The Need For Policy Intervention

These considerations highlight the urgency of engaging wholeheartedly in the strategy of dematerialisation. In particular (see Chapter 7), there is an urgent need to reorient the basis of profitability away from the throughput of material goods and towards the provision of services. The so-called 'service economies' which have evolved naturally in the industrialised nations over the last few decades are not service economies in this visionary sense.

It is one thing to articulate this vision. It is obviously quite another to implement it. We know from the previous chapter that the development of the vision has as much to do with commercial and institutional change as with technical innovation. And the lessons from relatively minor innovations in the energy supply industries suggest that this kind of change must be negotiated with care, commitment and collaboration. We cannot hope to achieve radical improvements in material efficiency without understanding the real economic and technical context faced by industrial operators. Extending product lives requires careful attention to the longer-term process of product and system design. Commercial innovation is—by its nature—bound to introduce institutional stumbling blocks and conflicts of interest which will require arbitration in a balanced and impartial forum.

For these reasons, it is almost unthinkable that the emergence of this new service economy could occur without government encouragement. It will also demand wide institutional involvement, committed industrial collaboration and active public participation. Perhaps the first step on this path will be to provide an effective forum in which these different actors can be brought together to negotiate change.

It is really beyond the scope of this book (and possibly of any book) to provide complete, unambiguous policy prescriptions for a new, and more sustainable, industrial economy. For a start, such an attempt would undoubtedly obscure the main aim of the book—to present a clear picture of what amounts to a paradigm shift in the industrial economy. More importantly, the process of policy implementation is—as I shall argue in more detail in the final chapter of the book—something which needs to be engaged in at a much broader level than could be done in a single-authored book. Nevertheless, there are a number of potential opportunities for procedural change, regulatory intervention and fiscal reform upon which some comment would be appropriate at this point.

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