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‘The Case for Degrowth’ review: Resetting the clock post-COVID and trying to live with less

Epidemics have happened in the past but the speed and scope of the present contagion have left the world reeling under its brutal impact. The interconnectivity of accelerated global economies with encroached habitats, exhaustive agriculture and commoditised wildlife has helped the virus to move without any inhibition to expose the weak fundamentals of the existing economic systems.

The billion dollar question is whether existing systems will be capable of scaling back production at levels and in ways that do not cause further loss of livelihood and life? And, will the growth of society slowed down by an unprecedented disaster emerge more resilient later, with the goal of mitigating the economic and ecological crises which has led it to the present situation?

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Exclusionist architecture

The core problem with the capitalist model of growth is that it leads to mounting debt, increasing inequality, rising unemployment, and shrinking finances, and sacrifices made in pursuit of growth lead to externalising costs that are forced on both poor people and mute nature. What it does though is to keep billions under the illusion that trickle-down effect will get them leftovers of accumulated wealth year-on-year, but the broad architecture of the economic construct remains exclusionist at the core.

Confronting the idiom of economism head-on may seem preposterous, but slowing down under the current pandemic with ideas on frugality having caught on seems an apt time to press home the case for degrowth.

After defining the term in their first book, Degrowth, A Vocabulary for A New Era, the authors take the idea forward in their second outing half a decade later by suggesting a way of living with less, but promoting wellbeing, equity and sustainability. Degrowth, according to the quartet, should help people embark on life journeys with patience, compassion and care for self and others, rather than investing time and resources for material acquisitions.

Ecological communes

While the political system is obsessed with a growth-driven model based on private property, paid labour, and a consumptive market, The Case for Degrowth provides numerous cross-country examples of eco-communes, transition towns, and co-living communities that need support and scaling up.

Spread over five sections, with an add-on section elucidating frequently asked questions, this pithy book offers a well-argued critique of growth systems while presenting policy packages for promoting degrowth that will help people produce only as much, consume less, share more, enjoy time, and live with dignity and joy.

There are clear directions being proposed in the book to make degrowth a reality, however, it by no means should be read as a euphemism for ‘green deal’ as it is a low resource use transformative process that ensures universal basic services for all, with an assured universal basic income.

Offering deep analysis, the book argues for a transformative politics that is not back-to-the-roots journey but one that provides multiple options and strategies about recreating frameworks for engaging communities in playing an active role in designing their own life support systems. Ever since it was launched at a global conference in Paris in 2008, degrowth has caught on as an idea for researchers and movements to pursue as an alternative to growth-obsessed politics. With GDP driven global economy taking a serious beating during the pandemic, the book could not have come at a more appropriate time.

The Case for Degrowth; Giorgos Kallis, Susan Paulson, Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria, Polity, Cambridge,₹1,264.

The reviewer is an independent writer, researcher and academic.

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