“Growth as a solution is a belief, a sort of Santa Claus for economists”

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Posted on September 23, 2022

In his shocking and educational book, “Slow down or perish, the economy of degrowth” (Seuil), Timothée Parrique demonstrates the ecological, social or even economic limits of growth. According to the researcher at Lund University, Sweden, “we must abandon the idea of ​​GDP as a magic button that would solve all our problems“. The specialist in ecological economics further believes that “green growth is a myth“and that companies must”let go of this obsession with financial value“.

Why should growth no longer be seen as an end?

The critique of growth rests on three pillars. First on an ecological reason because, whether we like it or not, the size of the economies of the countries of the North (and even less their growth) is incompatible with the planetary limits: between slowing down or perishing, we have to choose! It is also for a social reason since, even if we lived in a world of unlimited resources, the unbridled pursuit of growth and the commodification of the world would still be problematic. Behind the economy measured by GDP hides the “sphere of reproduction”, an economy of mutual aid, volunteering, associations, commons, non-profit… In a world where our efforts and our attention are limited, maximizing growth amounts to favoring the money economy over this social and solidarity economy. Finally, even if there were no ecological and social limit to growth, it would remain useless in a country like France where well-being no longer depends on per capita income.

Why is growth incompatible with a reduction in poverty or an improvement in well-being?

We must see growth as an agitation of certain economic activities, mainly market activities. For some economists, it is synonymous with more employment, more purchasing power, less poverty. But these links are actually much more complex than it seems. The French economy is growing but poverty is increasing and unemployment is not disappearing. We must abandon the idea of ​​GDP as a magic button that would solve all our problems. Growth as a solution is above all a belief, a sort of Santa Claus for economists!

Do you agree that green growth is a myth?

Yes, green growth is a myth. This was already my thesis in Decoupling debunked in 2019, and no one has managed until today to show me that I was wrong. The “theory” of growth is only a hypothesis without empirical proofs and without theoretical foundations; today it would have to be considered falsified in order to move forward and stop hoping that the economy will one day magically turn green.

What would a post-growth society look like?

In the book, I define post-growth as a stationary economy in harmony with nature where decisions are made together and wealth is equitably shared so that we can thrive without growth. Degrowth is a transition, a sort of grand economic regime, with all the institutional transformations that go with it. Whereas post-growth is a destination: an alternative economic model, no longer centered on the pursuit of exponential growth in GDP, profits, and income, but rather driven by the satisfaction of concrete needs and the pursuit of good -be.

To build this economy, it is not enough to pause today’s economy, a sort of 1-2-3 sun of capitalism, or even to shrink its size. We must rethink the rules and the objective of the economic game. There is a whole economy to invent. This will require a whole panoply of instruments: limited-profit cooperatives, local currencies, participatory budgets, shared gardens, reciprocity networks, indicators of well-being, prohibition of advertising, guarantee of employment, partial closure of financial markets, transition income, maximum salary, progressive taxation of wealth, carbon quotas, etc.

How can companies take up the subject?

The sinews of war: give up the pursuit of profit. The unbridled pursuit of profits is today an obstacle to ecological transition, and this “grow-or-perish” logic is absolutely incompatible with the ideal of a harmonious and parsimonious economy in a post- growth. Gradually, we will have to transform all our businesses into limited-profit cooperatives, following the model of cooperative societies of collective interest (SCICS). Most companies have to anchor themselves in territories, democratize, often downsize in order to be able to operate democratically and, I repeat: let go of this obsession with financial value.

Interview by Mathilde Golla @Mathgolla

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