Thought Control in Economics

Beyond the Growth Paradigm

A new intellectual renaissance has begun.
Degrowth
TC Lin/getty images

A new intellectual renaissance has begun, and it promises to do for the 21st century what the first one did for the 14th: reassert reason over dogma to redefine our collective frame of reference. The difference this time is that the dogma is economic not ecclesiastic, and the stakes for the planet are immeasurably higher.

Degrowth, décroissance in French, traces its intellectual origins to Romanian economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen who showed that the very act of exploiting the Earth’s finite resources degrades the total store of energy available. In his seminal 1971 book The Entropy Law, he wrote that once a product is made, the energy that went into it becomes transformed and can never be returned to its original state. Even recycled goods show some degree of energy degradation. As more natural energy is transformed by human industry, less “usable” energy is left for future generations. As energy falls, entropy rises, and entropy in this case consists of random, useless energy: waste.

Arresting endless growth does not mean going backward. “A degrowth society project is radically different from negative growth,” writes Serge Latouche, emeritus professor of economy at the University of Paris and one of the lead voices of the décroissance movement. “The first can be compared to an austere therapy that is voluntarily undertaken to improve one’s well-being when we are under the threat of obesity through overconsumption. The second is the forced diet, which can lead to death through famine. It has been said time and time again. There is nothing worse than a growth society without growth.”

The key to achieving this rationalism lies in politicizing our culture to revive the idea of citizenship … ecological citizenship. We currently have corporate determinism, not political leadership and a society of consumers, not of citizens. People are little more than factors of production in a sort of corporatist/Marxist economic dystopia.

By recognizing that unchecked economic growth itself is the problem, degrowth is more mature and rational than the more familiar environmental or enviro-political movements. As Professor Valérie Fournier at the University of Leicester School of Management wrote in the International Journal of Sociology:

“In becoming mainstream, sustainability has been washed out of its more radical questioning of economic models, and especially economic growth … If there is to be any hope of a sustainable future, it is precisely economic growth that needs to be called into question. Sustainable development and ecological modernization only serve to ‘sustain the unsustainable’; they not only absolve major corporations and a capitalist economy of endless growth of environmental responsibilities, but also cast them as the new heroes of sustainability.”

Another improvement over mainstream environmentalism is degrowth’s rejection of populism. In order that it become a mass movement with mechanisms that can link local communities into a broad political movement, degrowth cannot be managed at the local or direct level: “It is for this reason that the Parti pour la Décroissance was created, and that proponents of degrowth support representative democracy. They argue that while direct democracy is appropriate at small local level, it cannot be organized beyond small groups of 50 people, thus excluding the majority of citizens.” The movement took a major step forward in April 2008 when more than 140 international researchers in economics and the natural and social sciences met in Paris for the inaugural conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity.

The logic of degrowth is impeccable, and we deny it at our peril. Latouche put our choice best in the title of one of his essays: “Degrowth, whether you like it or not.”

Greg Felton is a political columnist and the author of The Host and the Parasite: How Israel’s Fifth Column Consumed America. He is an urban gardener in his spare time.

48 comments on the article “Beyond the Growth Paradigm”

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Anonymous

The typical drivel of the weak-minded and hollow, urban social "progressive." This lays a good foundation for your new religion of ecological citizenship. How conflicted you must be - disavowing religion for "reason" only to be espousing the newest, non-thinking, shallowest of all religions - sustainability. I take this as a call to arms - a clash of civilizations and believe you me, we, the rational and the defender of the individual will never allow this kind of deceptive dogma to become anything more than your wet dream. The new zealot fundamentalists like Klein and this Felton will remain where they should be - marginalized by society.

Anonymous

The typical drivel of the weak-minded and hollow, urban social "progressive." This lays a good foundation for your new religion of ecological citizenship. How conflicted you must be - disavowing religion for "reason" only to be espousing the newest, non-thinking, shallowest of all religions - sustainability. I take this as a call to arms - a clash of civilizations and believe you me, we, the rational and the defender of the individual will never allow this kind of deceptive dogma to become anything more than your wet dream. The new zealot fundamentalists like Klein and this Felton will remain where they should be - marginalized by society.

Anonymous

This article points out the fallacy of sustainability being the answer, but then Anonymous asserts the author is a follower of “sustainability” as “the shallowest of all religions”, whatever that is supposed to mean. As for the other religion Anonymous notes…“ecological citizenship”, Anonymous is obviously clueless to his own corporate citizenship. Pity your ignorance Anonymous, time is not on the side of you, and yours.

Anonymous

This article points out the fallacy of sustainability being the answer, but then Anonymous asserts the author is a follower of “sustainability” as “the shallowest of all religions”, whatever that is supposed to mean. As for the other religion Anonymous notes…“ecological citizenship”, Anonymous is obviously clueless to his own corporate citizenship. Pity your ignorance Anonymous, time is not on the side of you, and yours.

Anonymous

Glad to see my story has generated some debate, although Anonymous #1's denial mechanism seems to be working overtime. The difference between the irrational religion of Western consumerism and the rational intellectualism of degrowth lies in the recognition that unbridled self-interest is self-destructive, and blind acceptance of self-destruction as an economic strategy is irrational. In our age of banksters, the Federal Reserve system, and corporations having more rights then citizens, the right to say "no" to self-destruction though private greed is eminently rational, logical and estimable. Greg Felton

Anonymous

Glad to see my story has generated some debate, although Anonymous #1's denial mechanism seems to be working overtime. The difference between the irrational religion of Western consumerism and the rational intellectualism of degrowth lies in the recognition that unbridled self-interest is self-destructive, and blind acceptance of self-destruction as an economic strategy is irrational. In our age of banksters, the Federal Reserve system, and corporations having more rights then citizens, the right to say "no" to self-destruction though private greed is eminently rational, logical and estimable. Greg Felton

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