A Call from Scotland to Embrace Degrowth Thinking on #GlobalDegrowthDay

Today, on #GlobalDegrowthDay, the Enough! collective lay out some principles of degrowth for those not familiar with the idea and ask: What would the economy of a degrowth Scotland look like?

As long as our economy is dependent on growth, any ‘economic recovery’ from the coronavirus will be a disaster. Instead, Scotland needs a planned, sustainable, and equitable downscaling and a fundamental reorganising of the economy. Today on #GlobalDegrowthDay, we lay out some principles of degrowth for those not familiar with the idea and ask: What would the economy of a degrowth Scotland look like?

The Scottish Government’s ‘Sustainable Growth Commission’ calls for an “inter-generational economic renaissance”, but starts from the impossible premise that economic growth can be made sustainable. As we think about how to repair and reconstruct our economy following Covid-19, Enough’s Degrowth Commission is calling on the Scottish Government, civil society and communities to embrace ideas of degrowth.

Put simply, degrowth is “a planned yet adaptive, sustainable, and equitable downscaling of the economy, leading to a future where we can live better with less.” Degrowth does not mean ‘shrinking’ all areas of human life or of the economy. It allows for the creation of more of what we need, and less useless material goods and toil.

There is a growing movement for degrowth economics worldwide. A recent letter from the International Degrowth Network, published in the UK by Open Democracy, has pointed out that the crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses of growth-driven capitalist economies. Crippled healthcare systems, austerity, climate change, poverty and hunger and biodiversity loss cause millions of deaths every year. The letter states:

“For decades, the dominant strategies against these ills were to leave economic distribution largely to market forces and to lessen ecological degradation through decoupling and green growth. This has not worked. We now have an opportunity to build on the experiences of the Corona crisis: from new forms of cooperation and solidarity that are flourishing, to the widespread appreciation of basic societal services like health and care work, food provisioning and waste removal. The pandemic has also led to government actions unprecedented in modern peacetime, demonstrating what is possible when there is a will to act: the unquestioned reshuffling of budgets, mobilization and redistribution of money, rapid expansion of social security systems and housing for the homeless.” Degrowth New Roots Collective

This letter has been published in 18 languages and signed by more than 1,100 experts and over 70 organisations from more than 60 countries.

The experience of Covid-19 has taught us something we already knew, now made explicit: a different kind of world is not just possible; it is a crucial and urgent necessity.

We cannot return to our toxic past and “business as usual”. The old growth economy, based on hyper-consumerism, was one marked by gross inequality, catastrophic carbon emissions and a globalism that was committing us to omnicide. Any return to “normal” will not just be socially disastrous, it will ensure that our current trajectory for climate catastrophe is ensured. The endless cycle of production and consumption must cease.

As this oft-quoted passage by Arundhati Roy reflects:

“Nothing could be worse than a return to normality. Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.” Arundhati Roy

5 Principles for Degrowth Recovery

Enough! today shares the 5 international principles for a just recovery of our economy and the basis of creating a just society. To develop new roots for an economy that works for all, we need to:

1) Put life at the center of our economic systems. Instead of economic growth and wasteful production, we must put life and wellbeing at the center of our efforts. While some sectors of the economy, like fossil fuel production, military and advertising, have to be phased out as fast as possible, we need to foster others, like healthcare, education, renewable energy and ecological agriculture.

2) Radically reevaluate how much and what work is necessary for a good life for all. We need to put more emphasis on care work and adequately value the professions that have proven essential during the crisis. Workers from destructive industries need access to training for new types of work that is regenerative and cleaner, ensuring a just transition. Overall, we have to reduce working time and introduce schemes for work-sharing.

3) Organize society around the provision of essential goods and services. While we need to reduce wasteful consumption and travel, basic human needs, such as the right to food, housing and education have to be secured for everyone through universal basic services or universal basic income schemes. Further, a minimum and maximum income have to be democratically defined and introduced.

4) Democratize society. This means enabling all people to participate in the decisions that affect their lives. In particular, it means more participation for marginalized groups of society as well as including feminist principles into politics and the economic system. The power of global corporations and the financial sector have to be drastically reduced through democratic ownership and oversight. The sectors related to basic needs like energy, food, housing, health and education need to be decommodified and definancialised. Economic activity based on cooperation, for example worker cooperatives, has to be fostered.

