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Reflecting on the emerging strategy debate in the degrowth movement

This piece will close the ten-part degrowth.info series on strategy, highlighting some of the key insights and charting the development of the strategy debate within degrowth. We will then offer some insights on how our own understanding of strategy and degrowth has changed over the last two years since we first urged the community to engage with this topic more. Finally, we will consider the promising idea of a Degrowth International and offer some potential pathways forward for the degrowth movement.

The blog series on the role of strategy in the degrowth movement was sparked by an initial piece authored by some of us who discussed the topic in 2018 at the degrowth summer school in Barcelona. We were frustrated with the lack of serious consideration in the degrowth movement of the how questionOur thoughts were influenced by critiques from scholars such as Blühdorn, which argued that degrowth did not adequately consider why transformation has not happened so far (and why it seems unlikely to soon). Thus, the title of our original piece which sparked this series attempted to highlight this gap in degrowth thinking: Beyond Visions and Projects: the need for a debate on strategy in the degrowth movement.

We argued that degrowth had an excellent analysis of multi-dimensional crisis and was able to offer a desirable utopian alternative, but had been unable to coherently articulate a strategy (or strategies) for bringing this into reality. Furthermore, we argued that there were lingering contradictions and tensions within the degrowth movement in regards to perspectives on transformation, which was one of the reasons this question had been avoided; it risked fracturing the movement.

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From Degrowth to De-Globalization

The rise of far-right globalization criticism requires a new role for the Degrowth movement. ‘Progressive De-Globalization‘ could be the counter-project that is urgently needed.

After the German and Austrian elections, it becomes clear once more that the rise of the new far-right is not a temporary phenomenon. Neither the difficult Brexit negotiations nor the missteps of Donald Trump are stopping new nationalism’s upward trend, as one could have hoped. Consequently, Yannis Varoufakis [1] diagnosed the long-term emergence of a nationalist international: nationalist and far-right authoritarian leaders, parties, movements, NGOs and media that are gaining ground and interconnect on a global scale. They bring about what left-wing mass movements and parties were not able or willing to do in the ten years since the financial crisis: they formulate an alternative to the discredited ideology of neo-liberalism. A strong narrative of national empowerment, paired with religious, racist, anti-feminist and anti-ecological resentments is becoming a serious challenger of neoliberalism’s TINA principle (“There Is No Alternative”). Although the new far-right questions only some aspects of neoliberal economic policy and radicalizes it in other aspects, it nevertheless acts as an ideological countermovement to the neoliberal and post-democratic political model.

The far-right as a Degrowth-phenomenon

The nationalist international has more to do with Degrowth – understood as an empirical state, not as a political demand – than it first seems. Decelerating growth or even stagnation have become the new normal in in the countries of the global North. While neoliberal globalization has created new centers of growth in the global south since the 1980s, growth slowed down in the north. Stagnating wages, precarious jobs, growing inequality – the subjective relationship between economic growth and quality of life eroded. It seems natural to make sense of the new right as a countermovement to the rise of new economic powers. In the western “relegation societies” [2], those forces are gaining in strength that can credibly promise to secure the relative prosperity that is left or even a return to past golden ages.

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Post-Development Discourse: Lessons for the Degrowth Movement (Part 1)

Is degrowth only conceivable in the context of “oversaturated” industrial societies while the global “South” remains dependent on growth? In two installments, this article questions such assumptions. In this first part it introduces positions critical of development which refuse to adopt the Western model of prosperity; the second part will focus on the analysis of these positions with a view to their relevance for the European degrowth movement and the growth debate here.

A common objection against visions of degrowth is raised with regard to the material needs of large parts of the global population – those who live in so-called “developing” or “underdeveloped” countries under conditions of extreme poverty. This group, so the argument goes, essentially depends on growth in order to improve their living conditions.

Interestingly, this argument is often brought forward in order to justify further growth in the global “North,” i.e., growth which in the first instance would benefit much more privileged groups. This line of argument has been easily refuted by the degrowth movement which emphasizes that in view of increasingly scarce natural resources, further material growth in richer industrial countries would rather diminish the prospects for development in poorer regions. The claim that wealth generated in the “North” would somehow “trickle down” to the “South” – the traditional argument of radical free-market theorists extrapolated to the global level – has been too thoroughly discredited over decades of empirical evidence to deserve further attention here.

But even explicit critics of growth, in pursuit of the laudable goal of global justice, often argue that economic development requires further growth in the “South.” Indeed, their demand for an end to growth in OECD countries is often motivated by the desire to enable “sustainable development” in poorer regions. From the perspective of post-development theory, however, the assumptions underlying such demands are quickly revealed to be rooted firmly in Western ideas of progress and growth.

 

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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