Monthly Archives: October 2016

The degrowth movement

Jeremy Heighway, a member of the West Midlands New Economics Group who now lives and works in Leipzig, introduced news of the degrowth movement in his article about a meeting on basic income.

In this article, he pointed out that the conference had a dual aim because BI – or UBI – does not necessarily start the ecological transformation that is so urgently needed and continues, “… addressing this … needs to be thoroughly incorporated into any implementation of a basic income and its accompanying measures.” He delivered a paper: Pathways of thought: common and uncommon ground, aims and direction when it comes to the environment: Jeremy Heighway. It stressed that “the degrowth movement is a mindset; the basic income is a mechanism”.


Note also the Budapest Degrowth Conference: September 2016. More than 600 people from all around the world participated in the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest. Read about it here:

A search led to many other items worth exploring. Here we focus on the Club for Degrowth, which “works to bring the human economy back within Earth’s ecological limits, which will create security and sustainable prosperity for humanity offering writing and expertise on what life within a degrowth society and economy would look like”. It defines degrowth as an essential economic strategy to pursue in overdeveloped countries like the United States–for the well-being of the planet, of underdeveloped populations, and, yes, even of the sick, stressed, and overweight “consumer” populations of overdeveloped countries. It is also considered a movement that offers a path toward moving back to living within the limits-to-growth dilemma.


The 2014 Addicted to Growth: How to move to a Steady State Economy in Australia conference held at the Australian Academy of Science in Sydney explored how to move beyond growth economics and towards a “steady-state” economy. Highlights from Samuel Alexander’s narration follow:

“We used to live on a planet that was relatively empty of humans; today it is full to overflowing, with more people consuming more resources. We would need one and a half Earths to sustain the existing economy into the future. Every year this ecological overshoot continues, the foundations of our existence, and that of other species, are undermined. At the same time, there are great multitudes around the world who are, by any humane standard, under-consuming, and the humanitarian challenge of eliminating global poverty is likely to increase the burden on ecosystems still further. Meanwhile the population is set to hit 11 billion this century. Despite this, the richest nations still seek to grow their economies without apparent limit.

“Like a snake eating its own tail, our growth-orientated civilisation suffers from the delusion that there are no environmental limits to growth. But rethinking growth in an age of limits cannot be avoided. The only question is whether it will be by design or disaster”.

Alexander points out that the idea of the steady-state economy is somewhat misleading because it suggests that we simply need to maintain the size of the existing economy and stop seeking further growth and continues: “Given the extent of ecological overshoot – and bearing in mind that the poorest nations still need some room to develop their economies and allow the poorest billions to attain a dignified level of existence – the transition will require the richest nations to downscale radically their resource and energy demands.

“This realisation has given rise to calls for economic “degrowth”. To be distinguished from recession, degrowth means a phase of planned and equitable economic contraction in the richest nations, eventually reaching a steady state that operates within Earth’s biophysical limits”.

It would involve producing and consuming less.


Do we really need to buy all this stuff?

This would be a way of life based on modest material and energy needs but nevertheless rich in other dimensions – a life of frugal abundance. It is about creating an economy based on sufficiency, knowing how much is enough to live well, and discovering that enough is plenty.

He adds that the lifestyle implications of degrowth and sufficiency are far more radical than the “light green” forms of sustainable consumption that are widely discussed today. Turning off the lights, taking shorter showers, and recycling are all necessary parts of what sustainability will require of us, but these measures are far from enough. Alexander expands on these here:

In a degrowth society economies would be localised, reducing carbon-intensive global trade, while also building resilience in the face of an uncertain future.

He ends:

“This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive. Degrowth offers a more humble – and I would say more realistic – vision of a sustainable future.

“”do not present these ideas under the illusion that they will be readily accepted. The ideology of growth clearly has a firm grip on our society and beyond. Rather, I hold up degrowth up as the most coherent framework for understanding the global predicament and signifying the only desirable way out of it.

The alternative is to consume ourselves to death under the false banner of “green growth”, which would not be smart economics”.





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Rethinking: tomorrow’s economists, who will be running our government, banks, multilateral institutions and think tanks

Echoes of France’s Post-Autistic Economics movement are resounding. In the New Economics Foundation newsletter: Sept/Oct 2001 we read that 27 Cambridge economics PhD students issued a letter calling for a debate about the way economics is carried out – and an end to the mathematical abstractions that bear no relation to the real world. It was said that most of them were so afraid of the reaction of economics departments that they ‘stayed anonymous’. The website set up then is still active – see – under the name ‘Real World Economics Review’.  Twelve years later, in Manchester, students had no such fears.

pc-economics-society-manchesterLeft to right, Ethan Davies, Fráncéscá Rhŷś-Williams, Joe Earle, Milana Yandieva, Cahal Moran and Jack Hughes

In September’s FT, David Pilling describes a gathering of seven undergraduates in the university’s student union who listened to a brief PowerPoint presentation explaining what was wrong with the economics curriculum.  The Post-Crash Economics Society was founded.

Pilling continues, “The students had gathered in response to an email which read ‘In the middle of the biggest global recession for 80 years, students across the world are questioning the very foundations of our discipline’. It asked whether the economics they were learning, dominated by mathematical formula and abstract models, was relevant to the real world. “How far can economics be called a real science?” it prodded, an allusion to academic economists’ tendency to present their equations and mathematical identities as iron laws rather than imperfect attempts to model unpredictable human interactions. Isn’t economics, they suggested, really more like politics than physics?”

He comments that it is hardly surprising that after the sharpest economic crisis since the Wall Street crash and an even more prolonged sense of malaise, which has provoked political upheavals across Europe and the US, the economics profession is under profound pressure:

The most glaring failure of mainstream economics, the students argue, is its failure to explain, much less foresee, the financial crash of 2008. Joe Earle, a founder of Post-Crash Economics says this was not mentioned once during his entire first year at Manchester in 2011. Rather, his lecturers appeared to believe in a rational economic system that was largely self-correcting, one that would return naturally to a state of equilibrium.


Pilling mentions similar developments at Cambridge, Goldsmiths College, the University of Greenwich and University College London. He adds that Post-Crash Economics itself has folded into Rethinking Economics, a registered charity that links more than 40 student groups pressing for curriculum changes in campuses from Italy to Canada and from China to Brazil (above and map).


Pilling: “The revolt over the curriculum has implications far beyond academia. Today’s students are, after all, tomorrow’s trained economists, who will be running our economies from their desks in government, banks, multilateral institutions and think tanks. What students learn about how economies work and how governments can influence outcomes will have a profound impact on future policies covering everything from tax and spending to interest rates, minimum wages, greenhouse gas emissions and trade”.