Media library

Abstract: We question to what extent the pursuit of profit, as a fundamental element and the final goal of economic activity in capitalist societies, is compatible with the principles of a steady-state economy. Drawing on the degrowth literature, we discuss both the possibility and desirability of “steady-state capitalism” and suggest that the profit motive creates two broad types of problems for a steady-state economy: (1) rising inequality due to the accumulation of wealth, and (2) the prioritisation of financial returns over socio-environmental needs. We suggest that the first group of problems may largely be tackled through redistribution polices (such as progressive taxes) and economic democratisation (cooperatives). The second poses greater challenges, but social enterprises offer a potential structure to allow firms to prioritise socio-environmental goals over financial profits. While modern shareholder-owned corporations have been described as (negative) “externalising machines”, social enterprises could represent “positive-externalising machines” and a path to redefine the pursuit of profit in a steady-state economy.
Keywords: Profit; capitalism; steady-state economy; social enterprises.