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  • Writer's pictureKarl Pichelmann

"Gear up for a loss of at least 5% in material consumption!"

The Bureau conversation centred around the contention of an inexorable decline in domestic material consumption possibilities in the years to come. The lead proponent speaker set out four driving forces that will inevitably lead to a fall in material consumption possibilities for our societies: (i) higher energy prices, estimated to be associated with a terms-of-trade loss of 2-3% of GDP; (ii) the disappearance of any peace dividend and cost of armament, probably amounting to at least 1-2% of GDP annually; (iii) the reconfiguration of global value-added chains strengthening resilience but coming at an efficiency cost of perhaps 2% of GDP; and last, but not least, (iv) the investment cost associated with the green and digital transition, estimated to run up to at least 3% additionally per year. He suggested that, conservatively estimated, these driving forces could sum up to a likely decline of material consumption possibilities by at least 5% in the years to come. He concluded that rich and abundant societies such as ours have - in principle - what it takes to cope with such a reduction in consumption possibilities. However, he expressed some scepticism whether the associated distributional conflicts can be handled without running into serious turbulences. These kick-off remarks stimulated a rich and at some points quite controversial debate among participants. Ageing and labour force restrictions were added as a likely limiting factor in the near-to-medium term future. While there was fairly broad agreement on the presence of the mentioned downward forces, views differed on the quantitative importance and permanence of the effects. One participant warned of equating material consumption possibilities with well-being in a society; most others, however, were indeed concerned that many layers of society could be pushed at risk of poverty and material deprivation. Participants considered the possibility of technology-driven investment-fuelled virtuous productivity trends, but this optimistic view garnered only minority support. In contrast, several participants called for stronger mitigating strategies to limit harmful social consequences, in particular strengthening fairness in pre-market, in-market, and post-market distributional mechanisms of income and wealth. The chairman concluded that a zero-sum, probably negative-sum scenario cannot be excluded for the years to come and suggested to brace ourselves for the likely economic, social and political turbulences ahead.

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