Is less more? Degrowth Economics

This summer I was reading the newspaper in Greece and I came across an article about an economist named Serge Latouche, Emeritus Professor at the University Paris-Sud. Latouche talks about the need of a society of degrowth instead of growth, as the way the economy is currently organized is wasting resources and cannot be sustainable. He argues for a society in which people will work less and consume less products but of better quality; in which people will rediscover the gift culture besides commodities and products. Happy that I finally found that my views are also supported by university professors, and tired of being called a primitivist every time I expressed them, I kept the article aside and rediscovered it somewhere in my diary last week. This lead me to some more online research and here are the results, I hope you enjoy!

Would the West actually be happier with less? The world downscaled

What if the very idea of growth—accumulating riches, destroying the environment and worsening social inequality—is a trap? Maybe we need to aim to create a society that is based on quality not quantity, on cooperation and not competition.

PRESIDENT George Bush told leading meteorologists last year: Economic growth is the key to environmental progress, because it is growth that provides the resources for investment in clean technologies. Growth is the solution, not the problem (1). That is not only a rightwing position: the principle is shared by much of the left. Even many anti-globalisation activists see growth as the solution for the world, expecting it to create jobs and provide for a fairer distribution of wealth. […]

After several decades of frenetic wastefulness storm clouds threaten. As our climate becomes increasingly unstable, we are fighting oil wars. Water wars will no doubt follow (5), along with pandemics and the extinction of essential plant and animal species through foreseeable biogenetic disasters. In these conditions the expansive and expanding growth society is neither sustainable nor desirable. We must urgently consider how to create a society of contraction and how to downscale as serenely and convivially as possible.

The growth society is dominated and often obsessed by growth economics. It makes growth for growth’s sake the essential aim of life, if not its only aim. This is unsustainable because it pushes the limits of the biosphere. Calculating the impact of our lifestyle on the environment in terms of how much of the Earth’s surface each person’s consumption uses reveals a way of life unsustainable in equal rights to natural resources and those resources’ capacity for regeneration. […]

TO RECONCILE the contradictory imperatives of growth and environmentalism, experts think they have found a magic formula, ecoefficiency—the centrepiece of the argument for sustainable development and its only credible aspect. The idea is progressively to reduce the intensity and impact of our use of natural resources until it reaches a level compatible with the Earth’s recognised maximum capacity (7). […]

THE problem is that values currently dominant, including selfishness, the work ethic and the spirit of competition, have grown out of the system, which in turn they reinforce. Personal ethical choices to live more simply can affect trends and weaken the system’s psychological bases, but a concerted radical challenge is needed to effect anything more than limited change.

Will this be dismissed as a grandiose utopian idea? Is any transition possible without violent revolution: or rather, can the psychological revolution we need be achieved without violent disruptions? Drastically reducing environmental damage does mean losing the monetary value in material goods. But it does not necessarily mean ceasing to create value through non-material products. In part, these could keep their market forms. Though the market and profit can still be incentives, the system must no longer revolve around them. Progressive measures, stages along the way, can be envisaged, though it is impossible to say whether those who would lose from such measures would accept them passively, or even whether the system’s present victims—drugged by it, mentally and physically—would accept its removal. Perhaps this summer’s heatwave in Europe will go further than any arguments to convince people that small is beautiful.


and here’s an article about how degrowth could be applied:

Proponents of contraction want to create integrated, self-sufficient and materially responsible societies in both the North and the South. It might be more accurate and less alarming if we replaced the word degrowth with “non-growth”. We could then start talking about “a-growthism”, as in “a-theism”. After all, rejecting the current economic orthodoxy means abandoning a faith system, a religion. To achieve this, we need doggedly and rigorously to deconstruct the matter of development. The term “development” has been redefined and qualified so much that it has become meaningless. Yet despite its failings, this magical concept continues to command total devotion across the political spectrum. The doctrines of “economism” (1), in which growth is the ultimate good, die hard. Even counter-globalisation economists are in a paradoxical position: they acknowledge the harm that growth has done but continue to speak of enabling Southern countries to benefit from it. In the North the furthest they are prepared to go is to advocate slowing down growth. An increasing number of anti-globalisation activists now concede that growth as we have known it is both unsustainable and harmful, socially as well as ecologically. Yet they have little confidence in degrowth as a guiding principle: the South, deprived of development, cannot be denied at least a period of growth, although it may cause problems.


1 Comment

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One response to “Is less more? Degrowth Economics

  1. It seems to me that GDP serves as a measure of consumption of natural resources. Why then is one of the main priorities of developed countries to increase GDP, i.e. increase resource consumption. The inefficiency with which resources are used in developed countries is staggering. Even at current rates (let alone future growth) resources will be largely depleted and economic collapse is inevitable. Unfortunately, it looks like change will only driven by future crises.

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