Debate 52 - Building a State of Equilibrium

Monday, November 26th, 2012 | Debates

What would the role of the construction industry be in an economic model that stayed within the carrying capacity of the world?

Progress has been measured in percentage points of growth in GDP since the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 and since then those running economies have been fixated on ensuring that GDP growth is kept as high as possible. This has meant burning more and more of the earth’s fossil fuels and exploiting the world’s other natural resources to maintain ever greater levels of consumption and turnover. This is not sustainable – but the question remains whether there an alternative model that provides prosperity and a good quality of life, maintains individual freedoms and does not rely on perpetual growth; of activity; of population; of resource extraction and environmental degradation? If so, should we be investing in a different sort of infrastructure now and preparing for what the New Economics Foundation has described as the Great Transition.


A state of equilibrium requires an economy that maintains and recycles natural resources and stays within its share of global carrying capacity. The construction industry would have a major role to play in establishing and managing the infrastructure and built environment to enable such an economy and way of life. Many versions of the good, sustainable life have been developed and proposed in recent years and some are even economically feasible. Can the limited investment currently available be channelled into establishing a self-supporting and non-depleting economy, one that addresses the full range of social, economic and environmental concerns? Can we build it?

The Edge Debate discussed:
— The nature of a successful equilibrium economy

— The role for the construction industry within it

— The investment, skills and understanding required

— Managing the transition

…the increase of wealth is not boundless
John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, 1848

Debate held: 26th November 2012
Venue - The Lecture Hall, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), Parliament Square, London SW1P 3AD

Chris Beauman (Chair) – European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Victoria Johnson - New Economics Foundation & contributor to Zero Carbon Britain
Simon Rawlinson - EC Harris

If you would like to attend this debate please contact Simon Foxell at Places are limited and will be allocated on a first come basis.

Edge Debate 52 - Building a State of Equilibrium - Invitation
Edge debate 52 - Building a State of Equilibrium - handout
Edge Debate 52 - Building a State of Equilibrium - Debate notes
Edge debate 52 - Building a State of Equilibrium, Victoria Johnson, nef - Presentation
Edge debate 52 - Building a State of Equilibrium - Reading list

Edge member Blogs

Blogs from the Edge
> read more

Books - Edge Futures

Edge has published a collection of short books, entitled Edge Futures.
> read more