Economic decrease : the forbidden debate

by | 26 Sep 2020 | Economy – Social - Tech

“Anyone who believes that exponential growth can continue indefinitely in a finite world is either a madman or an economist …”

This quote from Kenneth E. Boulding, mentioned by Jack Uldrich in Jump the Curve (2008) is brilliant but actually deserves to be extended to a few other categories …

Had he seen the wonderful film Witness, released in the mid-1980s, our French President would know that pitting the old against the new is not necessarily relevant when it comes to facing a common threat. And also that – even marginal – any community deserves a priori benevolence.

Kenneth E. Boulding was not Amish but Quaker (like the one pictured on our kids’ oatmeal boxes). So I hope I can talk about it without sounding too ridiculous: the Amish reject technology in that it makes it less dependent on the community where Quakers are more “liberal.”

In this post-COVID world, which looks more and more like a during-COVID world, it is, beyond the question of the allocation of 5G frequencies, the whole question of the debate on the desirable economic model. who is confiscated. In particular the question of – let me tell the word! – economic decrease.

A month ago, in the emblematic framework of the French Medef Summer Universities, journalist Anne-Cécile Sarfati thus questioned, in front of the young climate activist Camille Etienne, the “concerns of the highly educated haves” of the supporters of the economic decrease. Masked this year, but so few, of course the audience warmly applauded this unstoppable argument. A year ago, it was a former French president who in the same circle had the laughers on his side by mocking Greta Tunberg, “so friendly, so smiling, so original in her thought”.

What a poor level!

Indeed, the issue of GDP growth in our developed economies has long been settled. At the macro level, it has only existed for decades thanks to the explosion of debts, private and public. And it benefits very little.

Everyone in the developed world has understood this for a long time, starting with those – the most numerous – who have seen their standard of living eroded for decades … to the great benefit of the Trump, Farage and populists of all stripes. Not exactly “well-educated haves” by the way. The younger generations have understood it too, trying to find new ways (eco-design, permaculture, agro-ecology …).

That’s why, aside from playing time, I’m not sure why we tirelessly continue to make GDP growth – green or not – a central objective of our economic policies.

By not wanting to pilot a sustainable decrease, are we not going to give ground to other theories, those which predict a collapse of our societies?

So, back to Boulding: in the years 1970-1980, (he died in 1993), he developed a truly revolutionary understanding of the new relationships that are being woven in the world or rather of what becomes of the Earth.

According to him, the planet and the image that man has of it are currently undergoing a “great transition” which is schematically the passage from an open system to a closed system. In an open system, it is possible to conceive of any human activity. In a closed system, man can no longer act as he sees fit if he does not want to disappear from the face of the Earth. It is on board a spaceship which must be safeguarded.

Therefore, the environment and the economy become inseparable. And even admitting that the great part of the problems related to the environment are due to reasons larger than the individual, another part of the problems is undeniably due to the addition of problems related to the individuals.

Of course, solutions to today’s planetary problems go through multiple levels. But at the end of the day, Boulding’s view is the man’s attitude that must change.

Ultimately, Pope Francis is just a copier!

Iconography: on the way home… Maysville, United States, © Randy Fath