Podcasts

Life After Capitalism


Rob Johnson talks with Tim Jackson about his new book, “Post Growth: Life after Capitalism,” and how we might break free of the cycle of restrictive thinking which has plagued economics, and the world.

Subscribe and Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google Podcasts | YouTube

Transcript

Rob Johnson:

Welcome to Economics and Beyond. I’m Rob Johnson, president of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. I’m here today with Tim Jackson, the author of the new book called Post Growth: Life After Capitalism, previously the author of Prosperity Without Growth, and he’s a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, and director of a very vigorous institute called The Center for Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity. Tim, thanks for joining me. Thanks for being here today.

Tim Jackson:

It’s a pleasure, Rob. Glad to be here.

Rob Johnson:

I just have to say, in reviewing the manuscript for your book which I know has just come out in England, will be out in the United States on May 21st, I’m very inspired.

Tim Jackson:

Thank you.

Rob Johnson:

Because I’m always looking, first of all, we’re in a world where which you might call the conventional wisdom appears to be in tatters. And secondly, it’s not enough to just tear apart what is because people become afraid and avoid. They want to see light at the end of the tunnel. Or maybe not clarity and certainty, but a pathway to exploring, to a healthier, more sustainable life for them and their children. And I feel like as I went through your book, looking backward at different building blocks of philosophy, looking at different periods, transition, and looking forward, that you’re just right in sync with what the doctor ordered for this next phase. So Tim, this book, as I say, is very inspiring to me. What’s in your mind? What’s in your heart as you decided to impart this to the world?

Tim Jackson:

So you mentioned an earlier book that I’d written called Prosperity Without Growth. And I wrote that originally when I was economics commissioner for the UK Sustainable Development Commission. So it was written… If you like, the Commission actually reported to the prime minister of the UK at the time. And it was written really for a policy audience. It was written as a policy document. And it talked about the predicament, if you like, of our economy, which has as its goal continuous expansion, and yet lives and has to survive on a finite planet.

And it did so in a very science-based, statistics-based, policy-based way because I was trying to grapple with that predicament and make predictions for the kinds of policies that would help us in the future. And it was an odd publication because the people for whom it was written, and I have to say this with all candor, were not widely accepting of its message. And indeed, in some case, it was as though they wished that their advisors had not advised them along these particular lines. So it didn’t get a warm reception from policymakers.

But the thing, and it was very humbling at the time in a way, because it got a huge reception from the non-policymakers. It got a wide reception from a whole range of unusual suspects. It wasn’t just environments, for example, financiers and entrepreneurs and literary societies. And I gave talks in theaters. I went to the UN at certain times, I talked with parliamentarians in different contexts. But this audience were not really, I suppose, the people that I had written the book for. And I began to realize that actually this audience was even wider than originally supposed.

And Post Growth came from a very specific conversation with a young man who had read Prosperity Without Growth, and actually had decided on the basis of reading Prosperity Without Growth to give up. And he decided to give up his job and send an email to the entire company saying that he was giving up his [inaudible 00:04:45] on the day that I arrived at that company to give some advice about sustainability. So it was a kind of, “Thanks, I’m not quite sure how I should take that.” Fortunately, the company was very good about it. But I asked to meet this young man and I had a conversation with him. And he convinced me really that what I had written about in Prosperity Without Growth had a wider, more interested audience perhaps than the policy audience for whom I’d written Post Growth.

And he told me, “You should write this book for these people.” And so it really the art of writing a book for that wider audience about that fundamental dilemma is where Post Growth came from. And it was outside of my comfort zone sense because I’m an academic and I write broadly for academic audiences and for policy audiences. And as you say, I have this playwriting background, but I’d never really brought it into my work. And so Postgres really was partly bringing two sides of me together, but also doing it with the very spasm of fulfilling a mandate from one of my audience who felt that I should be talking about these things in the more accessible way to a wider audience.

Rob Johnson:

Many people talk about left and right brain, or they talk about various different ways or languages that people become reassuring or convincing or inspiring. But the notion that I’ve seen often in reference to the environmental sustainability is that, that notion of unlimited growth just it made sense when the [inaudible 00:06:43]Gareth Dale said to Adam Smith, “What do you mean price equals value? You need oxygen and you need water and you die, and the is zero.” But the population was small in relation to the earth. Now, the scarcity of clean water that can support your health and oxygen, as well as many other facets are in question. But these notions of… How would I say? Where new inspiration is coming from, or what many people are not calling heart-minded inspiration, that there’s a kind of intuitive invitation that then leads you on to the creation of things which you communicate, like you say, as an academic. But I think the playwright is bringing the heart to the table with the brain, is what I’m insinuating.

