Alternative Economics Micro Series: Why Put Wellbeing Ahead of Profit? pt. 2
- a concept that challenges the idea that more is always better
Although it might not seem so, economics is a key topic for addressing climate change issues. In the previous part of this economics miniseries, I outlined the set-up of the current economic system, and in this part, I would like to present one of its possible alternatives - degrowth.
What is degrowth and how to imagine it?
"The crisis triggered by the Coronavirus has already exposed many weaknesses of our growth-obsessed capitalist economy – insecurity for many, healthcare systems crippled by years of austerity and the undervaluation of some of the most essential professions. This system, rooted in exploitation of people and nature, which is severely prone to crises, was nevertheless considered normal. Although the world economy produces more than ever before, it fails to take care of humans and the planet, instead the wealth is hoarded and the planet is ravaged." - openDemocracy
This is a brief insight into an open letter signed by more than 1,100 experts from 70 organizations and 60 countries all over the world. This letter, published in the middle of 2020 on the brink of the pandemic, called for the end of the current economic system (Capitalism), which pursues growth at all costs. And the answer for what will be the roots of the new economy was quite clear - degrowth.
We could say that degrowth is about the society working less, producing less and also consuming less. The benefit is that such a society has more time, for example, for itself and for focusing on the quality of life in general.
Examples of this altered attitude towards the quality of life include organic farming, renewable energy sources or even controversial-sounding self-care, among many others.
The elephant and the snail. Source: © Bàrbara Castro Urío (labarbara.net)
Degrowth is not a decline in GDP, a recession or collapse. Degrowth is, in short, something completely different. In the image above, degrowth is perfectly symbolized by the drawing of the snail. The snail is slow and carries its always-on house with it; what it needs is on its back. Therefore, the snail will never make his shell so heavy (one would like to write unsustainable) as to nail him to the ground.
The values of a degrowth society are based on quality rather than quantity, on cooperation rather than competition, and on liberation from the economy rather than adaptation to it.
The concept of degrowth aims to move away from external rules (for example, the laws of the market dictating what we should not do, what is efficient, what is worthwhile and what is not) and to free ourselves from the current type of economy.
It is fascinating to highlight one distinction between sustainable development and degrowth. Unlike sustainable development, degrowth was not invented at a global level and was not applied from above. I cannot fail to mention here that one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals is precisely economic growth - Goal 8.
It is also interesting to note that although criticism of growth has been going on for quite a long time, one of the prominent figures in the 20th century was the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess. However, the concept of degrowth as such only began to take shape at the beginning of the millennium. It took shape from below in various social movements in France, Spain, Italy and also in Latin America during the alter-globalization movements, and only later did it make its way into the academic sphere.
It emerged as a grassroots initiative that spread organically, which is also why we cannot say that there is one coherent, unified concept of degrowth, nor is it a unified movement. What degrowth most resembles, and how it could also be described, is a movement of multiple movements. Degrowth has no clear definitions or rules. Indeed, part of degrowth is also the rejection of the notion of any universal (and applicable to everything) progress.
However, if I were to stick to the 2020 open letter, it makes five clearly defined demands:
1) Put life at the center of our economic system,
2) Radically reevaluate how much and what work is necessary for a good life for all,
3) Organize society around the provision of essential goods and services,
4) Democratize society,
5) Base political and economic systems on the principle of solidarity.
I would like to keep this blog open and hear your ideas about what you think. Can the current economic system be changed? And if so, into what? Do we even have time?
- feel free to text me: firstname.lastname@example.org
The next blog will be about another alternative - the Circular Economy.