5) Base political and economic systems on the principles of solidarity and decolonisation. Redistribution and justice – transnational, intersectional and intergenerational – must be the basis for reconciliation between current and future generations, social groups within countries as well as between countries of the Global South and Global North. The Global North in particular must end current forms of exploitation and make reparations for past ones. Climate justice must be the principle guiding a rapid social-ecological transformation. Abandon economic practices that rely on outsourcing cheap labour within and outwith national boundaries, on extractivism and plantation principles.

Degrowth in Scotland

While there is a burgeoning and collaborative degrowth network emerging across the globe, there is no such network in Scotland yet, although there are many groups, organisations and campaigns whose work connects with degrowth ideas and principles. We need to come together and work collaboratively to realistically assess projections for Scotland’s social, political and economic future. 

In order to mobilise resources required to respond to the climate emergency according to principles of social and environmental justice, livelihoods will need to be reconfigured under different potential governance scenarios, taking into account Brexit and the case for Scottish independence. 

We also recognise that any movement for degrowth must be just: “Unless it is just, it is not degrowth.”’ Scotland must also face its dual role as oppressor and oppressed in the UK’s colonial past. The high rates of Covid-19 deaths among BAME people in the UK are a stark reminder that carrying forth an economic logic that maintains and increases exploitative race and class structures is not an option.

Call to Action

We call for the following actions in response to these principles:

Convene Citizen Assemblies across the country to discuss and plan the shift to a degrowth Scotland. These should inform a new economic plan.

Constitute a Special Commission on Degrowth Futures in the Scottish Parliament. This commission should actively debate the principles and priorities of a postgrowth society actively debate the principles and priorities of a postgrowth society, devise policy alternatives for degrowth futures, and abandon the pursuit of growth as an overarching policy goal. The commission should be open to all and broadcast each day and only call on experts who are committed to real change.

Incorporate alternative indicators into the macroeconomic framework of Scotland. Economic policies should be evaluated in terms of their impact on human wellbeing, resource use, inequality, and the provision of decent work.

If you would like to find out more about the work of Enough’s Degrowth Commission, sign up to our mailing list below:


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  1. Alex Kashko says:

    “Degrowth does not mean ‘shrinking’ all areas of human life or of the economy. It allows for the creation of more of what we need, and less useless material goods and toil.”

    The devil lies in the details. What do you mean by useless? are paintings and sculpture useless? Are books useless? Is a cheap low quality suit useful but an expensive high quality suit useless? Are toys and games useless?

    How do we stop this attitude becoming puritanist asceticism and turning us all into less happy Amish?

    I do agree we should work towards a society where work, paid or unpaid, is optional. THose who do not work are still economically active.

    1. Yeah good questions Alex, and the shift is a shift in values and culture not just a few regulations. We live in a society based on waste, built-in obsolescence and hyper-consumption as a life-goal. In degrowth thinking there’s an idea of ‘radical abundance’:

      “By de-enclosing social goods and restoring the commons, we can ensure that people are able to access the things that they need to live a good life without having to generate piles of income in order to do so, and without feeding the never-ending growth machine. “Private riches” may shrink, as Lauderdale pointed out, but public wealth will increase. In this sense, degrowth is the very opposite of austerity. While austerity calls for scarcity in order to generate growth, degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary.Degrowth, at its core, is a demand for radical abundance.”

      1. Alex Kashko says:

        Of course degrowth may mean useful inventions may not be made.

        We need to work out how to use the urge to create and innovate in order to benefit society.

        I am not sure if, say, the internet or the mobile phone would have been created had we had a non growth oriented society. Or, come to that, TV and Radio. These are inventions that cause problems but move societies forward in ways that benefit almost everyone.

        I find myself thinking degrowth needs to be carefully managed.

      2. Alex Kashko says:

        ” While austerity calls for scarcity in order to generate growth, degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary.Degrowth, at its core, is a demand for radical abundance.”

        Perhaps you could explain the difference between degrowth and luxury communism?

