Degrowth: A dangerous idea or the answer to the world’s biggest crisis?

Conventional economic logic hinges on a core assumption: Bigger economies are better, and finding ways to maintain or boost growth is paramount to improving society.

But what if growth is at best doing little to fix the world’s problems, and at worst fostering the destruction of the planet and jeopardizing its future?

That’s the radical message from the “degrowth” movement, which has spent decades on the political fringes with its warning that limitless growth needs to end. Now, after the pandemic gave people in some parts of the world a chance to rethink what makes them happy, and as the scale of change necessary to address the climate crisis becomes clearer, its ideas are gaining more mainstream recognition — even as anxiety builds over what could be a painful global recession.

For economists and politicians of all stripes, growth has long served as a North Star. It’s a vehicle for creating jobs and generating taxes for public services, increasing prosperity in rich countries and reducing poverty and hunger in poorer ones.

But degrowthers argue that an endless desire for more — bigger national economies, greater consumption, heftier corporate profits — is myopic, misguided and ultimately harmful. Gross domestic product, or GDP, is a poor metric for social wellbeing, they stress.

Plus, they see expanding a global economy that’s already doubled in size since 2005 — and, at 2% growth annually, would be more than seven times bigger in a century — putting the emissions goals necessary to save the world out of reach.


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