Tim Jackson:

I hope that’s what’s happened. I guess there was something else in my mind, I was doing that which was around the people in the book, because Post Growth is a book where I’ve used a lot of the stories, the narratives, the ideas, the thought worlds of other people and I consider these people in some ways, to be my intellectual heroes, to be my intellectual guides, my mentors over quite a long period of time. And so that was another thing that I wanted to do. I wanted suggest that in the conundrum in which we find ourselves, this paradox that of the human condition, on a finite planet that in our support, we have a huge legacy of very insightful thinking from some quite amazing people. And I think that’s something that often goes missing in the current debate. Everything is geared around the latest Twitter storm, from whatever the new kid on the block has to say.

And I really want you to ground our endeavor at this point in time, this search for a different kind of economy, a different kind of society, a different kind of world. I wanted to ground that in the thinking that had inspired me, which goes back not just a few years, not even a few decades, but actually centuries. And to suggest that actually the thought worlds that were captured by these intellectual heroes are as relevant and perhaps more relevant today than they have ever been. And they present a kind of a resource for us I think, as we go about figuring out what kind of society we want for our kids.

Rob Johnson:

And people like Ruskin and Wordsworth and others seem to be chafing which are called mechanistic visions, in an earlier time when there was the debate in economics around the time of Karl Marx. I remember reading a wonderful history book by Mary Ferner called Advocacy Versus Objectivity, where the marginal revolution in the mechanical representations, which you might call calm the waters about distribution, attention. So we can see these things going in and out in oscillating, but the way you’re accumulating things reminds me… I had an inspiration in my own life, when my children, now in their 30s, were in school and the nature writer Peter Matheson came and spoke, he had gone to the same school as a child, as my children were. And he talked about a book called The Tree Where Man Was Born. And it was essentially ground-centered in Tanzania.

And we as a family went there. And everybody talks about the circle of life and the animal life. And it’s wonderful to learn about, but he suggested, he nudged us to go with the Hadza, who were not farmers, not business people, but the hunter gatherers…. And just experience their lives. We did for about nine days as we wandered with them. And it felt to me like… I sensed a different kind of joy and curiosity and confidence among those people than anybody had ever experienced. And I didn’t take it anywhere. But when I was reading your book, images from that trip came up to me over and over again.

Tim Jackson:

Yeah, and I think that was a part of… What I wanted to do is to open up what has sometimes become a kind of narrowed-down thought world and narrowed-down ideology and say, “Look, there are all these wonderful insights from many hundreds of years that are poetic in nature, that are inspirational in their sense of guiding us as a species of animal that lives time, on the finite planet forever in lockdown in some metaphorical way. And coming to terms with that is a part of how we create vision in society and how we think about social progress.

Rob Johnson:

And you talk a lot in the book about how narratives… I remember seeing a diagram about novelty and tradition, self and other, and how the paradigm that we have been living in novelty and self, which was essentially the propulsion to Schumpeterian-like dynamics and growth, technical change, expanding the production possibility frontier, but you did a very nice job of saying. That’s just one pathway and there are all kinds of other ramifications inside effect and living a virtuous life isn’t always contained in that quadrant.

Tim Jackson:

I think that’s right. And in the same token that it created a Shumpeterian paradigm and price, it also created a consumerist narrative to support that, in which we begun to see ourselves as an insatiable novelty seeking-selfish hedonists driven by some form of rational self maximization at its heart. And the work that that quadrant diagram that you’re talking about, I think it’s a lovely piece of work. It’s by a psychologist called Shalom Schwartz who explored those tensions between self and other, and between novelty and tradition. And found actually that both of those characteristics, all four of those characteristics are present in the human psyche, in different concentrations, in different places and in different cultures.

But what always struck me about it, as you say, is how we had almost forced in economics, in particular forced our vision of ourselves into that one novelty-seeking selfish quadrant of the human heart, and in doing so, had missed actually three quarters of who we are as human beings.

Rob Johnson:

And that I would surmise, and this is just my conjecture, when you stay in that quadrant, cumulatively, the damage of the ignoring the other three quadrants starts to build, which my call reveals the incoherence or instability of that there…

Tim Jackson:

I think that’s true. I came from a position as many of my colleagues did, from all the sort of environmental awareness if you like, of thinking about the damage that society is wreaking on a finite planet and being concerned about it and being concerned about limits and talking about limits. But more that I began to explore it, and I began to do this probably a little bit at least in Prosperity [inaudible 00:15:09] and certainly in some of the work that we’re doing in [casp 00:15:13]. It seems to me there was a kind of double tragedy, there’s a tragedy in terms of what we’re doing to the planet, and that awful thing to be doing. And there’s also a tragedy, if you like, in terms of the exploitation that has sometimes occurred with the poorest in society. But all of that is a tragedy of the human heart that we’ve pursued this very materialistic vision of a consumer society to the detriment of the human spirit.

