Help! Six types of degrowth

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Help! Six types of degrowth

  1. 1. Help! Six types of degrowth Jeroen van den Bergh ICREA, Barcelona & Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona & VU University Amsterdam Interpretations of degrowth 1. GDP degrowth 2. Consumption degrowth 3. Work-time degrowth 4. Radical degrowth 5. Physical degrowth 6. GDP fetishism degrowth (“GDP agrowth”) 1. GDP degrowth • Most logical, immediate interpretation to outsiders. Useful because consistent with use of term “(economic) growth” by media, economists & politicans • But blunt instrument of environmental policy • Dirty degrowth? Smaller not necessarily more beautiful • Emphasis on size, neglect of composition: shift from dirty to clean inputs & outputs • Moreover reversal of causality: effective environmental regulation will change composition, and will affect GDP growth – possibly degrowth. 1
  2. 2. 2. Consumption degrowth • In quantity not value terms • Hoped to cause sustainable resource use & pollution • Ineffective and inefficient way to reach environmental sustainability: underrates shift from dirty to clean consumption (again composition neglected) • Two approaches to realize consumption degrowth: – (voluntary) frugality – likely to reach the masses? – equal individual quota – politically feasible? 3. Work-time degrowth • Increased labor productivity has been mainly used to consume more rather than to work less • Working less means less production & lower wages, so less consumption, but also less work stress and more happiness due to more leisure and time for family and friends, certainly beyond a threshold income (finding of happiness research) • “Less work-time” is concrete, one-dimensional aim unlike “less consumption” (multidimensional) • Less working/income limits consumption rebound 4. Degrowth as radical change of the economy • Ethics, values, finance, markets, work/jobs, money, or even profit-making & ownership – “Escaping from the [capitalist] economy” (Fournier 2008) • Grand ideas without thorough supporting analysis – No systemic solutions/instrumentation, unclear how to upscale from niche to society – Humanistic left-wing ideology attractive: equality, solidarity, citizenship, locality, “good life” • Convergence to new system much time & unsure to meet environmental aim (“no ecological imperative”) • Notably climate change demands urgent, simpler strategy: hard environmental constraints to which economy will adapt 2
  3. 3. 5. Physical degrowth • Isn’t this trivial? Don’t we all want this? • But be careful: – Environmentally/resource relevant physical dimensions – Entropy argument (G-R) often simplistically used • Old wine in new bottles: sustainable development, environmental regulation, H. Daly’s “minimal throughput”. • Does labelling these old ideas as degrowth deliver any new insights about environmental policy? • Some assume physical degrowth = GDP degrowth But past (weak env. regulation) doesn’t reflect future Intermediate conclusion • Degrowth types 1, 2 and 4 not very convincing, while 5 isn’t new. Type 3 makes most sense • Better worry about effective environmental policies and getting democratic-political support for these • Whether such policies will then give rise to GDP growth or degrowth should be irrelevant, as GDP (per capita) is not a good proxy of social welfare • I agree though with Hueting: effective environmental regulation is likely to result in GDP degrowth. But don’t reverse the causality (as in degrowth type 1) 6. Degrowth as opposing growth fetishism • GDP fundamental problem, not growth – GDP growth good in some periods / countries – but growth not generally necessary or sufficient for progress – degrowth not necessary or sufficient for sustainability – also “dirty degrowth” possible • Goal of unconditional GDP growth is a constraint on our search for progress – frustrates good policies (climate, labour, health, public utilities). – “neoliberal ideology/tyranny of growth” (Fournier 2008), “GDP fetishism” (Stiglitz 2009) • But don’t fall in the trap of replacing this by GDP degrowth fetishism (i.e. degrowth type 1) 3
  4. 4. The GDP paradox • Not useful to spend more time on criticizing growth or GDP: has proven to be an ineffective strategy (Galbraith, Mishan, Hueting, Nordhaus/Tobin, Hirsch, Scitovsky, Daly, etc.) • Better try to understand the reasons for persistent support of the GDP indicator: Despite all theoretical and empirical criticism of GDP (per capita) as a social welfare and progress indicator, its role in economics, public policy, politics and society remains influential Explanation of the paradox • Many academic economists accept the criticism of the GDP indicator but im/explicitly deny its relevance • This denial comes in two forms. 1. a belief that the impact of GDP information on economic reality is modest 2. a belief that despite its shortcomings, GDP still provides useful information My proposal • Without GDP no measurement of growth => GDP growth irrelevant - not against & not in favour but indifferent or neutral • “Degrowth” (esp. type 1) gives too much credit to GDP. “Agrowth” as in “atheism” more precise (Latouche 2010) • Combine degrowth of types 5 & 6: reduce physical throughput (Daly) & ignore GDP information => ”Relax about (de)growth” 4
  5. 5. More info • J.C.J.M. van den Bergh (2009). The GDP Paradox. Journal of Economic Psychology 30(2): 117–135. • J.C.J.M. van den Bergh (2010). Relax about GDP Growth: Implications for climate and crisis policies. Journal of Cleaner Production, 18(6): 540-543. • J.C.J.M. van den Bergh (2010). Six types of “degrowth” and a plea for “agrowth”. Mimeo. 5

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