A New Economics: Serge Latouche and the De-growth Movement

Serge Latouche is a French philosopher, economist and proponent of the “de-growth” movement, which is described as a political, economic, and social movement founded on principles of ecology and anticonsumerism.

Serge Latouche at the Festival of Economics 2012, Trento, Italy. Photo by Niccolò Caranti on Wikimedia Commons.

The movement calls for the down-scaling of production and consumption whose excess lies at the root of environmental perils and social inequalities.

De-growth does not require individual martyrdom or a decrease in well-being, but a redefinition of well-being — one that maximizes happiness through redefining how we live and work and enjoy life.  

By consuming less and living more simple lifestyles, and by working less frantically, we can devote more time to conviviality, relationships, art, music, family, culture, and community. By working less compulsively and fewer hours and consuming and wasting less, more people can be put to work and the planet itself will breathe more easily.

Six important currencies in comparison to their GNP-weighted mean, 2017. Graph by HiHi2021 on Wikimedia Commons

Latouche argues that we need to rethink the dogma that our societies should be based on growth (including the GNP as a measure of healthy economics). A society of de-growth is not the same thing as negative growth — it is a rejection of growth and growth for growth’s sake as an idol or an economic cult.

He argues that a finite planet can obviously not sustain an infinite quest for growth and that we all pay a price for a “fundamentalist belief in growth,” a belief built on greed that imperils the future of humans, other beings, the planet, and future generations. He talks of a “serene, convivial and sustainable contraction” that will allow humans to more fully develop their contemplative as well as active souls.

If all the world lived like the U.S., humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in 2020 would exceed what Earth can regenerate by March 14. Graphic from OvershootDay.org

Latouche asks: “Where are we going? We are heading for a crash. We are in a performance car that has no driver, no reverse and no brakes and it is going to slam into the limitations of the planet.”  We are fully aware of what is at stake, but we refrain from asking deeper questions because we live in a bubble, a society “that has been swallowed up by an economy whose only goal is growth for the sake of growth.”

The machine in which we find ourselves “is based upon excess, and it is leading us into a blind alley,” which no vague talk of “sustainable development” can paste over.

The symbol of the Degrowth movement is a snail. From a Degrowth website.

The very “logic of systematic and dramatic growth (which is driven by finance capital’s compulsive addiction to growth) has to be called into question, as does our way of life,” even though they raise “taboo subjects.”

The de-growth movement is gaining steam in France, Italy, Spain, and Belgium. The goal of de-growth “is to build a society in which we can live better lives while working less and consuming less.”

 Latouche cites economist Kenneth Boulding who talked in 1966 of a “cowboy economy” that “maximizes consumption and the pillaging of natural resources.”  Boulding concluded that “anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.”

Citations are from Serge LaTouche, Farewell to Growth.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 241-244.

Banner Image: Map of the projected real GDP growth rate in 2020 of counties in the International Monetary Fund‘s World Economic Outlook (April 2020). For the key to the map’s color coding, see Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see yourself as either a “madman or an economist?”  Isn’t it amazing that  a warning that infinite growth on a finite planet is madness was uttered back in 1966? What have our economics and politics done with that warning since?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

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