And I think that diagram that Shalom Schwartz, Categorization of Human Values shows that to us very clearly, that actually in becoming materialist, in becoming obsessed with the concept of more, we have never actually learned to identify our fullest human potential. And that actually, paradoxically really, it’s the fact that we’re limited that points us in the direction of that human potential. It’s the fact that we’re limited in material and resource terms, that points us to the opportunities for the expansion of the human spirit. And if we neglect that, if we say, “Well, no, we’re not interested in limits.” We can bust through these frontiers, we can go as far as we want and we’ll do it because we’re incredibly clever. We miss that opportunity.

So one of the things I wanted to do in Post Growth was to sketch that opportunity, an opportunity for a fuller human potential, a richer vision of ourselves, a place where we’re not narrowed down almost or persuaded to accept a standard view of what human beings are. But we’re actually encouraged to explore that opportunity. There’s a quote that I quite often use from Wendell Berry, who’s obviously a very well known US conservator that, “Limits properly construed should not be seen as constraints, but as invitations to fuller meaning and purpose.” And it’s a wonderful way of thinking about, about limits, that allows us not to transcend in the terms of ignoring them, or to break through them with brute force, but actually to take the ideas and ask, “Where is their teaching for what it means to be human.” And I think that that goes missing in consumer society, that idea goes missing, and I wanted to reclaim that.

Rob Johnson:

Wendell Berry is my pantheon of readers and my closest friend who, for 47 years, who passed away a couple of years ago, inspired me when I was a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute in New York, to work where they give what are called the Four Freedoms medals. And I nominated Wendell Berry, and they chose him, and he came and had dinner with us and presented, but books like, What Are People For, and all of his various books on poetry, the foreword he wrote to the One-Straw Revolution, a Japanese book about the meaning of agriculture, he is a fantastic mind.

Tim Jackson:

It is a wonderful sort of incisiveness I find, and the inspiration from it which comes very much from a real connection to the natural world and a learning through the natural world of what we are as human beings. And if I find the way he writes fantastic, it’s very inspiring to me.

Rob Johnson:

So there are, as you’ve said, kind of antecedents to the mosaic that you’re constructing, there are building blocks that are signal. So somebody recently told me about a gentleman I’ve never met. He used to be a university called the Donald, who is a Hungarian, but he’s one of these people who seems to be very rigorous and scientific. But talking about what you might call in simple economics, the misspecification of our objectives. And so I think maybe the way in which we’re all being shaken up now has the searching for clues of how to get out of this mess. And your ability to synthesize and as you said as a scholar, I’m not trying to discredit the scholar because at some level, because of your gifts and understanding how those people process things and are persuaded, keeps them on board in the evolution.

So just like you were referring to in the social media, it’s not just the denigration of science and information because it’s all false consciousness and bitterness and shrapnel. It’s moving the tribe to a different level of awareness and collaboration that I think is the exciting potential.

Tim Jackson:

Yeah. And you mentioned the circumstances where we are at the moment been tragic really in human terms and salutary by any stretch of the imagination in the kind of enormous lessons I think that the last year has provided us with. It is inevitably because I actually started writing the book before the pandemic struck, and I was writing it actually through that first period of the emergence of the pandemic, and the lockdown, and the experience of people through lockdown. And as you say, it was beyond the idea even of a once in a lifetime experience. It was a kind of experience that many don’t ever have in their lifetimes. And it applied to all of us everywhere across the world. And I think it’s not to trivialize it, or not to trivialize the tragedy to say that there was an enormous learning through that experience. It did teach us certain things, it taught us certain things about the economy in particular, and at one level, this is a book, partly about the economy and about the kind of economy that we have.

And in particular, I think one of the tragic lessons from the pandemic was how we allowed our economy to develop in a very particular way, such that a certain group of people had been very poorly treated, that their livelihoods were precarious, their pay was very low, their working conditions were obvious often very bad. And this sense of insecurity, which they had to live with, their daily lives was in existence for several decades really, before the pandemic struck. And then the most curious thing, and the most striking thing of all is that this set of people turned out to be the people that we needed most, they were the doctors and the nurses and the care workers and the delivery people and the people working in shops to provide for us. They were the people on the front line, they were the cleaners who suddenly from being the most almost the worst job in the world that you wouldn’t wish upon your friends became this incredibly important job because of the way that the virus replicated and spread in our lives.

And so it was so striking to me to see that this group of people who I had been writing about as a part of the those left behind by capitalist economics, how suddenly actually we began to see them for the worse the value that they have in society rather than from the wages that we don’t wish to pay them because we can’t be bothered with that kind of stuff. And behind that, the reasons that we couldn’t be bothered with it is because it didn’t fulfill the goals of productivity that capitalism and our modern economy is constantly chasing that idea, constantly chasing more output, more efficiency, more productivity from our workers, year after year after year. And these were the people for whom care, and attention, and time, and dedication were the things that they were bringing to society. And they’re not things that you can chase out of the economy through efficiency drives, they are things that you have to nurture and nourish and take care of.

