Degrowth: the great confusion

Abstract: Proponents of degrowth wrongly confuse individual effort with collective management. Egos can rightly boast of individual effort. But to make degrowth a collective priesthood is to trample on other egos more numerous than their own, who seek to grow only to the point where the former refuse to degrowth…

In the anarchist fog

Proponents of degrowth mistakenly confuse individual effort with collective management, as if the collective resulted from a collection of individual efforts. This fails to understand the difference between the whole and the sum of its parts, a common misunderstanding which is also behind the growing attraction for a universal anarchism that could replace institutions.

Individual degrowth can only be welcomed. If there are too many of us sharing the planet’s riches, we must all strive for sobriety. But should this sustained effort be the same for everyone? Clearly, the most affluent, the most wasteful of resources, should make a greater effort than the needy. Or even the needy could benefit from a little more growth, not to reach an “average” that is as idealistic as it is unrealistic, but to reach the minimum standard of living below which the decliners will no longer accept to fall – housing, food, basic medical care, etc.

Decrease by rebalancing?

This level of resource management has nothing in common with individual management. It may call for continued economic and industrial growth, due to demographic pressure, even as part of the population reduces its needs. Such rebalancing only makes sense on a planetary scale. Today, such a planetary level of management only exists in the economic sphere. Rebalancing is a matter for the political sphere, which is far from having coordinated planetary management.

So it comes as no surprise that “degrowthists” target the economic rather than the political system in the hope of saving the planet. This system is the only one with a credible planetary echelon. But since its role is to maximize wealth, it is being asked to do the opposite of its normal mission. That alone makes it a bad idea. But above all, it risks simply collapsing the planetary level of the economy and returning it to the same kind of vicious infighting as in politics.

The victims are the underconsumers

Who will be the victims of the collapse? Not the affluent, of course. Not those who, without being over-consumers, have levels of consumption that they believe can be reduced. The victims will be the under-consumers. Who will be more likely to want to seize what they lack by force. Wars and violence are costing the climate balance sheet more than the efforts of the degrowthists are bringing in.

Imbalances are a more acute problem than consumption. Regardless of the number and scale of individual efforts, climate salvation can only come from effective collective management, i.e. strengthening the power of governments and encouraging them to coordinate with others. Neither anarchism nor populism will get us there. These political systems only work between equals in wealth, means and will. Effective in small communities, they become a form of collective resignation, to the benefit of egos, in large societies.


3 thoughts on “Degrowth: the great confusion”

  1. There are many terms with which I am unfamiliar;many things I do not know. Degrowth is one of the terms. I don’t know how something can be de-grown. Shrinkage seems a more apt description, if the process under discussion involves some sort of downsizing. But shrinkage does not sound either economic, scientific or philosophical, does it? It could entail physics, perhaps, but probably not metaphysics, mysticism or magic(?)—well, maybe magic. I will content myself, in this case, with doing the best I can with what I have and know, and leave degrowth to those who know what they mean… most folks don’t subscribe to downsizing anyway…for them, downsizing is a sign of defeat or failure.


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