Saturday, 12 January 2013

De-Growth

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Definition

"Degrowth is a call for a radical break from traditional growth-based models of society, no matter if these models are "left" or "right", to invent new ways of living together in a true democracy, respectful of the values of equality and freedom, based on sharing and cooperation, and with sufficiently moderate consumption so as to be sustainable." (http://bollier.org/blog/what-does-degrowth-look)

Characteristics

David Bollier:
"Degrowth is frequently misunderstood, so it is worth reviewing a short piece that Yves-Marie Abraham wrote to clarify the meaning of degrowth as a economic vision." [1]

Yves-Marie Abraham:
  • This [degrowth] is not an economic depression, nor a recession, but a decline in the importance of the economy itself in our lives and our societies.
  • This is not the decline of GDP, but the end of GDP and all other quantitative measures used as indicators of well being.
  • This is not a decline in population size, but a questioning of humanity's self-destructive lifestyle.
  • This is not a step backwards, but an invitation to step aside, out of the race in pursuit of excessiveness.
  • This is not nostalgia for some golden age, but an unprecedented project to invent creative ways of living together.
  • This is not degrowth imposed by the depletion of the biosphere's resources, but a voluntary degrowth, to live better here and now, preserving the conditions necessary for the long-term survival of humanity.
  • This is not an end in itself, but a necessary step in the search for models depicting free societies, liberated from the dogma of growth.
  • This is not a project of voluntary deprivation and impoverishment, but an attempt to find a “better life,” based on simplicity, restraint, and sharing.
  • This is not “sustainable development,” but a rejection of capitalism, no matter if it is “green” or “socially just,” and no matter if it has State-run or private enterprises.
  • This is not ecofascism, but a call for a democratic revolution to end our productivist-consumerist model of society.
  • This is not voluntary simplicity, but a revolutionary political project that implies the adoption of the principles of voluntary simplicity on the individual level.
  • This is not is not an "anti-modern" movement, but a "neo-modern" movement, based on respect for the values of freedom and equality."
(http://montreal.degrowth.org/aboutdegrowth.html)

Discussion

The Emergence of the Degrowth Movement

John Bellamy Foster:
"Almost four decades after the Club of Rome raised the issue of ‘the limits to growth’, the economic growth idol of modern society is again facing a formidable challenge. What is known as ‘degrowth economics’, associated with the work of Serge Latouche in particular, emerged as a major European intellectual movement with the historic conference on ‘economic de-growth for ecological sustainability and social equity’ in Paris in 2008, and has since inspired a revival of radical green thought, as epitomised by the ‘Degrowth Declaration’ in Barcelona in 2010.
Ironically, the meteoric rise of degrowth (décroissance in French) as a concept has coincided over the last three years with the reappearance of economic crisis and stagnation on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The degrowth concept therefore forces us to confront the question of whether degrowth is feasible in a capitalist grow-or-die society – and if not, what it says about the transition to a new society.
According to the website of the European degrowth project (www.degrowth.eu), ‘Degrowth carries the idea of a voluntary reduction of the size of the economic system, which implies a reduction of the GDP.’ ‘Voluntary’ here points to the emphasis on voluntaristic solutions – though not as individualistic and unplanned in the European conception as the ‘voluntary simplicity’ movement in the US, where individuals (usually well-to-do) simply choose to opt out of the high-consumption market model. For Latouche the concept of degrowth signifies a major social change: a radical shift from growth as the main objective of the modern economy, towards its opposite (contraction, downshifting).
...
Degrowth as such is not viewed, even by its proponents, as a stable solution, but one aimed at reducing the size of the economy to a level of output that can be maintained at a steady-state perpetually. This might mean shrinking the rich economies by as much a third from today’s levels by a process that would amount to negative investment (since not only would net investment cease but also not all worn-out capital stock would be replaced).
A steady-state economy, in contrast, would carry out replacement investment but would stop short of new net investment. As Daly defines it ‘a steady-state economy’ is ‘an economy with constant stocks of people and artefacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance “throughput” – that, is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy’." (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/degrow-or-die/)