And so at the heart of the book, although there’s a lot of stories in it, there’s also a very profound, to me at least, and I hope that I’ve conveyed it to profound message for a dysfunctionality at the heart of capitalism that has done damage to some of the most important valuable members of our community and to the services that they bring to us. And I think as a learning from what we’ve been through in the last year, I think that’s extraordinarily profound. I’m kind of worried that we’re going to forget too soon. I almost want to keep saying it and keep saying it, because I think there’s a point at which we’ll begin to forget it. When the pandemic struck, I didn’t know if it was the same in the States, but we had people out on their doorsteps clapping the health service at a certain time of night, every week.

And then a few months ago, we had a suggestion for how much pay increase we should give to NHS staff. And it was minimal, it was less than the rate of inflation, it was obscene really, and insulting that the very people that we stood on the doorstep to clap, were the ones that we were not prepared to reward and didn’t know how to reward in the economic system that we devised. So there’s a very, to me, almost… Am not trying to be polemical about it in any very strong way. Because for me, the essence of the book is to encourage conversation. But I do feel quite passionately that the reform that economics needs at this point is fundamentally to replace, to put that value, the value of the care as the care economy, if you like, and craft and creativity, those occupations that depend for their effectiveness on the dedication of people’s time to society, to put them back at the heart of the economy where they belong.

Rob Johnson:

As I listened to you, and read the manuscript of your book, two things that resonate with what you’ve just been saying really came to the surface. One was, there’s a gentleman who’s a professor, I believe of sociology in the UK named Rogan Taylor, and I saw him give a lecture. I used to work in the music business. So it was called The Death and Resurrection Show, from shamanism to superstar. And I used to work on creating blues records or brutes and blues. And so I was interested in that dimension. But as I listened to him, he took us through what did the original Siberian, the shaman or the Native American shamanic experience entail? And it was, you have to go through a hell of your own equivalent disruption or destruction or being torn apart, go down and into that suffering, you develop the sensitivity to come back from the underworld to the first world, and then ascend ultimately to heaven.

And the point that I was hearing as you were talking is how the pandemic is awful as it is, when that suffering emerged, it sends us all into that hell, and that potential not for denial, but for re-examination, greater sensitivity and a different vision coming out. The second part, and this came more from reading your book, was the role of Native American thought that whether Black Elk speaks, or more critical things like good the Native American elite, Jack Forbes, wrote a book called Columbus and Other Cannibals. And he had a phrase they call with Tikal, about a certain evil compulsive disease that the Native Americans experienced when Western society came and took over the United States and pushed them around. And I sense that there was a great deal of reawakening to Native Americans, what I call spiritual philosophy taking place right now. They’re seeing that as part of the guiding light.

Tim Jackson:

That’s really good. I think that again, it’s a part of our phenomenon of rushing forever onwards to the next new thing, that we believe that we are cleverer than everybody who came before us. And going back to that, some of that wisdom I think is incredibly important to us, particularly as we begin to realize how much we’ve lost our way in some sense. But your other points also about suffering, it’s a very uncomfortable one for modern society. We’d like to look the other way and pretend it’s not happening and think of the brightness of the future and the opportunities of our young people and being the best self that you can be. And it is another theme in the book though, because I think it’s a really important one, that sense of facing up to suffering, facing up to the existence of suffering. It comes at us from all sorts of places when we begin to look and understand what capitalism is, you begin to find beneath it a kind of anxiety And it’s the anxiety of keeping up with everybody else, for example, on the side of consumers [inaudible 00:30:07]of capital flight and losing your markets if you’re an entrepreneur.

And I was listening recently to a talk that Jeff Bezos gave. And he has this thing about innovation always being… It’s always day one for an innovative enterprise. When he gave this talk, and he said “What does day to look like?” I think I know the answer to this one. Day two is status, followed by irrelevance, followed by a slow, inexorable decline, followed by death. And that is why it’s always day one. And of course, it’s a lovely speech, and his audience loved it. And it does speak to some truths that being at day one is always gives you the ability to see everything afresh. But also that speaks to me holds a kind of anxiety beneath the vision and the forward motion of the entrepreneur is the fear of decline and death. And it’s a fear that in society as a whole, we tend not to want to confront. But I think it’s our failure to confront it in some way. It’s our failure to face up to it, it’s our failure to acknowledge it as a part psyche, that drives us into the arms of false dreams of forever thinking that novelty is the only way to go of believing that the consumer dream that material affluence will lead us to heaven, if you like.

