Keynote by François Schneider at the Second International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Barcelona on the topic “The degrowth proposal: what is it about, how do we achieve it?”
Abstract: It is commonly perceived that economic growth is the best response to economic, environmental and social crises. In this line growth policies indirectly increase the capacities to exploit resources by lifting limits to production and consumption at the macro level. To the surprise of many, the efficiency, sufficiency and policy solutions developed in a growth context continuously failed with the increase of world production and consumption.
The degrowth movement has been challenging the centrality of economic growth as an overarching policy objective on the basis of cultural, democratic, bio‐economic, environmental and wellbeing grounds. This article does not only challenge economic growth. It aims at identifying what actually needs to degrow. We reached the conclusion that the production and consumption capacity to exploit natural resources and humans needs to unevenly and globally degrow as a result of a fair and democratic societal decision. Done appropriately, this could prevent crises as well as the failure of efficiency, sufficiency and other political measures in general due to the so‐called rebound effects. The reduction of the production and consumption capacity to exploit natural resources and humans requires a combination of frugal innovation and adjustment in three large areas, namely resources, institutions and human behaviour.
Solutions that aim at finding and developing ways to consume and produce less are defined here as frugal or debound innovations. Rather than suppressing limits in order to increase consumption and production (done by so‐called rebound innovations), frugal innovations acknowledge and work with limits, creating then “debound”. Frugal innovations are successful only when accompanied by an adjustment, implying a macro level reduction of the consumption and production capacity. Adjustments, as defined here, are therefore the completion of the frugal innovation objective at a higher level. Degrowth adjustments adapt limiting factors (such as natural resources availability, infrastructure and time; finances and deregulation; needs satisfaction, unawareness and inequity) in order to prevent the rebound effect.
The article suggests practical examples of adjustment that can be undertaken at local and larger policy levels. Natural resource related adjustment is supported by policies that tend to leave more resources in the ground. An infrastructure adjustment policy measure would be a moratorium on road, incineration, dams, fossil energy thermal energy, cement infrastructures, etc. A time related adjustment would be a macro level reduction of working hours, or in general macro‐policies that reduce the time spent on resource intensive consumption and production. Finances related adjustment would imply going out of the “debt or virtual economy” and shifting towards an economy that considers a sustainable level of resource use. It would also imply replacing world currencies by local currencies. A regulation‐based adjustment would generally involve an improvement of social, environmental and product quality standards. An adjustment in the area of unfulfilled needs consists of supporting mutualisation, (in housing for example), and as well as sharing along material lives by planning reuses and recycling. A key degrowth adjustment dealing with awareness would involve restrictions to advertising. Finally, inequality adjustment could introduce measures like basic income and more social security in general, and income ceiling to reduce the difference between higher and lower salaries.
Finally, the production and consumption capacity to exploit natural resources and humans with different limiting factors brings tracks for a multidimensional quantitative and qualitative measure of the size of an economy.