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

I love the quaint angst from one of "your generation." Very culture-jammerish. You think that this magazine, in any way, shape or form espouses individualism? It's merely the lowest form (or newest form) of group-think liberal dogma. ...but you get busy killing the dinosaurs, Sport.

Anonymous

I love the quaint angst from one of "your generation." Very culture-jammerish. You think that this magazine, in any way, shape or form espouses individualism? It's merely the lowest form (or newest form) of group-think liberal dogma. ...but you get busy killing the dinosaurs, Sport.

Anonymous

Dogma is a doctrine proclaimed as true without proof. Religion is based on it, as is the official narrative of Sept. 11. Adbusters offers points of view based on reasoned argument, a form of proof. Clearly, you need to reacquaint yourself with a dictionary. It is tiresome to read pusillanimous, non-cognitive denials from those who persist in denigrating informed commentary to prop up an intellectually and morally bankrupt status quo. Greg Felton

Anonymous

Dogma is a doctrine proclaimed as true without proof. Religion is based on it, as is the official narrative of Sept. 11. Adbusters offers points of view based on reasoned argument, a form of proof. Clearly, you need to reacquaint yourself with a dictionary. It is tiresome to read pusillanimous, non-cognitive denials from those who persist in denigrating informed commentary to prop up an intellectually and morally bankrupt status quo. Greg Felton

Anonymous

Interesting idea and brilliant realization that the prevaricators of 'middle-class consume your ass off' economics are the same ones who promote sustainability projects in a capitalist system. Our eco-guilt will lead us towards wind and solar farms being base-loaded with natural gas. To a cap-and trade system that becomes a quasi-wall street. These are the solutions of free markets we need to degrow indeed great edition!!

Anonymous

Interesting idea and brilliant realization that the prevaricators of 'middle-class consume your ass off' economics are the same ones who promote sustainability projects in a capitalist system. Our eco-guilt will lead us towards wind and solar farms being base-loaded with natural gas. To a cap-and trade system that becomes a quasi-wall street. These are the solutions of free markets we need to degrow indeed great edition!!

juannadie

I haven't seen anyone mentioning Malthus these days, but unless we migrate to a new planet, the only way to tackle the question of growth is reducing the population. I' not talking about plagues, wars, or mass murdering, even if those disgraces will come anyway if we don't act accordingly. The question is that we need to stay in a sustainable level of population according to the available resources of the planet.
The problem is that we are being doing nothing but that since we became humans. Actually, seems like that's why we became so successful as specie: our ability to adapt to new conditions made us unbeatable on conquering new lands, displacing other species. "Go West" , "Be fruitful and multiply", is being always the motto. Capitalism replaced the aim to conquer land with the search for new markets. But now we have clearly reached the limit on that too.

Even if we decide to act that way: what are we going to aim for, if we get deprived of a goal we are been pursuing for centuries? Will we be able to adapt to a world forced to steadiness and preservation? or will we break out in violent classes, as we did in the two world wars? No doubt we have already new challenges to keep us busy, but will be that enough to keep us in peace?

juannadie

I haven't seen anyone mentioning Malthus these days, but unless we migrate to a new planet, the only way to tackle the question of growth is reducing the population. I' not talking about plagues, wars, or mass murdering, even if those disgraces will come anyway if we don't act accordingly. The question is that we need to stay in a sustainable level of population according to the available resources of the planet.
The problem is that we are being doing nothing but that since we became humans. Actually, seems like that's why we became so successful as specie: our ability to adapt to new conditions made us unbeatable on conquering new lands, displacing other species. "Go West" , "Be fruitful and multiply", is being always the motto. Capitalism replaced the aim to conquer land with the search for new markets. But now we have clearly reached the limit on that too.

Even if we decide to act that way: what are we going to aim for, if we get deprived of a goal we are been pursuing for centuries? Will we be able to adapt to a world forced to steadiness and preservation? or will we break out in violent classes, as we did in the two world wars? No doubt we have already new challenges to keep us busy, but will be that enough to keep us in peace?

John Fernbach

What's with the personality clash? What happened to the main topic? Sometimes I wonder if the radical left would thrive better if we all were on tranquilizers. Or maybe the problem with many of us (me included) is that we are "Demonic Males," genetically programmed to fight each other to death for sociobiological reasons that are "justified" in the name of one ideology or another, but have nada to do with any of them. That's a long way of saying it would be good to see some rational debate/discussion between Felton and Schwartz, minus the personal attacks. The angry name-calling seems to me like useless intellectual noise, when we need to be exchanging real content ... real ideas .. including genuinely clashing ideas, if appropriate. I think I disagree with Felton on Zionism and insurrection, topics outside this political/economic string. But I'm impressed with what Felton's saying about "degrowth." But maybe you, Schwartz, have some valid things to say about growth & degrowth, also? Could the two of you get back to that topic, growth vs. degrowth, and let the rest of us judge your reasoning on the growth question, and where that reasoning might lead a left / and/or anarchist and/or reformist movement?

John Fernbach

What's with the personality clash? What happened to the main topic? Sometimes I wonder if the radical left would thrive better if we all were on tranquilizers. Or maybe the problem with many of us (me included) is that we are "Demonic Males," genetically programmed to fight each other to death for sociobiological reasons that are "justified" in the name of one ideology or another, but have nada to do with any of them. That's a long way of saying it would be good to see some rational debate/discussion between Felton and Schwartz, minus the personal attacks. The angry name-calling seems to me like useless intellectual noise, when we need to be exchanging real content ... real ideas .. including genuinely clashing ideas, if appropriate. I think I disagree with Felton on Zionism and insurrection, topics outside this political/economic string. But I'm impressed with what Felton's saying about "degrowth." But maybe you, Schwartz, have some valid things to say about growth & degrowth, also? Could the two of you get back to that topic, growth vs. degrowth, and let the rest of us judge your reasoning on the growth question, and where that reasoning might lead a left / and/or anarchist and/or reformist movement?

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