Growth vs Resilience

Efficiency comes through optimal adaptation to an existing environment, while resilience requires the capacity to adapt to disruptive changes in the environment. Efficiency and resilience have long been opposite concepts in various fields, including business management and public administration. The chart below further illustrates that the concept of sustainability could be expressed as a trade-off between efficiency and resilience.

Moreover, this chart shows that efficiency comes through optimal adaptation to an existing environment, while resilience requires the capacity to adapt to disruptive changes in the environment.

The trouble is that we are so used to the whole notion of economic growth. We measure the prosperity of a society by the level of goods and services available in it. Using GDP and similar indicators, we are driven to produce more and more, without accounting for negative environmental and social impacts. Proceeding on this path will only mean that we deplete our earth’s resources and drastically diminish her capacity to support our future generations. Continuing business as usual will mean that our already limited resources get redistributed in favour of the wealthy few, at the cost of the economically poor and socially disadvantaged majority. Above all, focusing on economic growth will mean that our resilience level will become relatively lower, rendering humans much more vulnerable to unexpected incidences such as the COVID-19.

To counter this catastrophic route, the European Commission has adopted the circular economy action plan as part of the European Green Deal. It emphasises different ways of carrying out economic activities, such as building products that last longer and are easier to repair and upgrade, recycle and reuse. This transition into a circular economy would require a completely different way of thinking from both producers and consumers as well as well thought out regulative frameworks that apply uniformly to all economic actors. As a mature economy, Europe has shown its ability to prioritise resilience over efficiency. For instance, the cooperative movement that originated in Europe is built on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity, rather than economic efficiency.

I believe that the corona crisis offers us a timely opportunity for such a paradigm change. But the question remains for the less developed parts of the world, especially for emerging economies like BRICS who are still pursuing economic growth and efficiency rather than resilience. This is why Europe’s action of plan must span well beyond its borders. European external actions must reflect its priority of resilience over efficiency justly and effectively.

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