Happy Degrowth?

da | 5 Feb 2020

Degrowth is not only well-reasoned and well-founded criticism of the absurdities of a growth-based economy, but a radical alternative to its value system. The notion of degrowth originates in the field of economics – the same in which the word “growth” has been arbitrarily given a positive connotation – but it crosses over into the realm of philosophy. It is a cultural revolution that does not accept the reduction of quality to quantity; in its perspective, qualitative assessments prevail over quantitative measurements. For example, a growth in the production of food that goes straight into the bin and fuel wasted in traffic jams, or an increased consumption of medicines, are all factors that contribute to the GDP growth; however, far from resulting in better living standards, they are in fact symptoms of malaise that worsen the quality of life.

Degrowth is not a quantitative reduction of the gross domestic product. Degrowth is not recession. Neither is it a voluntary reduction of consumption for ethical reasons; it is not renunciation, because renunciation implies giving up something good. Degrowth is a rational rejection of what is not needed. It does not say, “I will give it up because it is right to do so.” It says, “I don’t know what to do with it, and I don’t want to spend a part of my life working to earn the money I would need to buy it.” Degrowth is not achieved by simply replacing the plus sign with the minus sign before the quantitative indicator of human action.

Degrowth proposes to reduce the consumption of commodities that do not satisfy any need – e.g., the energy wasted in poorly insulated buildings – but not the consumption of goods that can only be provided in the form of commodities, because they involve complex technologies – e.g., magnetic resonance imaging, computers, or even a pair of shoes – which, however, should be purchased as locally as possible. It proposes to reduce the consumption of commodities that can be replaced with homemade goods – e.g. bread – whenever this implies a qualitative improvement and a reduction of pollution, resources consumption, waste, and costs. Its goal is not “less”, but “less whenever it’s better”. In an economic system aimed at “more, even when it’s worse”, degrowth is the cornerstone of a cultural paradigm shift, a different value system, a different world view. It is a soft revolution aimed at developing technological innovations that reduce the consumption of energy and resources, pollution and waste per unit of production. It also aims to foster human relationships based on cooperation rather than competition; to define a value system ​​in which emotional relations prevail on material possession; to promote a policy centred on common goods and public participation. If less resources and energy are consumed per unit of production, less waste is produced and materials are reused, the gross domestic product will decrease and well-being will improve. If cooperation prevails over competition, if individuals are connected through solidarity networks, there will be less need to buy services and the gross domestic product will decrease, but  people’s well-being will improve. If less time is devoted every day to producing commodities, more time will be devoted to human relations, home production of goods, and creative activities; the gross domestic product will decrease and well-being will improve.


Degrowth is praise to leisure, slowness and duration; respect for the past; awareness that there is no progress without conservation; indifference to ephemeral fashions; tapping into traditional knowledge; not identifying the new with the better, the old with the outdated, progress with a series of ruptures, conservation with close-mindedness; not calling buyers “consumers”, because the purpose of buying is not  to consume but to use; distinguishing quality from quantity; desiring joy rather than fun; giving importance to the spiritual and emotional sphere; cooperating rather than competing; replacing the idea of “doing in order to do more and more” with “doing well” aiming at contemplation. Degrowth is the possibility of a new Renaissance in which people will be liberated from the role of instruments for economic growth, and economy will retrieve its role as a tool for managing the common household of all living species so that all its tenants can live to the fullest.

Maurizio Pallante