Tim Jackson:

And some of the work that we’ve been doing in the center really was very surprising to me, because what it showed was that, if you engage in this denial, if you try to avoid this kind of suffering, it takes up a certain amount of energy, it takes up psychic energy to continually paint this bright, wonderful picture of the future and deny the dark side. And what taking that energy does, is it reduces your own ability to engage in meaningful, purposeful tasks that require your mental commitment. And that was a fascinating insight to me because it sort of said in a way, we also discovered that the more materialistic you are, the more likely you are to avoid the dark side, to try to avoid that suffering. And that avoidance of your suffering prevented you from experiencing the most fulfilling states that humans can experience when they’re really engaged in a task. And it one with the world really absorbed in what they’re doing.

So that our materialistic societies in the same time that they’re destroying the planet, they are actually undermining our own ability to achieve our fullest human potential. And that was a kind of striking revelation to me when our research uncovered this, and thinking through the implications of that was one of the things I was trying to do in the book.

Rob Johnson:

My own life, I went through a transition and some very wise friends gave me a book by a man named Ernest Becker-

Tim Jackson:

Denial of Death-

Rob Johnson:

… Called the Denial of Death. And it rarely went down to the same pathway that you were just describing. And then others who the same group of people who I’ve known as the pandemic started, we had a reading group around Pema Children’s Book when things fall apart, which is a Buddhist perspective. And the second one was Thich Nhat Hanh a book called Fear. And it was about how overcoming fear is the only way you can be more alive, and I haven’t done it. But the person who led that group said, “The next book you should read is the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.” Because the only way you can get on course, in amidst the anxiety that tempts you towards denial is to look these links and-[crosstalk 00:34:33]

Tim Jackson:

It’s a fantastic insight. It’s a really extraordinary insight.

Rob Johnson:

It is.

Tim Jackson:

And it’s one of the things Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the people in the book whose ideas I explore and he was very influential on my thinking at certain point in time, particularly the way that he talks about and thinks about power, and what power is. And he really contrasts a sense of power, which is cast in worldly terms of money, and riches, and wealth, and political influence and telling people what to do with a sense of power, which comes actually through the learning. That’s shown to us when we explore that fundamental question of suffering. And what that insight did for me is it made me contrast. This seems a very odd thing to do as I try to explain it to you. But it made me in the book, try to contrast the response of capitalism towards suffering, and the response of Buddhism towards suffering.

And what’s fascinating is that actually start in the same place, they sort of start by saying suffering is inevitable, that’s the first precept of Buddhists, that everything is suffering. And capitalism kind of starts from the same place, it says everything is scarcity and that means that not everybody can have everything all the time. And then the responses diverge wildly from that point, because capitalism says, because everything is suffering, everything is a struggle, life is a struggle for existence and it’s only through competition that you can survive that struggle for existence, and then competition suddenly becomes actually the most important principle in capitalism.

And Buddhism goes a completely opposite direction, it says everything is suffering, the suffering comes from our cravings, and therefore we should reduce our cravings and always increase our concern for other people, particularly those who are suffering. So you get this divergence of worldviews, one which has taken us to hyper-competitive competition of, it’s fine that there are poor people suffering as long as I don’t look at them and see them too much on the one hand, and on the other hand, a set of instructions for us to turn to offering, understand how much it’s a common destiny and sympathize with other people, connect with other people and care for other people. And I found that that vision, that Thich Nhat Hanh vision, I found that an extraordinarily powerful way of thinking about where capitalism had gone wrong, led us astray, if you like.

Rob Johnson:

Yeah. I know my friends who were involved in the Buddhist community, had talked about what they call the yoke of vocation of meditation, that became kind of a thing you did to be cool, or what have you. And they described how Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Fear, this is before I read it, but I found it, it talks about what he calls, the sanghar, which is the group you meditate with and sometimes in walking meditation, and the strength you get from the acceptance of others helps you to… Which am I calling? Diminish or dissolve some of the fear and allows you to be more present. And I think sometimes, like in a pandemic, like when everybody’s worried about food distribution systems, or massive migration and equatorial regions because of global warming, the gold alone isn’t going to work. How do we reduce the fear of others and become partners in what I’ll call the sanghar of climate change.

And I think these are profound challenges relative to the habit structure of the West.

Tim Jackson:

Yes. They are profound challenges. But again, I think in a way, the existence of those ideas and the longevity that those ideas have had… I was kind struck-heightened when I was writing it again and again too loud to the book of the way. And it’s one of those books also that informs the Buddhism of Thich Nhat Hanh. And that sense that there is, if you like, a learning that we can engage in, that we can throughout our lives, not something we learn at school and then apply, and then it’s done, and then we get a good job, and we forget about it, but actually a kind of constant lifelong learning of staying on the path on path that leads towards other people, that leads towards care of the planet, that leads towards social progress, that leads towards our own intrinsic being at the same time.

