Degrowth: what?! Summary of our short introductory event

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DG_RZ_Logo_72dpi 150pxBy Chris Ward

Despite attending the conference, not everyone will fully understand what ‘Degrowth’ is, or the multitude of related terms that will be mentioned during the conference. Thankfully the first session on the schedule, offered by Federico Demaria and Giacomo D´Alisa was ideally suited for getting your knowledge up to scratch.

Judging by audience responses to the question “What is Degrowth?” there isn’t a concrete definition yet, but one is needed to make the term more understandable to the wider world. Currently ‘Degrowth’ is more of an intersection of several concepts, we need to be clearer with our vocabulary to emphasise ‘different’, not ‘less’.

‘Degrowth’ was first mentioned as a term by Gorz and later by Roegen and Grinevald in the 1970s

Degrowth lost some interest in 80s and 90s due to the prevailing neo-liberal thoughts of the era. It re-entered the public’s interest in the 00s especially around Europe and Latin America in some of the more traditionally activist countries and those worst hit by the Global Financial crisis.

Leipzig is 4th international conference on Degrowth, and now the term is being mentioned in mainstream media, academic courses and articles.

Let’s break apart the vocabulary apart a little…

The Limits of Growth

  • Growth is uneconomic : Costs are increasing faster than wealth as is inequality and the distribution of wealth.
  • Growth is unjust: Commodification of the world and services, unequal access to resources, it is subsidised by unpaid and low cost labour and does not increase happiness.
  • Growth is Ecologically unsustainable: There is correlation between GDP and Co2 emissions, dematerialisation of economies is not happening and technology cannot solve all our problems.
  • Growth is coming to an end: There are diminishing marginal returns, an exhaustion of technological innovations, limits between demand and supply, limited natural resources and increasing debt in nations and institutions.

Degrowth as Autonomy

This has different meanings with different writers. In summary it means that limitations should be a choice and not an external imperative or pressure, there is an emphasis on collective self-limitations.

Degrowth as Repoliticisation

Degrowth has come to be a word used by politics to give backing and consensus to sustainable development, which is not always a good thing. It has also lead to the politicising and debunking of science, i.e. climate change.

Degrowth and Capitalism

Growth is an imperative for capitalism, for technical, economic and socio-political reasons. Frequently capitalists will say that there will be a trickle down to everyone eventually if we continue to grow. Degrowth tries to imagine a non-capitalist society.

Proposals for a Degrowth Transition

  • Grassroots economies
  • Welfare institutions without growth: Job guarantees, basic and ceiling income, work-sharing.
  • Money and credit institutions: Community and alternative currencies, public money, debt audits of spending.
  • The politics of such a transition: Uncivil and civil practises, a slow leak into parliamentary politics, taking part in social movements.
  • Nowtopias – Transition towns, Collaborative consumption, share schemes etc.

Future research proposals

  • The impossibility of dematerialisation
  • Entry of developed economies into systemic stagnation
  • Abandonment of growth will revive politics and democracy (no proof, but we think/hope!)

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