development growth

Ecuador’s sharing economy

Not every country in the world is in hock to GDP growth the way that Britain is. More balanced views are out there on the margins, where growth takes its place as one metric among many – not irrelevant, but not “the government’s number one priority” as Gordon Brown declared it to be when he was PM. I’ve mentioned Thailand’s sufficiency economy before, or Bhutan‘s experiment in Gross National Happiness. To that we can add another: Ecuador.

In 2007 Ecuador began an interesting experiment – a national development plan for good living. It’s based around social justice, participation, diversity, sustainability and human wellbeing. It specifically rejects the Washington Consensus and neoliberal economics, and redefines development as ‘good living’.

“Good Living is based on a vision that surpasses the narrow confines of quantitative economicism and challenges the notion of material, mechanic and endless accumulation of goods. Instead the new paradigm promotes an inclusive, sustainable, and democratic economic strategy; one that incorporates actors historically excluded from the capitalist, market-driven logic of accumulation and (re)distribution.”
Ecuador tends to get lumped in with Venezuela as part of a Latin American ‘socialist’ bloc, but that is to miss the distinctives of their approach. The aim is for a hybrid economy that does not “focus exclusively on the market, as in the case of neoliberalism, or of the State, as in the case of so-called ‘real socialism’ – as the guiding force of social development.” Rather, public property and private profit co-exist within a system “marked by solidarity, reciprocity and social justice”, an “economy of altruistic solidarity.” If you’re familiar with current thinking around the commons, you may recognise these concepts.

This draws from ancient Andean cultural traditions of good living, which are “essentially collective” and profoundly ecological. (They also, fascinatingly in my opinion, spring from a different understanding of time. In traditional Andean culture, time is not linear, but past and future are all present with us. In such a culture, “the notion of development is inexistent”.) Like Thailand, Ecuador has looked back into its own traditions and drawn guiding principles that predate the dichotomy of left and right.

The vision has a nuanced view of economic growth. It does not reject it, but points out that growth is no guarantee of poverty reduction or social progress, and therefore needs to take second place to the ultimate goal of wellbeing. Growth is a means, not an end. “The Constitution sets aside the restricted visions of development exclusively based on economic growth and places human beings as the ultimate objective, achieving … Good Living in the process.”

The growth-based industrial model Ecuador has pursued in the past is also at odds with long term sustainability, the document recognises: “The concept of development evolved around a simplistic definition of growth. The development goals promoted in the South were designed to mimic the industrial processes of the North, which in turn would accelerate the annual growth rate of GDP. This logic was based upon the assumption that natural resources were unlimited, and that the planet’s capacity to provide for an ever-increasing population was infinite.”

The national plan is therefore an attempt at articulating an alternative to the growth based model of development – a postgrowth constitution, essentially. “The unlimited consumption patterns derived from this model are leading the entire planet to collapse, given that the biosphere is unable to ensure its capacity for regeneration.  It is essential, therefore, to promote new modes of production, consumption and organization of life and coexistence.”

Can the country live up to such ideals? Well, Correa has been in power since 2007, and while he has been controversial in some aspects, the country has been moving in the right direction in many of the things that matter. Poverty rates have dropped dramatically and people are benefiting from better education and healthcare. The economy is stable, and growing. Corruption, crime and free press issues remain. It is an oil exporter, which makes its environmental ambitions somewhat conflicted.

As always, the point is not to hold up Ecuador as a model state or ignore its problems. Their National Plan for Good Living is distinctively theirs, so it’s not for us to copy either. The point is that there is an alternative. Politics doesn’t have to be as narrow as ours. Other models of development are not just possible, but are actually out there.


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