And I think that again, that was a very attractive idea, one that they came to and tried to articulate a little bit at the end of the book, because it struck me that we shouldn’t neglect that wisdom which is a wisdom from near two and a half millennia ago, Lao Tzu was writing around about two and a half millennia ago. But it was a wisdom actually never came from the learning of an extraordinarily successful civilization that preceeds our modern civilization and precedes capitalism and is informed by experiences, informed by thinking about the nature of the world and thinking about the human condition in a very profound way. And it influenced society, Chinese society for example, over an extraordinary long period of time as a way of navigating the human condition.

And I think that’s again it’s your earlier point about Native American wisdom, that the wisdom of earlier traditions is something that we should acknowledge for its insight, of course, but perhaps even more acknowledged for its relevance to the situation that we find ourselves in.

Rob Johnson:

And then requiring what I would say, global cooperation across the tectonic plates of different philosophical systems, the Cartesian enlightenment West, and the Buddhist Confucian Taoist East are now both in the G20.

Tim Jackson:

Yeah, that’s true.

Rob Johnson:

And they’ve got to sit across the table from each other and not project their own system, onto the imagination of the person that they’re trying to collaborate with. So I think some learning, particularly of the West about the East will help for alignment there. Let me take you to a place because I think we’re at that place, one of the things the Institute for New Economic Thinking is very concerned about is education. And there’s a woman, the late Jane Jacobs, her last book, which was published in 2004, was called Dark Age Ahead. The third chapter of the book was called Education Versus Credentialization. And I’ll paraphrase, these are not real words, but someone that can go to school to get a label, a stamp, the skills to alleviate the fear of not being materially prosperous. On the other path, someone can go to school to become aware, a sense of what matters, become a citizen, work with others.

I’ve been concerned that particularly American education, and the rising tuition structures and all kinds of things are symptoms of that fear. And that skill-based response to fear, to be an input to production with what we need now in this world of collective work in externalities as economists call them in the need for public good, we need the education of the citizen. And I know I’ve been doing a work with some people around Pope Francis, that was inspired by his environmental encyclical Laudato si. But the most recent one, about people in working together in his group is often talked about what we need now is what we call economy civics. Where it’s not just the institutions of government, which in many ways were demonized in America in the last four years. But all over the world we need to understand the economic institutions and how they affect the well being.

And this has to be a high school level curriculum because most people on planet earth don’t go to college and I’ve said this, I need your insights because they’re really starting to drink right now, whether it’s at the Vatican, or in the concerns about suicide, and other mental illnesses at colleges rising. That people don’t feel hopeful when they’re there. And so where would you go with education given the insights sake for instance in your new book? What would what kind of curriculum?

Tim Jackson:

Yeah, I feel very passionately about that one. I start the book with this story of Robert Kennedy, turning up at Kansas University, and basically he’s giving approval to a generation of students who have come out on campuses across the United States to protest what was that point, an enormous tragedy, the Vietnam War. And he says to them the more riots there are across the campuses of America, the better. He’s saying that there’s a role for a kind of disobedience, and that students should not be just sitting in the classroom in becoming if you’d like fodder for a productive economy. And there’s another education is, so I really like Rosenstock Huessy, and he has this wonderful quote which I have actually on my wall, “The goal of education is to form the citizen. And the citizen is a person who if need be confound his civilization.”

And so we should be teaching our kids to be rebels is the kind of implication of that. And I think that is one of the things we should be always teaching that questioning. And that’s what I try to do with classes that I teach at college every night, less and less do I enjoy the lecture format, where the bright, enlightened professor stands at the top of the class and tells students what to think. And more I tried to bring that into my teaching methods that these kids actually are the ones who have the critical perspective, and that we should be encouraging that massively in our colleges, in our schools, in our universities. But I think I also feel this is quite a strong message I think that comes I hope comes through the book, that a part of that learning for our kids, and indeed, for us throughout our entire lives, should be a learning that allows us to, if you like, follow that path, that way, that the ancient wisdom was suggesting, not to reach a destination, but to continually be on that path to keep ourselves on that path.

And that path has certain qualities to it. One of the qualities that I talked about in the book is this quality of flow, where you are immersed in task, to the point where you and the task become one, and you and the world become one, and the same token you don’t even exist, you’re not all of the passing of time, your sense of your ego is diminished, but you’re somehow engaged in this process of flow in ways which can be profoundly inspirational at the private level, but also incredibly social and bring about the most amazing change. And one of the things that I feel that the casualties of a materialistic consumer culture that’s focused on productivity is that we do not teach our kids that that state even exists, let alone its value or its meaning in society.

