Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption   (May 9, 2013)

Degrowth embraces the ongoing devolution of paid work and wealth that cannot be reversed.

The anti-consumerism Degrowth movement is gaining visibility and adherents in Europe. Degrowth (French: décroissance, Spanish: decrecimiento, Italian: decrescita) recognizes that the mindless expansion of mindless consumption fueled by credit and financialization is qualitatively and quantitatively different from positive growth.

Degrowth is based on a number of principles:

1. Consumerism is psychological/spiritual junk food (French: malbouffe) that actively reduces well-being (bien-etre) rather than increases it.

2. Better rather than more: well-being is increased by everything that cannot be commoditized by a market economy or financialized by a cartel-state financial machine-- friendship, family, community, self-cultivation--rather than by acquiring more. The goal of economic and social growth should be better, not more. On a national scale, the cancerous-growth measured by gross domestic product (GDP) should be replaced with gross domestic happiness/ gross nation happiness (GNH).

3. A recognition that resources are not infinite, despite claims to the contrary. Even if fossil fuels were infinite and low-cost (cheerleaders never mention costs of extraction and refining or the external costs), fisheries, soil and fresh water are not. For one example of many: China Is Plundering the Planet's Seas (The Atlantic). Indeed, all the evidence suggests that access to cheap energy only speeds up the depletion and despoliation of every other resource.

4. The unsustainability of consumerist consumption dependent on resource depletion and financialization (i.e. the endless expansion of credit and phantom collateral).

5. The diminishing returns on consumption. Investing in clean air and water, public transit, universally accessible knowledge/information--these forms of consumption yield high returns in public health, affordable mobility, etc. Buying clothing to wear once or twice and then throw away does not.

The investment in the rule of law, public infrastructure and universal access to clean air, water and education moves nations from developing to developed and greatly improves the material lives of the residents. Beyond this, consumption of resources offers diminishing returns up to a point of social/spiritual/ psychological derangement. Consumption beyond this point actively reduces well-being.

6. The failure of neoliberal capitalism and communism alike in their pursuit of growth at any cost.

7. We have reached Peak Consumption (video 27:30 minutes).

The Degrowth movement explicitly questions what John Michael Greer calls the religion of progress (i.e. growth). The civil religion that growth equals progress is akin to the Cargo Cult of Keynesianism, the notion that growth is so essential that expanding debt exponentially to drive diminishing returns of growth is necessary.

But both the religion of growth and its Cargo Cult enablers are merely superficial facades masking the real force: the expansion of global finance via financialization. Expanding capital, profits and power is the key agenda, and the quasi-religion of growth is just the public-relations narrative that mesmerizes the debt-serfs, political toadies and media sycophants.

What does Degrowth mean in practical terms? Use the thing until it cannot be repaired. Don't ditch the mobile phone, auto, dress or digital device until it can no longer repaired. Buy local rather than than global-corporate whenever feasible. Crave less, need less, want less, resist the brainwashing of 24/7 marketing. Learn to become a person who does not need corporate-status signifiers for a sense of identity.

In a very real way, Degrowth embraces the devolution of paid work and wealth that cannot be reversed. Growth and consumption based on financialization, expanding credit and phantom collateral is unsustainable and will devolve or implode. Rather than pine for what cannot be, it's far healthier to embrace using less of everything and increasing well-being by leveraging the web, the commons and what cannot be commoditized or financialized.

New video with CHS and Gordon Long: Peak Consumption (27:30)

Things are falling apart--that is obvious. But why are they falling apart? The reasons are complex and global. Our economy and society have structural problems that cannot be solved by adding debt to debt. We are becoming poorer, not just from financial over-reach, but from fundamental forces that are not easy to identify or understand. We will cover the five core reasons why things are falling apart:

go to print edition 1. Debt and financialization
2. Crony capitalism and the elimination of accountability
3. Diminishing returns
4. Centralization
5. Technological, financial and demographic changes in our economy

Complex systems weakened by diminishing returns collapse under their own weight and are replaced by systems that are simpler, faster and affordable. If we cling to the old ways, our system will disintegrate. If we want sustainable prosperity rather than collapse, we must embrace a new model that is Decentralized, Adaptive, Transparent and Accountable (DATA).

We are not powerless. Not accepting responsibility and being powerless are two sides of the same coin: once we accept responsibility, we become powerful.

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