Degrowth and Capitalism

John Bellamy Foster:
1.
"What is known as “degrowth economics,” associated with the work of Serge Latouche in particular, emerged as a major European intellectual movement in 2008 with the historic conference in Paris on “Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity,” and has since inspired a revival of radical Green thought, as epitomized by the 2010 “Degrowth Declaration” in Barcelona.
Ironically, the meteoric rise of degrowth (décroissance in French) as a concept has coincided over the last three years with the reappearance of economic crisis and stagnation on a scale not seen since the 1930s. The degrowth concept therefore forces us to confront the questions: Is degrowth feasible in a capitalist grow-or-die society—and if not, what does this say about the transition to a new society?
According to the Web site of the European degrowth project, “degrowth carries the idea of a voluntary reduction of the size of the economic system which implies a reduction of the GDP.”4 “Voluntary” here points to the emphasis on voluntaristic solutions—though not as individualistic and unplanned in the European conception as the “voluntary simplicity” movement in the United States, where individuals (usually well-to-do) simply choose to opt out of the high-consumption market model. For Latouche, the concept of “degrowth” signifies a major social change: a radical shift from growth as the main objective of the modern economy, toward its opposite (contraction, downshifting).
An underlying premise of this movement is that, in the face of a planetary ecological emergency, the promise of green technology has proven false. This can be attributed to the Jevons Paradox, according to which greater efficiency in the use of energy and resources leads not to conservation but to greater economic growth, and hence more pressure on the environment.5 The unavoidable conclusion—associated with a wide variety of political-economic and environmental thinkers, not just those connected directly to the European degrowth project—is that there needs to be a drastic alteration in the economic trends operative since the Industrial Revolution. As Marxist economist Paul Sweezy put it more than two decades ago: “Since there is no way to increase the capacity of the environment to bear the [economic and population] burdens placed on it, it follows that the adjustment must come entirely from the other side of the equation. And since the disequilibrium has already reached dangerous proportions, it also follows that what is essential for success is a reversal, not merely a slowing down, of the underlying trends of the last few centuries.”6
Given that wealthy countries are already characterized by ecological overshoot, it is becoming more and more apparent that there is indeed no alternative, as Sweezy emphasized, but a reversal in the demands placed on the environment by the economy. This is consistent with the argument of ecological economist Herman Daly, who has long insisted on the need for a steady-state economy. Daly traces this perspective to John Stuart Mill’s famous discussion of the “stationary state” in his Principles of Political Economy, which argued that if economic expansion was to level off (as the classical economists expected), the economic goal of society could then shift to the qualitative aspects of existence, rather than mere quantitative expansion.
A century after Mill, Lewis Mumford insisted in his Condition of Man, first published in 1944, that not only was a stationary state in Mill’s sense ecologically necessary, but that it should also be linked to a concept of “basic communism…[that] applies to the whole community the standards of the household,” distributing “benefits according to need” (a view that drew upon Marx).
Today this recognition of the need to bring economic growth in overdeveloped economies to a halt, and even to shrink these economies, is seen as rooted theoretically in Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, which established the basis of modern ecological economics.7
Degrowth as such is not viewed, even by its proponents, as a stable solution, but one aimed at reducing the size of the economy to a level of output that can be maintained perpetually at a steady-state. This might mean shrinking the rich economies by as much as a third from today’s levels by a process that would amount to negative investment (since not only would new net investment cease but also only some, not all, worn-out capital stock would be replaced). A steady-state economy, in contrast, would carry out replacement investment but would stop short of new net investment. As Daly defines it, “a steady-state economy” is “an economy with constant stocks of people and artifacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance ‘throughput,’ that is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy.”8
Needless to say, none of this would come easily, given today’s capitalist economy. In particular, Latouche’s work, which can be viewed as exemplary of the European degrowth project, is beset with contradictions, resulting not from the concept of degrowth per se, but from his attempt to skirt the question of capitalism."

2.
"Latouche tries to draw a distinction between the degrowth project and the socialist critique of capitalism by: (1) declaring that “eco-compatible capitalism is conceivable” at least in theory; (2) suggesting that Keynesian and so-called “Fordist” approaches to regulation, associated with social democracy, could—if still feasible—tame capitalism, pushing it down “the virtuous path of eco-capitalism”; and (3) insisting that degrowth is not aimed at breaking the dialectic of capital-wage labor or interfering with private ownership of the means of production. In other writings, Latouche makes it clear that he sees the degrowth project as compatible with continued valorization (i.e., augmentation of capitalist value relations) and that anything approaching substantive equality is considered beyond reach.
What Latouche advocates most explicitly in relation to the environmental problem is the adoption of what he refers to as “reformist measures, whose principles [of welfare economics] were outlined in the early 20th century by the liberal economist Arthur Cecil Pigou [and] would bring about a revolution” by internalizing the environmental externalities of the capitalist economy.11 Ironically, this stance is identical with that of neoclassical environmental economics—while distinguished from the more radical critique often promoted by ecological economics, where the notion that environmental costs can simply be internalized within the present-day capitalist economy is sharply attacked."