And so I have this idea that there’s a form of education and it never stops, that is about us learning to achieve the fullest human potential and it goes through these kinds of learnings that are around me repaired to look at suffering and it goes through these kinds of learnings that are prepared to rebel at times. But it also achieves this ability of human experience to feel connections in a visceral way with task, with other people, with the planet itself. And I think a little bit of that in a very trivial way perhaps, but I think in quite a foundational way, was embedded in the UK, we have something which was used to be called, I hope it’ll still go on being called the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, which was something which the late Prince Philip installed when he was quite a young man. And it was kind of about giving kids at a certain age around about 14, 15 a bit of that experience, a bit of experience in working in their communities, a bit of experience in developing a skill, a bit of experience in orienteering their way across the country so that they were immersed in nature, they were immersed in society, and they were immersed in their own skill development.

And I think in a way he had captured something, an essence of something which I think is it offers us, not sack cloth and ashes as repentance for our consumerist lifestyle, but actually a really inspirational place to be and something to aim for as human beings and as a society. And I think education for me should begin to build that, not just for kids as I say, but almost like a lifelong project.

Rob Johnson:

Yes. I’m reminded of a book, the gentleman from Indiana that I grew up in the state of Michigan and he’s lived in Western Michigan for a time, his name was Jeffrey Nixa and the book was called, The Lost Art of Heart Navigation. And it was really-

Tim Jackson:

Fantastic. You’re giving me so many lovely references.

Rob Johnson:

But it’s a very touching. And this is a man with all kinds of credentials, went to law school and was an outstanding undergraduate. And then he just said, “This isn’t my compass.” And he went to this different place and then shares with us in his book, what that process looks and feels like. But I think you’re really bringing to life something. I’ll tell a little parable. I have a friend and former neighbor who I used to go skiing with, who is a billionaire. And we were once skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho and on the chairlift, he looked at me and he started crying and he said, “Explain to me, why when last month, I was in Africa, that all of those people were happier than me.” And this wasn’t glib. It was really taking a bite out of him. He was not what you might call satiated or fill gratification of all his material power and security that monetary base provided for him. He knew there was something else. And as I was listening to you, I thought, “I wish he had met you when he was in his 20s

Tim Jackson:

I think that idea that we can think of ourselves still for all the sometimes short term alarmism that we face in relation to climate change, that the threats to by a diversity and obviously neither of us are sitting here minimizing that or minimizing the urgency of that. But within that urgency, I think it’s really important to give people a sense of where hope lies and where social progress lies. And this was the thing that struck me from Thich Nhat Hanh is that, that always available to us. Nobody can take that away from us. It’s something that is a birthright. Robert, I just wanted to ask you, I hope you don’t mind me doing this, but I didn’t know that you’re a music producer actually. So I just wanted to ask you about…. Because it does seem to me and the book does a little bit of this as you say, it takes a poetic stance. And quite often through the writing of it. I almost wrote it with reference to Muses from different places and because of the wonder of YouTube. You can actually visit some of these Muses in real, not in the table there, but you can experience those moments where wonderful things happen. And there was one of those moments which I used actually, I mentioned it in one of the chapters of the book around the Concert that Nina Simone gave, a few days after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Rob Johnson:

Yes. I’ve listened to that.

Tim Jackson:

I watched it over and over and over again, because it was just a moment of such extort and narrow, extraordinary human clarity, compassion and insight and artistry. And then that one moment where she drops in a piano chord at the end of… She’s broken the song in the middle of the song to talk to the audience who is still reeling from the shock of the death of a spiritual leader and that art in some sense in those places is more than just entertainment, it’s even more than constellation, somehow it can capture the essence of that insight into the world that we’re looking for.

Rob Johnson:

Nina Simone is an extraordinary example and at that very painful time that particular concert. I remember there was a song, it was a medley in the second one was I Got No, was the second part of the medley, but I remember just being overwhelmed as I first listened to it, a love Supreme and John Coltrane has always taken.

Tim Jackson:

It’s transcedental in some way.

Rob Johnson:

But there are… And I worked on a film, I’m from Detroit that I worked on a film as a producer with several others, called Amazing Grace, which was a Rita Franklins recording a live album in a church in Los Angeles. And I don’t necessarily adhere to any particular religion, but I’m often asked, “Where did you find the Holy Spirit?” And I said, “In James Brown’s feet, dancing in the reef is a voice and Jimmy Hendrix guitar and John Coltrane’s horn, in Bob Dylan’s lyrics and in Marvin Gaye’s Social Conscience and everything he composts.”

And so I do feel as people like… There’s a gentleman late Sidney Finkelstein, wrote books about how music conveys feelings that are extremely powerful. Howard Thurman wrote a book called Deep River about the Negro spirituals, James H. Cohn, The Spirituals and the Blues. What was the man’s name, Louis and there’s mind in this music. It’s a book about John Coltrane and spirituality. I guess what I would say is there’s a latent curriculum, there are clues, am working with a woman who’s been a guest on this podcast and I’m reading Ms. Christine Pestle Lorn. We’re making a course, a video course, hopefully we’ll record it at his childhood home in North Carolina-

Tim Jackson:

Fantastic.

