Introduction: Heinrich Boell writes of a tourist who is telling a sailor what are the advantages of working more. If you go out in the sea twice or three times a day, the tourist says, you might get more fishes, and get an instoppable growth going. First a boat, then two boats, then several; a factory for frozing fishes, smoking them and perhaps an helicopter to find the fish schools. “And so what?”, asks the sailor. “And so”, the tourist remarks with a triumphant smile, “you could sit quietly on the beach, relax under the sun, and contemplate the ocean”. The sailor looks at him and says: “That’s precisely what I was doing before you arrived”.
This little story makes us smile and leaves us puzzled. This is because it points out in a simple way that economic growth is paradoxical. Today many people acknowledge this paradox: yet, it seems difficult to leave it behind. It seems necessary to work hard in order to get the goods and products we need for living. This is so even if working so hard might leave us no time for staying with friends, our husband or wife, our children, reading what we like and cultivate our passions. That is, this is so even if working hard prevents us from living.
The fact that about thousand families joined the proposal of “Bilanci di Giustizia” (Balances of Justice) shows that one can get out of this vicious circle, and be a romantic sailor on the beach. It shows that one can have a high quality life, not so far from the life the sailor hints to. A life which incorporates justice. A life which takes into account the well- being of humanity as a whole.
The balancers (in Italian, ‘bilancisti’), as we call those who join the Balances of Justice campaign, really ask themselves the question faced by our sailor. They wonder what sense does it have to work, how they want to do it, for how long and what meaning they want it to have. These questions are connected to the collective research that they have been doing for years. This research is focused on how to change consumer choices. The story of the ballancers contains personal changes and political choices. Every year we reflect on the data we collect in our monthly budgets.’What would the balancers be able to say to the sailor?’, as asked Wolfgang Sachs in his preface to the book “Bilanci di Giustizia: famiglie in rete per consumi leggeri” (2000)(“Balances of Justice: a family network for light consumption”)
Contribution to the 3rd International Degrowth Conference for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Venice in 2012.