The long-term stability of current capitalist societies is intrinsically dependent on growth in general and on capital accumulation in particular. The reduction or lack of growth in material resource use and economic output which can be observed in some capitalist societies must therefore be understood as the effect of economic and financial crisis and not as evidence for an environmentally and socially sustainable transformation such as degrowth. Recent trajectories in the European Union exemplify this relationship. While material use in almost all European countries increased until the onset of the European financial crisis in 2007/2008, it has dropped significantly since then. At the same time, austerity measures have led to a highly uneven distribution of crisis-related costs and to a deepening of economic, social, and democratic crisis phenomena, especially in the European semiperiphery.
Our contribution focuses on the crisis-induced reduction of material use against the backdrop of the growth-dependence of capitalist societies. In tracing such developments in the EU, we highlight the role of the construction sector to substantiate our argument. Since the onset of the financial crisis, the development of the construction sector – policy’s go-to investment for increasing economic growth – can be linked to the strongest decreases of resource use. Construction activities and economic performance are decisively linked to the availability and affordability of housing and therefore crucial in the ongoing social conflicts in Europe (e.g., struggles against evictions or rising rents).
We present a data-driven analysis of the interplay between material use and economic dev
This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Receding into sustainability?“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.