Rob Johnson:

… It’s called The for Culturing. And I’m trying other, I have an 11-year old and nine-year old daughter, and I’m trying using them with Christine to tune up

Tim Jackson:

There’s one of those very famous, I just think that’s wonderful taking that ability to kids and getting them to engage very early in that, I think that experiment in Chile, which I think it was Chavez who put it together, that the orchestra that he bought together and brought basically the kids out of the favelas, to teach them music and to teach them the beauty of music I think it’s another wonderful component of education. It’s-

Rob Johnson:

There’s a wonderful YouTube video I want to share with you and with our audience, David Byrne has built a play called American Utopia, which in some ways is quite sarcastic around the themes that you and I have talked about. And towards the end of the play, he walks out to pre-announce one of the last songs and he said, I wrote this song called Everybody’s Coming to My House, cynically about a false resolution part of you and whatever. And then he said, “And then we performed in Detroit, in a children’s music group that attended, went home and worked on that song and then they invited me, when I came back to Detroit to come hear them perform. And they wore my heart and my cynicism completely dissipated about a song I wrote, sarcastically and cynically.” And there was a YouTube video of Everything That’s Coming to My House, both the rehearsals of the group. And then what became the.

Tim Jackson:

So I’d love to see that. I found one of the things that supported me, and I found this actually with my playwriting as well, that I always have to know what the score is, what the musical score is before I know how to write the play. And when I was writing Postgres actually, I almost missed the writing of it sometimes because I would go for my inspiration to music. And if I knew what the score is for a particular chapter, if I knew what the piece of music that belonged to the thought world of that chapter, then I could write it.

Rob Johnson:

You can feel what it means before you have to articulate it in words. I agree with that and I think to me, music can be curriculum and Elixir, it can be a form of nourishment that compliments within either physics or mathematics or social studies, because it resonates in your spirit as you’re trying to formulate what you see in these other lessons. And that, like you’ve talked about not having that segmented mind but having that integrated mind, music is a way of weaving all over the sensitivities together with the modules of learning. And so I think I would say Shakespearian place for when she’d get a little bit older or the Iliad and the Odyssey and their whole lot-

Tim Jackson:

Definitely.

Rob Johnson:

… Building blocks that I went to MIT and I studied… I had to pick two minors. I did the Creative Writing, and I did the Writings of Martin Luther king Jr, and I did music and a man named John Oliver who was nurturing us and he worked with Susie Ghazal at the Boston Symphony, but he told us, “After you’ve done this for four semesters, you will be able to walk into any restaurant or bookstore and hear a piece of music and know within five years of when it was composed.” Because of the knowledge of music structure that was analytical more than intuitive, but we’re very profound. So I think… How would I say? I believe the humanities in large breathe a great deal of strength and wisdom into whatever than whatever skills we pursue. So, let me close our conversation today by saying something to you about why I think you and your book, you as an example more importantly and your most recent book are so important.

The famous philosopher student Stephen Thomas wrote a book called Cosmopolis and he studied the 30 years war, and the response to that, and there was a lot of fear in the turmoil at the end of that war that created the Cartesian Enlightenment. And then he talked about how the Cartesian Enlightenment had tremendous potential for illuminating science, but when it was exported, rather rigidly into social science, it produced fault lines, and he wrote this book around, 1984 or 1985, but he did this study from 1630 to the present.

And one of the conclusions he came up with and he had just watched the 60s, which you were talking about, Robert Kennedy, he talked about how people can see the failures, they can see the fault lines, but when things really get frightening, like after Dr. King’s death and the riots in those urban cities and the 68 conventions where there was violence in America, they had an episode like that. Their heart becomes arrested and they look back to the familiar rather than push forward. And what I see right now on the horizon with the challenge of climate change, is that we can’t go back, we can’t buy time with nostalgic denial. These fault lines are profound in the health and the survival on planet earth or in the balance. And someone like you is carving a pathway forward and you’re recognizing the emotions and you’re recognizing the social science and natural science logic, but you’re calming people’s nerves by providing solutions that fill the void, not by ranting at the despair that everybody already feels. Things have been unmasked and it’s a healing time. And I believe you are a very gifted healer.

Tim Jackson:

Thank you, Rob. I really appreciate that and I really hope that the book can do some of that work.

Rob Johnson:

Or I will invite you back to speak. We have a Young Scholars Initiative with over 15,000 people who are members, make sure they see this video podcast or listen to it as an audio and I’d like to invite you to come back and lecture to them, because they’re the people that will shoulder the burden and the ones that really need your help.

Tim Jackson:

I’ll look forward to that.

Rob Johnson:

Thanks for joining me and I hope we get another chance to talk. I’ve I find this delightful and very inspiring.

Tim Jackson:

I’ve really enjoyed it. Thanks Rob.

Rob Johnson:

And check out more from the Institute for new economic [email protected]

Share your perspective