During economic downturns, sales of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital typically surge. Fewer jobs, more uncertainty, and difficulties making ends meet, understandably generate discontent. Global capitalism bears the brunt of such anger. In 2008, at the height of the Global Financial Crisis, the Degrowth Movement was launched in Paris. And in 2021, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic recession, Jason Hickel, published a Degrowth manifesto-of-sorts, his book Less is More: How Degrowth will Save the World. Since its launch the Degrowth Movement has been primarily gaining attention in European countries. It remains a marginal group. However, it has been quite vocal. In 2023, Hickel addressed the Dutch Parliament and EU Parliamentarians held a “Beyond Growth” conference in Brussel. The latter aimed to facilitate a “move away from the harmful focus on the growth of GDP as the basis of our development model.”
The Degrowth Movement demands an end to economic growth and the West’s obsession with growth; and moreover, a reduction in overall GDP – in Hickel’s words, it is time to “de-develop” the West. Global capitalism needs to be replaced with a system that degrows and de-develop the West. This is argued to be the only option to stop exceeding planetary ecological boundaries- the ultimate sin of global capitalism. The world needs to be saved from this, and only degrowth can deliver, as the sub-title of Hickel’s book proclaim. Green growth is no option because the movement argues that no absolute decoupling between GDP and material resource use is possible.
The movement has a point about the difficulty of decoupling GDP from material use in an absolute manner. But otherwise, the overarching solution of downsizing economies, is not a solution. There have been several deconstructions of degrowth for instance by Ted Nordhaus, and economists Branko Milanovicand Andrew McAfee.
From these, several reasons can be highlighted for why degrowth is no option- and which I elaborate in my recent IZA discussion papers available here and here:
- Degrowth will not decrease decarbonization enough.
- Degrowth will make matters worse.
- Degrowth is politically infeasible.
- Degrowth policies are disappointing.
None of these are novel. Most are or have already been implemented - most extensively in market economies. For example, the first deliberate policy intervention to reduce the working week was in the Great Depression of the USA in the 1930s.
- Degrowth may be irresponsible / unethical.
© Wim Naudé
Wim Naudé is Visiting Professor in Technology, Innovation, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship at RWTH Aachen University and an IZA Research Fellow
We recognize that IZA World of Labor articles may prompt discussion and possibly controversy. Opinion pieces, such as the one above, capture ideas and debates concisely, and anchor them with real-world examples. Opinions stated here do not necessarily reflect those of the IZA.
Related IZA World of Labor content:
Gross domestic product: Are other measures needed? by Barbara M. Fraumeni
Employment effects of green energy policies by Nico Pestel