Notes On Degrowth 🌎

Degrowth is a concept at once politicaleconomic and social, born in the 1970s and that the economic growth brings more harm than good to humanity.

The industrialization process has three negative consequences:

  1. Dysfunctions of the economy (mass unemployment, precariousness, bubbles, etc.)
  2. Degradation of the environment – responsible for the deterioration of ecosystems and the disappearance of thousands of animal species. Human action on the planet has brought it into what some scientists consider to be new geological era , called the Anthropocene (which would have succeeded the Holocene), and this action would threaten the human species itself. The goal of decay is to stop making growth a goal, but instead optimize other metrics for humanity.

This brings up a point I have thought about for some time, but haven’t actually wrote about and this is the idea of system optimization design. I believe many systems just follow what they are designed to be optimized for and will maximize those indicators at all costs.

This has many similarities to ideas in machine learning algorithms where we have some success metric that the algo will optimize for (accuracy, precision, recall. F1 Score, etc). This happens in common societal, political, and economic systems as well.

For example, large corporations and their C level executives have bonus structures in place usually that are tied to short term profitability. As this is the metric all decision making optimizes for from the top (as it personally benefits those decision makers financially in the form of bonuses), the corporations will thus act amorally (not necessarily immorally in all cases) and maximize profits without considering all variables and externalities that exist.

“You cannot grow infinitely in a finite world.”

Vincent Liegey

This loops us back to the idea of Degrowth. There cannot be economic growth plans with devastating human consequences and to hope for the return of growth by turning a blind eye to ecological collapse. You cannot grow infinitely in a finite world.

Therefore, maybe we should use certain metrics that focus on humanity and overall quality of life opposed to an obsession with GDP growth that leaves out many important factors.

On the exterior, the term Degrowth seems almost negative and contrary to everything we’ve been raised to believe in the Western world.

Degrowth or decrease are provocative words to open a substantive debate. What do we produce? How? What? Why do we produce these things? Growth forces us to produce more and more useless things by depleting resources.

This argument is not one that is to return to the horse/buggy and the candle as a source of light. The first of the decreases must be that of inequalities.

How to do it?

According to Liegy, he sees the future of degrowth to be obtainable by following certain ideal actions.

First get out of the dogma of economics and industrialism alone. Reclaim monetary creation, not repaying the share of illegitimate debt, nationalizing all or part of the banking system, prohibiting tax havens, taxing financial transactions. And establish a minimum threshold Universal Basic Income (UBI) or we could even call it a Citizen Dividend in order to guarantee everyone, from birth to death, a decent and frugal life. Simple housing for all is possible in our rich societies and comes with great societal benefits for the system as a whole. Some resources must be free, to the extent necessary. The UBI could be paid in housing and utilities rights which are basic living costs that should be human rights. At the beginning of the month, the gas or water meters could be debited to a use that seems sensible. It is also recommended that the society offers free access rights to public services: education, health, transport, culture, information, etc. Some of actions and plans are more complicated in nature (i.e. prohibiting tax havens) than other simpler actions (i.e. free utilities), but all are tractable solutions that would generally benefit society as whole.

This may be branded as the big bad ‘S’ word in the U.S., but I view it as sensible given the global and national conditions we live in currently with economic and environmental injustices.