Enough Collective response to Common Weal’s article It’s So Not About Size
Enough would like to thank Common Weal for the opportunity to reply to the article ‘It’s so not about size’. Our economy is receiving more attention than ever and we’re excited that so many different visions are bubbling up – such as resilience economics, well-being economics, degrowth. We write this response not to present a certainty that we have the right answer but because we want to inspire, provoke and kindle imaginations and conversations across on how we can achieve the future we all know we need.
In our response, we want to do two things. First, to say that we fully agree it’s not about size – for degrowth, this is actually a question of power. Second, we are keen to clarify some common misconceptions about what degrowth is and isn’t. We believe degrowth offers exciting possibilities and we also recognise it has critical questions to answer. We welcome the opportunity to keep evolving our thinking.
What is degrowth?
Degrowth is a conscious and strategic planned shift in our economic output away from that which is destructive and towards that which is life-giving and restorative. It would consciously ‘grow’ what society needs to flourish and ‘degrow’ those parts of the economy which fuel climate breakdown, inequality and ecosystem crisis.
Does degrowth bring attention to our economy’s prioritisation of growth and how this deep logic informs destructive decisions, behaviour and actions? Yes, absolutely – because growth and accumulation are hardwired into capitalism. Is degrowth only focused on GDP? Absolutely not. To be explicitly clear: the primary focus of degrowth isn’t about reducing the size of GDP as a means or an end. In calling for scaling back of certain sectors – sectors that are often associated with growth and GDP – it is likely that GDP will reduce, but it is not the main objective. Degrowth is not asking people to be poor: it is asking what we need as a society to thrive.
Degrowth is in clear agreement with the article that we need to ‘reorient our entire understanding of the economy away from GDP and back to outputs and outcomes like wages, cost of housing, availability and quality of products, health, psychological well being, and environmental impact.’ Here, we would amplify the work of WEALL and others who are doing incredible work on developing alternative indicators. However, as we explain below, alternative indicators will not be sufficient unless we tackle the central question of power.
So, what do we want to ‘degrow’? In this we see strong alignment with the Common Weal Resilience Economic Framework. A degrowth future demands the end of destructive and extractive industries as a core objective. This means no more fossil fuel industry, unrestrained extractive mining and logging, and monocrop agri-business. It is a direct demand to dismantle the military industrial complex and arms trade with its massive climate impact and endless destruction of life. It means no more surveillance state and increasingly militarised police. Specifically, it is an end to the huge subsidies and preferential policy that all these sectors are favoured with. It also means no more ‘bullshit jobs’ – jobs which do not have value or meaning for people, for society, for our collective well-being. It is these, and related industries – which currently comprise what is considered ‘valuable’ to our economy – that we need to degrow.
If the term degrowth focuses attention on what must get smaller, then it also provokes a question of what will (re)grow. Here degrowth, like the Resilience Framework, calls for investment in transformative and regenerative policies that look towards a just, sustainable and convivial society. A degrowth economy is based on a radically different logic to the dominant model of the market and its obsession with growth, profit, competition and efficiency, prioritising wellbeing and care for our communities, the environment and our world. This includes radical policies like a universal basic income, universal basic services, affordable homes, sustainable industry, renewable energy and the decommodification of healthcare, food, culture and all that we rely on as essential. Bringing attention to what we stand to gain in a degrowth future we highlight that degrowth is not some form of ‘green austerity’: it is a rebalancing and regrowing so everyone can thrive. It is less for some, the most wealthy, and enough for everyone!
We are aware that in articulating a vision of what degrowth means that it can easily be dismissed as utopian, and we acknowledge the need for pragmatism. It is here we want to bring our focus to a question of power.
Our economy is structured so that disproportionate and dangerous amounts of wealth and power are held by the people and corporations involved in extractive industries, and in degrowing them we have an opportunity to transfer power away from those bodies towards more democratic structures and processes. Additionally, even degrowing some of these industries does not necessarily mean power concentrations will be disrupted. Green energy and mineral mining could be equally centralised monopolies. We believe degrowth’s emphasis on transitioning away from industries which are extractive and imperialist is essential because it brings the issue of power and ownership to the fore. Recent events in Scotland, like the bureaucratic response to the Cambo Oil Field and the lack of continued Scottish Government backing for BiFab point to the more complex global dynamics at play. Energy transition and circular economies are not in themselves enough. Any framework for transitioning to an alternative economic system that does not account for the massive global restructuring of power relations needed – and which does not understand this as a political project – will not deliver the transformation that is needed for everyone to live well on the planet.