3.
"The notion that degrowth as a concept can be applied in essentially the same way both to the wealthy countries of the center and the poor countries of the periphery represents a category mistake resulting from the crude imposition of an abstraction (degrowth) on a context in which it is essentially meaningless, e.g., Haiti, Mali, or even, in many ways, India. The real problem in the global periphery is overcoming imperial linkages, transforming the existing mode of production, and creating sustainable-egalitarian productive possibilities. It is clear that many countries in the South with very low per capita incomes cannot afford degrowth but could use a kind of sustainable development, directed at real needs such as access to water, food, health care, education, etc. This requires a radical shift in social structure away from the relations of production of capitalism/imperialism. It is telling that in Latouche’s widely circulated articles there is virtually no mention of those countries, such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Bolivia, where concrete struggles are being waged to shift social priorities from profit to social needs. Cuba, as the Living Planet Report has indicated, is the only country on Earth with high human development and a sustainable ecological footprint.20
It is undeniable today that economic growth is the main driver of planetary ecological degradation. But to pin one’s whole analysis on overturning an abstract “growth society” is to lose all historical perspective and discard centuries of social science. As valuable as the degrowth concept is in an ecological sense, it can only take on genuine meaning as part of a critique of capital accumulation and part of the transition to a sustainable, egalitarian, communal order; one in which the associated producers govern the metabolic relation between nature and society in the interest of successive generations and the earth itself (socialism/communism as Marx defined it).21 What is needed is a “co-revolutionary movement,” to adopt David Harvey’s pregnant term, that will bring together the traditional working-class critique of capital, the critique of imperialism, the critiques of patriarchy and racism, and the critique of ecologically destructive growth (along with their respective mass movements).
In the generalized crisis of our times, such an overarching, co-revolutionary movement is conceivable. Here, the object would be the creation of a new order in which the valorization of capital would no longer govern society. “Socialism is useful,” E.F. Schumacher wrote in Small is Beautiful, precisely because of “the possibility it creates for the overcoming of the religion of economics,” that is, “the modern trend towards total quantification at the expense of the appreciation of qualitative differences.”
In a sustainable order, people in the wealthier economies (especially those in the upper income strata) would have to learn to live on “less” in commodity terms in order to lower per capita demands on the environment. At the same time, the satisfaction of genuine human needs and the requirements of ecological sustainability could become the constitutive principles of a new, more communal order aimed at human reciprocity, allowing for qualitative improvement, even plenitude.24 Such a strategy—not dominated by blind productivism—is consistent with providing people with worthwhile work. The ecological struggle, understood in these terms, must aim not merely for degrowth in the abstract but more concretely for deaccumulation—a transition away from a system geared to the accumulation of capital without end. In its place we need to construct a new co-revolutionary society, dedicated to the common needs of humanity and the earth." (http://monthlyreview.org/110101foster.php(

Historical Sources

John Bellamy Foster:
"Given that wealthy countries are already characterised by ecological overshoot, it is becoming more and more apparent there is indeed no alternative, as Sweezy emphasised, to a reversal in the demands placed on the environment by the economy. This is consistent with the argument of ecological economist Herman Daly, who has long insisted on the need for a steady-state economy. Daly traces this perspective to John Stuart Mill’s famous discussion of the ‘stationary state’ in his Principles of Political Economy, which argued that if economic expansion was to level off (as the classical economists expected), the economic goal of society could then be shifted to the qualitative aspects of existence, rather than mere quantitative expansion.
A century after Mill, Lewis Mumford insisted in his Condition of Man, first published in 1944, that not only was a stationary state in Mill’s sense ecologically necessary, but that it should be linked to a concept of ‘basic communism . . . applying to the whole community the standards of the household’ and distributing ‘benefits according to need’ (a view that drew upon Marx).
Today this recognition of the need to bring economic growth in the overdeveloped economies to a halt, and even to shrink these economies, is seen as rooted theoretically in Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen’s The Entropy Law and the Economic Process, which established the basis of modern ecological economics.
What is known as ‘degrowth economics’, associated with the work of Serge Latouche in particular, emerged as a major European intellectual movement with the historic conference on ‘economic de-growth for ecological sustainability and social equity’ in Paris in 2008, and has since inspired a revival of radical green thought, as epitomised by the ‘Degrowth Declaration’ in Barcelona in 2010." (http://www.redpepper.org.uk/degrow-or-die/)

