With a number of countries already contemplating easing the lockdown (see my post of April 22), The Netherlands is first off the block in considering degrowth when thinking about what our society should look like once the Covid-19 has eased.
Degrowth is a political and environment movement that advocates moving away from our obsession with GDP, downscaling production and consumption to focus on our real needs as a society. This changed focus would reorient our activity as human beings, giving greater importance to relationships and community, our families, art, and general wellbeing. Business and commerce would become just one part of life, not its sole goal. The objective of degrowth is to produce a future that is both environmentally sustainable and generally much more satisfying for people than today’s rat race. Restored World is aligned with this movement.
The proposals of 170 Dutch academics are wide-ranging and address fundamental issues of our collective future, building on some of the green shoots we have seen the early signs of in the UK and elsewhere in Europe – the need for greater self-sufficiency, a basic income for all, sustainable agriculture, less travel, and the cancellation of debt.
Fortunately for me, as I speak not a word of Dutch, Jason Hickel, an inspirational academic in his own right, has provided a summary of their inspiring objectives in translation (1). I quote at length:
“This is remarkable: 170 Dutch academics put together a 5-point manifesto for economic change after the C19 crisis, building on #degrowth principles. It has gone viral in Dutch media. In this thread I’ll summarize the points in English.” (2)
1) Shift from an economy focused on aggregate GDP growth to differentiate among sectors that can grow and need investment (critical public sectors, and clean energy, education, health) and sectors that need to radically degrow (oil, gas, mining, advertising, etc).
2) Build an economic framework focused on redistribution, which establishes a universal basic income (see my post of April 22), a universal social policy system, a strong progressive taxation of income, profits and wealth, reduced working hours and job sharing, and recognizes care work.
3) Transform farming towards regenerative agriculture based on biodiversity conservation, sustainable and mostly local and vegetarian food production, as well as fair agricultural employment conditions and wages.
4) Reduce consumption and travel, with a drastic shift from luxury and wasteful consumption and travel to basic, necessary, sustainable and satisfying consumption and travel.
5) Debt cancellation, especially for workers and small business owners and for countries in the global south (both from richer countries and international financial institutions).
The Dutch aren’t alone in thinking we need a very different way of life if we are to address the Climate Emergency. This necessarily entails a completely different way of thinking about our purpose. I have found the thinking of Tim Jackson useful in this area. His book, Prosperity Without Growth is described by Yanis Varoufakis as “essential reading” (3). He argues that the Problem with Growth, in driving and determining all our actions, is the gorilla in the room (see my post of April 20). We ignore it at our peril.
- (1) Dr. Jason Hickel is an economic anthropologist, author, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. He serves on the Labour Party task force on international development, the Statistical Advisory Panel for the Human Development Report 2020, the advisory board of the Green New Deal for Europe, and on the Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice. His most recent book, The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions, was published by Penguin Random House in 2017.
- (2) For those of you who read Dutch (I know there are some who subscribe to this blog): https://www.trouw.nl/duurzaamheid-natuur/manifest-van-170-wetenschappers-het-is-een-blunder-als-we-niet-groener-uit-de-coronacrisis-komen~b12864df/
- (3) Tim Jackson, Prosperity without Growth: Foundations for the Economy of Tomorrow, second edition, Routledge, 2017.