Degrowth has been described as a “movement” rather than an ideology1, and as such it presents several variations. For some of its proponents, degrowth is a proxy for sustainable consumption, and to a lesser extent production2. A second group of degrowth advocates are those for whom an emerging discussion of “sufficiency” as a societal norm is taking shape, as a result of activism3. Finally, a third group of advocates views anti-capitalism as central to the degrowth agenda. They see growth as the principal influence and root cause of sustainability challenges.
Most importantly, amidst these diverging perceptions within the degrowth movement, a continual dissatisfaction with the term degrowth has been voiced, acknowledging its unfortunate connotations and difficulty in influencing mainstream policy discussions.

While not offering a critique of the degrowth discourse, I throw some light on the debate by offering a deeper and more useful conceptualization that avoids the negative connotations of, and resistance to, “degrowth”4. Conceptually, rather than simply describing the degrowth discourse by the descriptor “degrowth”, I recommend a more nuanced approach that gets rid of the jargon and negative aspects of the evolving concept of degrowth and makes a distinction between growth in production and growth in private-sector profit. My proposed formulation, De-[Constructing] Growth, achieves this by decoupling profit from unsustainable consumption and production.

Meanings and implications of growth

According to this formulation, growth widely understood has different meanings and implications:

  • Aggregate growth in products and services that consume energy and materials;
  • Growth in profits (tied to subsidies, tax treatment of investment, profit, and the provision of producer and consumer credit, all of which encourage consumption);
  • Growth in trade (avoiding internalizing the externalities by globalizing commerce);
  • Growth in disparity in consumption, wealth, and income; and
  • Growth in under- and un-employment.

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