Replacing Degrowth with Altergrowth

Audun:
"t I was thinking a bit about degrowth and what it implies. This might have been discussed to death other places, or on this list before I joined it, but I'll post it anyway. This isn't a deep analysis, it's just some random thougths I got after reading this list and related things. While it seems rather clear that it is impossible to do anything about climate change or resource depletion without a degrowth strategy, degrowth doesn't sound like the recipe you'd expect in the face of an economic crisis. Saying "you need to consume less" to someone who just lost their job... that's not how you win their hearts and minds, but that's what degrowth sounds like. Wouldn't it be better to talk about a positive counterstrategy. We're taugth to think that "growth is good", arguing against that is difficult. People want "growth", because growth is what puts food one the table (as we do grow food). Also degrowth says a lot about what we're against, but not so much about what we want. It is kind of similar to the semantic discussion about the "anti-globalisation" movement. A global movement against globalisation was kind of counter-intuitive, so we started to talk about "alter-globalisation" instead. So one could change from the anti-growth "degrowth" to the more positive "alter-growth"? Altergrowth implies that the current growth regime isn't working, but that it is possible to develop alternatives. Of course, to some degrowth'ers it might be bad to talk about growth as anything good at all (?), but I think it is difficult to challenge capitalism if we don't plan to transcend it. We can't create any post-capitalist world without changing our whole system of production. A post-capitalist world must be something more than a return to "simpler ways of living" which is what we get with a post-apocalyptic world. Struggles against capitalism must aim for more than destroying the institutions of capitalism, it must create new institutions that are better. If the new institutions aren't better, why replace the ones we have. Communism and socialism was popular in the 20th century because it promised something better than capitalism, capitalism (the West) won against the communists (the East) because it delivered something better. An anti-capitalist strategy must go beyond capitalism on the level of production, not only oppose it with idealism and promises of utopias. New institutions need to grow economically/socially/politically/ecologically if they are to replace capitalism, (i.e. "seeds need to grow") hence altergrowth. While degrowth/altergrowth may imply alot of things, I think that one important aspect of an anti-capitalist strategy is commonism (http://turbulence.org.uk/turbulence-1/commonism/). The commons as an alternative to both markets and state opens the way for actual new institutions of production that go beyond capitalism, in other words altergrowth is common growth. I think talking about common growth opens up some spaces strategically and tactically. At least it allows us to say "we'll manage if we stick together; come on lets build something new" to someone who just lost their job. All slogans and semantics so far, but do anyone have any thoughts about this? Is this reinventing the wheel, or does a semantic change allow for better tactics and strategies?" (https://groups.google.com/group/socialwar-energy-climatewar/browse_thread/thread/c3a8ae576e970b2e?hl=en)

More Information

Full Degrowth Bibliography via http://montreal.degrowth.org/about_library.html#bibliography
See also: Proceedings of the Conference on Economic De-Growth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, 1, 2
Fabrice, F., 2008. Conceptual roots of degrowth [online]. 1st international conference on economic de-growth for ecological sustainability and social equity, 18–19 April 2008 Paris. Available online: http://events.it-sudparis.eu/degrowthconference/themes/R%E9sum%E9s/Flipo%20F%20Degrowth_18apr08_EN.pdf
System Innovation and a New ‘Great Transformation’: Re-embedding Economic Life in the Context of ‘De-Growth’ [2]
Via [3]:
  • Sustainable de-growth: Mapping the context, criticisms and future prospects of an emergent paradigm, Joan Martínez-Alier (a), Unai Pascual (b), Franck-Dominique Vivien (c) and Edwin Zaccai (d), Ecological Economics, Volume 69, Issue 9, 15 July 2010, Pages 1741-1747 [Note: This is a good overview, some say even a history, of degrowth thinking - Bob T..]
  • Environment versus growth — A criticism of “degrowth” and a plea for “a-growth”, Jeroen C.J.M. van den Bergh, Ecological Economics, Article in Press
  • In defence of degrowth, Giorgos Kallis, Ecological Economics, Forthcoming
  • Questioning economic growth, Peter Victor, Nature, Vol.468 #18 pp. 370-371
  • Editorial: Degrowth, Serge Latouche, Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (2010) pp. 519-522
  • Economic de-growth vs. steady-state economy, Christian Kerschner, Journal of Cleaner Production 18 (2010) pp. 544–551


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