Defenders of ‘degrowth’ – often referred to as ‘growth objectors’ – are in favour of what they call ‘voluntary simplicity’, since a society of wealth and abundance does not seem to make people happy. Quite the opposite: taking into consideration its very negative impact on the environment, such a society is heading towards disaster.
Invited by the popular programme ‘Service Public’ on the French public radio station France Inter, Assen Slim, professor at ESSCA’s Paris campus, explained the historical and conceptual underpinning of current movements that increasingly put the ‘growth imperative’ of capitalism into question.
The approach by ‘voluntary simplicity’, he explained, aims at reducing consumption patterns that are considered superfluous, while maintaining those that are deemed desirable or necessary. Degrowth, as a political project, thus represents an encouragement to reconsider one’s own modes and habits of consumption. But this will to reduce consumption at the same time pursues a double agenda: the fight against the deterioration of the environment is linked to the reducation of social and economic inequalities.
It may seem utopian to improve citizens’ well-being through the moderation of consumption in a society where consumption clearly goes beyond the mere satisfaction of needs. As Assen has pointed out in a book co-authored with Marc Prieto, another economist from ESSCA’s Paris campus, consumption is a social and cultural phenomenon. Introducing voluntary simplicity would be nothing short of a radical change in our way of life. Such a ‘U turn’ can only be implemented if consumption is considered a form of alienation, a ‘weapon of social destruction’. Against this backdrop, it is only coherent if degrowth protagonists strongly recommend getting rid of our cars, dumping our telephones and refusing to shop at supermarkets.
Certainly not a mainstream way of life for the time being. As Serge Latouche, one of the theorists of degrowth, has pointed out, the choice for degrowth can only be called ‘heroic’ in the contemporary atmosphere of dominant consumption.