De-growth remains controversial and the arguments in favor of it have neverconvinced me. Therefore, I want to develop a couple of ideas that lead to a lesspessimistic world view. Even if the advocates of ‘de-growth’ promise more‘happiness’, this seems to me to be a rather easy promise to make and a difficultone to realize.
The discussion on de-growth often takes place in a confusing context. Severalideas are being put forward that may be correct but that do not necessarily leadto ‘de-growth’. Let me therefore start with two statements. The first one concerns the indicators that are used to measure our prosperity. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has long been criticized, for very goodreasons. GDP measures all our economic activities, independently from theirpositive or negative impact on our wellbeing or on our environment. Adevastating natural catastrophe can produce more activities and thus moregrowth than a village party that contributes to social cohesion. Industrialactivities with high carbon emissions are better to enhance GDP than the work of a craftsman. Environmental services, such as clean air and clean water arecrucial for all life but they are delivered for ‘free’ and thus are not measured inthe GDP, in the same way as the non-paid labor of mainly women is totallyignored. This is the reason why many scholars propose a new set of indicators.For poor countries, the UNDP has measured a ‘human development index’ thatmeasures GDP in combination with literacy and life expectancy. In rich countries,an indicator for sustainable economic welfare (ISEW) is often introduced in orderto measure the sustainability and the loss of natural capital of our activities. Thisindicator tells us when economic growth becomes ‘uneconomic’. These indicatorsare of the utmost importance in order to get a more or less correct idea of thereal ‘progress’ of our societies. But this has nothing to do with the question of theslowing down of our economic activities. If we can produce more economicgrowth and less uneconomic growth, we are on the right track.A second statement concerns the western unsustainable patterns of productionand consumption. It is clear that this pattern cannot possibly be generalized allover the world. If the whole of world society were able to ‘develop’ and weregoing to use as many cars as we in Western Europe, were able to buy as manyair tickets and to eat as much meat, we would need 2,5 planets in order to makeit possible. The allowable ecological footprint in Western Europe has been largelyexceeded and it will necessarily have to be reduced. How we have to do this isanother question but the answer is not necessarily ‘less growth’.Our way of life in the North is clearly unsustainable and we have to measure our‘progress’ in a different way. This being said, de-growth is not necessarily theanswer and I want to explain my arguments.2