and planet.
Being able to appreciate natural beauty – summed up in the rather lovely image of being lucky enough to drink wine by the sea – seems an apt vision for an economy that has Arrived and is able to make itself at home.
Dr. Katherine Trebeck is Policy and Knowledge Lead for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance. She is a political economist with over eight years’ experience with Oxfam GB (including developing the Humankind Index). She sits on a range of advisory boards, holds several academic affiliations and instigated the Wellbeing Economy Governments partnership.
Jeremy Williams grew up in Madagascar and Kenya, where he developed a passion for the environment and for social justice. He studied journalism and international relations and now works as a writer and campaigner. He has worked on projects for Oxfam, RSPB, WWF, Tearfund and many others, and is a co-founder of the Postgrowth Institute. His award-winning website ( Earthbound.report) was ranked Britain’s number one green blog in 2018.