        As I said elsewhere, the left and right should give up their worship of work ( by which they mean paid labour) and move towards making work – i.e emplpyment, optional.

  2. Alex Kashko says:

    ” we need to reduce wasteful consumption and travel”

    The elite classes would love to reduce travel, it would stop the plebs thinking things are done better elsewhere and make control of the populace easier. Maybe an internal passport?

    As always, the devil is in the details

    1. The elite classes wouldnt like it if their travel was democratised. The idea that we can fly anywhere we like is not sustainable.

      1. Alex Kashko says:

        Maybe not at present, but my understanding is that cars and trains produce much more emissions than planes. Research is continuing to reduce emissions from all forms of transport.

        Socially travel can still broaden the mind.

  3. Graham Ennis says:

    Let me start by saying as an ex-eco-researcher, that any kind of “Brown” growth is not a good idea. But the “hair Shirt” brigade have got this idea wrong big time. If you need to fix an economy, you need economic surplus value. This can then be used to fix the Brown bits. But “Green Growth” is a disireable target in itself. Example. Re-foresting the barren highlands. Each tree is worth £40 for softwood, when processed. Millions of trees grown sustainably, are a lot of green (Literally) growth. there are many other examples, like solar power and hydro power. Food, (The world is on the edge of food catastrophe) is a value product. But it keeps people alive. Zero-carbon tech is a valuable commodity. Until we can feed the entire planet, on green sustainable food production, green food production is essential. Likewise, creating wealth, that can be spent, is an esential part of the process, “Greening” the economy is essential, as in teh west, we get by, but the poverty levels in the Worls require both cash and tech to fix, plus hefty politics, and where is the cash to come from?…the circular economy can never be perfect, but its a target that we have no chance of reaching at the moment. The world population is at a crisis point, food production is dropping, the soil is becoming sterile, and this needs to be fixed. Green economic product, (converts into cash) is going to be utterly essential for a good 100 years. It can replace the deadly brown economy that runs at the moment. unless we fix the food problem, with green eco ideas and projects, we are going to see a global famine within 30 years, plus the climate catastrophe, is going to collapse a large part of the food eco-system. This whole “Growth is bad” idea is the product of spoilt middle class westerners, most of whom are utterly ignorant of the basic science and tech base from which keeping the planet going is having to come. The so-called “Green” western political parties are at the forefront of this. None of them have a clue of th combined climate and resource exhaustion impact over the next 20 years. Its called civilizational collapse. Green growth is possible, but most greens are ignorant of this, and also that it is esential to keep starving third world children alive, Comments please.

    1. Alex Kashko says:

      I agree with you about the hair short brigade – it seems to embody a very medieval flagellant attitude.

      What you seem to be saying, if I understand you right is we need to manage growth and redirect it along “green” lines though I am unclear whant you mean by “Brown Economy”

      Minor point: I read the world can produce enough food for all but distributing it is the problem, and distribution means moving it from one place to another. That means travel, for some at least, which many consider unsustainable.

      We have a lot of tradeoffs to consider if we are to get degrowth or redirecting and managing growth, and the instincts underlying Capitalism (insecurity, ego, lust for power etc), correct.

      That last sentence is clumsy but I hopte it is clear. I think left, right and centre each miss part or all of the problems and potential solutions

    2. Blair says:

      The elite know that capitalism has failed. Degrowth will follow naturally with a lot of suffering. People like Elon Musk & Richard Branson have been preparing to leave Earth & set up a base on the moon in preparation to start over on Terra forming Mars. Scotland has plenty of water so should be able to survive until degrowth reaches sustainable levels of recovery.

  4. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Just because we can communicate instantly doesn’t mean that we must automatically attempt to apply a one-size-fits-all, imperialist style, concerted degrowth strategy, worldwide. It’s taken us a long time to get to where we are. It’s not so long ago, historically speaking, that people had no idea who or what they might find across the oceans, but that never deterred human development in those unknown lands or prevented the development of indigenous societies, cultures and economies. Humanity, it seems, is independently capable of development wherever it’s to be found. A resetting of the historical/economic clock sounds utterly fanciful at the moment, for sure, but when allied with the totality of the world’s technology, maybe not so much.

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