Life Beyond Economics: Common Ground
Degrowth is more than a word to describe an approach to our economy.
It is both a vision and global movement that sits within a range of anti- and alter- capitalist thinking, from post-growth to well-being and feminist economics, eco-socialism, social ecology and traditional and indigenous practices (that we are mostly ignorant of). Degrowth also has a foundation in common with many intersectional struggles that are already taking place.
To those involved in trade unions and class struggle – degrowth necessitates significantly better ways of organising our work and workplaces so they are less precarious, more democratic and more equal, through proposals like shorter working weeks, maximum wage caps and worker coops. It also points to the shifting of our economy and the sort of jobs we do away from that which does not have real value for us and moves towards ensuring care work – of each other, of children, of our elders and the sick – is valued as a vital work in our society.
To the intersectional struggles of race, gender and (dis)ability – degrowth acknowledges that the way our current economic system has been designed is to keep each of these identities in their place and instead offers a way of looking at the future which has overcome the need to organise people based on their usefulness as economic agents and predetermined role in achieving economic growth.
To migrants rights, refugee and asylum seeker campaigners – degrowth is unequivocal in calling for an end to militarism and imperialism, a driving force of so much of the devastation that leaves people with no option but to leave homes, livelihood and families. It sees a world in which all people can live meaningful lives wherever they call home.
Finally, to climate breakdown and climate activists – degrowth states that the only way we can substantively respond to climate breakdown is by breaking the link between growing our economy and what it means to live well.
It is to the urgent and perilous reality of accelerating climate breakdown that degrowth brings a particularly sharp edge. For the degrowth movement, it is not possible to sufficiently and adequately respond to climate breakdown without tackling the link between natural resource use and economic growth. This is about more than carbon emissions; it’s about understanding the interdependent relationships between our seas, our soil and our air and how they are all connected to having a climate-stable planet. The sectors which drive economic growth are heavily resource-dependent, and it is the endless extracting, digging and burning inherent to resource use that is driving climate breakdown and ecosystem collapse.
This is about so much more than having an economy that is resilient to what is coming down the line. We need to do every single thing we can to stop it getting any worse. We simply must break the obsession with endless growth on a finite planet: this is what degrowth calls for. Critically, there is now significant evidence to say it is not possible to break the link between economic growth and resource use. The notion of ‘green growth’ is an illusion. Any form of growth which is predicated on unlimited use of our finite natural resources must stop now. The evidence is clear, responding to climate breakdown needs a post-growth economy.
There is much we agree with and support in the Resilience Economic Framework as a way of ‘stewarding natural and energy resources.’ However, degrowth pushes further, placing Scotland into a global context in which our trade and consumption is understood to be part of an interconnected relationship and whereby the true cost of our lifestyles is actually paid for by the global south. As such, it is not possible to say we need only shift how we, in Scotland, operate our economy; we must finally reckon with being part of a global system of power which has historically prioritised our comfort and convenience at the expense of others. Degrowth moves beyond only practical policy proposals and seeks to place values, ethics and principles at its core.
Degrowth as Solidarity and Regeneration
Degrowth is about solidarity – solidarity with the people and communities of the global south who should no longer have to pay the price for our lifestyles.
Degrowth is about justice – it is the debt of history repaid by the global north after centuries of colonisation and imperialism.
Degrowth is about fairness – it is a deep commitment to rebalancing access to power, resources and opportunity, globally and nationally, so everyone can benefit.
To return to how we started: we agree when talking about the economy that it’s most definitely not size that matters. In writing this, we hope to have offered a clearer understanding of what degrowth is and contributed to the plurality of ideas that are currently needed in Scotland. We want to finish by naming the common ground for all on the left, which is the understanding that our global economy is deliberately shaped by the choices and preferences of a small number of unprecedentedly powerful people who are taking decisions which are not in the interests of you, me or the billions of people and diverse ecosystems on this planet, and that Scotland politics and economy are not separate from this dynamic.
We highlight this because, regardless of your preferred way to go forward, keeping this perspective at the centre of our shared work enables us to recognise three things: that without clear values and principles, all policy proposals have the potential to be misused and have the potential to lead us towards eco-fascism; that a new economy will be won not only through good policy proposals and influencing civil servants and elected representatives, it will be won by people, like you and me, fighting to reclaim to agency and decision-making over what matters most; and, that unless power is reshaped and redistributed as the economy is re-made our aspirations will fall far short of the transformation needed. The world we are all fighting for is on Code Red. Let’s keep what the real problem is front and centre of our focus.