Push Pull


Debating growth and the Green New Deal

In past newsletters, we have highlighted research and policy proposals relating to the Green New Deal and the literature surrounding “degrowth”—the idea that the growth imperative is at odds with human flourishing. In a recent exchange, economist Robert Pollin debates sociologists Juliet Schor and Andrew Jorgenson on the relative merits of “decoupling” and “degrowth.” The former asserts that “economies can continue to grow while advancing a viable climate-stabilization project, as long as the growth process is decoupled from fossil-fuel consumption.” The latter holds that public discussions over combating climate change must turn “from growthcentricity to needs- and people-centered policies.”

The authors share a commitment to increased public investment, and both sides emphasize the distributional consequences of decarbonization. Their debate turns on, and illuminates larger conversations regarding the discursive frameworks and metrics we use to understand economic life. Schor and Jorgenson see reducing GDP in the global north as one element of a program to radically restructure the principles of society; Pollin understands these efforts to muddy the mandate for immediate climate action.

From Pollin:

“Let’s assume that global GDP contracts by 10 percent over the next two decades, following a degrowth scenario. That would entail a reduction of global GDP four times larger than what we experienced over the 2007–2009 financial crisis and Great Recession. In terms of CO2 emissions, the net effect of this 10 percent GDP contraction, considered on its own, would be to push emissions down by precisely 10 percent—that is, from 32 billion tons to 29 billion. So, the global economy would still not come close to bringing emissions down to 20 billion tons by 2040.

The overwhelming factor pushing emissions down will not be a contraction of overall GDP but massive growth in energy efficiency and clean renewable energy investments (which, for accounting purposes, will contribute toward increasing GDP) along with similarly dramatic cuts in fossil-fuel production and consumption (which will register as reducing GDP). In my view, addressing these matters in terms of their specifics is much more constructive than presenting broad generalities about the nature of economic growth, positive or negative.”

Link to Pollin’s initial paper, link to Schor and Jorgenson.

  • Pollin elaborates on this point in his follow-up statement with a case study of Japan: “Despite the fact that Japan has been close to a no-growth economy for twenty years, its CO2 emissions remain among the highest in the world, at 9.5 tons per capita.” Link. Another recent article reviews and recaps the decoupling vs. degrowth exchanges. Link.
  • Schor and Jorgenson’s follow-up challenges Pollin’s conviction that decoupling is either possible or efficient: “After decades of promises from advocates of green growth that absolute decoupling will happen, the record is dismal. The simple point about growth is therefore that it makes the nearly impossibly high mountain that we need to climb even steeper. Why rule out an important source of emissions reductions before we’ve even started?” Link.
  • Another iteration of the debate in a compilation of INET papers: Schröder et al argue that “if past performance is relevant for future outcomes, our results should put to bed the possibility of ‘green growth.'” Michael Grubb takes a different tack: “Before declaring that history has set limits on what is possible, we need to be extremely careful. The future has already started, though its beginnings may be modest.” Link.
  • From Autonomy, a proposal for a shortened work week—a key element of several green degrowth arguments. Link.
  • Mark Paul, Anders Fremstad, and JW Mason offer a brand new paper on US decarbonization. “In an economy facing persistent demand constraints and weak labor markets, public spending on decarbonization will raise wages and living standards.” Link.

New Researchers: VOLATILE HOURS

On the distribution of precarious work

In a new paper, Berkeley PhD student JOE LABRIOLA and co-author DANIEL SCHNEIDER examine the details of precarious work in the United States. Extending existing research on the growth of precarious labor—which has suggested at the relationship between decreased worker power and precarity, and shown that workers of lower socio-economic classes are disproportionately working precarious jobs—the authors identify the amount and (in)stability of work hours.

From the abstract:

“We make novel use of the panel nature of the nationally-representative Current Population Survey (CPS) to estimate intra-year volatility in the actual hours respondents report working in the previous week across four consecutive survey months. Using this new measure, we then show that, net of demographic characteristics and controls for occupation and industry, low-wage workers experience disproportionately greater work hour volatility. Finally, we find evidence that reductions in marketplace bargaining power—as measured by higher state-level unemployment rates—increase wage- and education-based polarization in work hour volatility, while increases in associational power—as measured by union coverage—reduce wage-based polarization in work hour volatility.”

Link to the paper.

Each week we highlight great work from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Have you read any excellent research recently that you’d like to see shared here? Send it our way: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org.


  • A new paper by John Bound et al on “the supply side of building a skilled workforce”: “Declining funding induced public universities to shift toward tuition as their primary source of revenue. The evidence we present suggests that the cuts negatively affected degree attainment at the undergraduate and graduate levels.” Link.
  • What effects does UBI have on property crime? Richard Dorsett takes the case of the Alaska Permanent Fund. “The results provide evidence that the size of the payment is relevant, with larger amounts significantly reducing property crime.” Link to the paper, link to a ProMarket summary.
  • From the Center on Equitable Growth, a study on paid family care leave. “The unmet need for leave to care for a family member with a serious illness is actually more widespread and more frequent than it is for the other types of family leave.” By Jane Waldfogel and Emma Liebman. Link.
  • Leading sleep scientists call for the abolishment of Daylight Saving Time. Link.
  • Jürgen Schmidt on the 19th century German labor movement: “The history of the early German Labour movement, before the 1848 revolution, is thus very suitable a case study to analyse political remittances – as defined in the introduction of this special issue as an ‘act of transferring political principles, vocabulary and practices between two or more places.'” Link.
  • “The categorical eligibility option allows states to lift the gross income limit to further smooth the benefit cliff. ” From Elaine Waxman’s Congressional testimony on SNAP. Link.
  • Riots and political shifts: “We analyze measures of policy support before and after the 1992 Los Angeles riot—one of the most high-profile events of political violence in recent American history—that occurred just prior to an election. Contrary to some expectations from the academic literature and the popular press, we find that the riot caused a marked liberal shift in policy support at the polls. Investigating the sources of this shift, we find that it was likely the result of increased mobilization of both African American and white voters. Remarkably, this mobilization endures over a decade later.” Link.
  • “Ever wonder why you get so sleepy during conference talks? Lots of conference venues aren’t well-ventilated, causing CO2 to rise to levels that cause drowsiness.” Link to a fun thread, and link to a subsequent WaPo write-up.
  • Alain Cohn et al see what happens when you leave a wallet out in public. “In virtually all countries citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Both non-experts and professional economists were unable to predict this result.” Link.
  • A new INET database covers “total returns for all important asset classes—equity, housing, bonds, and bills—across 16 advanced economies from 1870 to 2015.” Link to the database, and link to a related paper, which shows that r>g for more countries, more years, and at a more dramatic rate than Piketty thought. Link, also, to a paper overview at INET.
  • “Instances of widespread internal political disorder such as civil wars propelled elites to use mass education as a means to instill values that would help prevent future rebellions against their authority. The statistical tests for this argument focus on assessing how a legacy of civil war impacts post-war investments in education provision. I exploit the geographic concentration of civil war in mid-nineteenth century Chile, and show that in the aftermath of the 1859 civil war—the causes of which had nothing to do with education provision—the central government made an unprecedented investment in mass schooling, and the expansion was greatest in those provinces that had rebelled against it.” By Agustina S. Paglayan. Link.

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations: editorial@jainfamilyinstitute.org

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