Degrowth? A Response to Brian Czech and Riccardo Mastini

February 5th 2020. I am posting this here because it won’t fit into the commentary box on CASSE’s website. It’s a response to Brian and Riccardo’s posting titled Degrowth Toward a Steady-State Economy: Unifying Non-Growth Movements for Political Impact.

Where I stand, outside academia and living among by a community of activists and change-makers, I don’t think the phrase “Degrowth towards a steady-state economy” will work.

When a teenager stops growing, we don’t say that she has entered a phase of “degrowth”. When we pursue our lives between the ages of 20 and 80, we don’t say that they are the “steady state” years. The phrases lack vision, excitement, or anything forward-looking. They are, in effect, boring.

Within the global movements for community-based (social solidarity, cooperative) economic development and ecological restoration there is passion, excitement and hope to build economies where people can experience fulfilment, kindness and respect while operating in harmony with Nature, and Nature’s limits. There is hope for Genuine Progress, instead of GDP (which I rebrand Gross Depletion of the Planet.)

I don’t know how things work within academia, but outside academia great achievements require a positive vision of success, followed by research, skill, relationships and work. People can be motivated to stop doing something by fear, such as the climate and ecological emergencies, but to do something positive, people need to be motivated by a positive vision, followed by determination. No Olympic team ever tried to win medals by seeking “Dewinning towards a steady state medal count.”

So my preferred phrase is different: it is “A New Ecological Civilization”.

As we build a New Ecological Civilization, the kind of progress that people seek becomes a democratic choice. The material limits to growth are determined by local, national and global regulation and treaties, to make all material flows circular.

The word “degrowth” prompts “Don’t think of an elephant”, placing the focus on what’s being lost, not on what’s being gained, which is genuine progress towards democratically chosen goals.

The phrase “a steady-state economy” implies boring, where nothing much happens. It doesn’t convey the beauty and wonder of ecological restoration, personal journeys to fulfilment, rich relationships and community celebration.

I’m not alone in this: there’s quite a few of us who have adopted the phrase “A New Ecological Civilization”. I give a lot of public speeches, and it works a lot better to describe the future I envision than any other phrase.

And by the way, I don’t believe we can discuss entropy without also discussing syntropy. The idea of entropy emerged from classical physics in a 100% objective material universe. The idea of syntropy emerged from quantum physics in a universe that also contains consciousness, and agency.

Best wishes to all,
Guy Dauncey


4 thoughts on “Degrowth? A Response to Brian Czech and Riccardo Mastini

  1. Guy Dauncey, I have to disagree with the premise of your argument. Neither “degrowth” nor “steady state economy” are “boring” when growing masses of people are getting desperate for a real, meaningful, policy-relevant alternative to unsustainable, reckless, environmentally devastating economic growth.

    I’ll never forget encountering the phrase “steady state economy” during my Ph.D. research some 20+ years ago. I was absolutely thrilled at finding what instantly struck me as THE most powerful concept for conservation I had ever seen. I’ve encountered plenty of people who’ve had similar reactions. They’ve become motivated and activated by the phrases “steady state economy” and “degrowth.”

    Frankly, and I’m just being as honest as you were, the phrase “New Ecological Civilization” sounds somewhat boring to me—and I’m originally an ecologist. It’s just too squishy, too non-specific, too policy-irrelevant, and too readily framed as sort of pie-in-the-skyish.

    That said, I heartily applaud you for thinking way outside the box of neoclassical economics and proposing a concept and slogan that is certainly better than “green growth” or “sustainable growth.”


    1. Thanks for the response, Brian. It’s good to hearthat some people get very motivated by those phrases. Not me, that’s all.

      I absolutely agree that we need a “a real, meaningful, policy-relevant alternative” to the current mess. As to a name – I collect them! Her’s my current list of 81 proposed names:

      The term “socialism” is also “squishy, too non-specific, too policy-irrelevant, and too readily framed as sort of pie-in-the-skyish”; the term “social democracy”, too, but that didn’t prevent the terms from taking hold in people’s hearts. The same applies to “communism” and “capitalism” and “free market”. They all say nothing, but are code for everything. The same can be true for “A New Ecological Civilization”.

      The branding is not about the details – it’s about capturing people’s imaginations, and their hearts. My regular work is packed full of specific policy details, as my website shows, especially on climate and economy.

      And thanks for all the great work, regardless of our naming disagreements! 🙂


  2. Earth Repair Everywhere. That’s my north star vision.
    I agree with Guy that ‘degrowth’ is just ugly wordsmithing, steady state, not so much. Like Mike Nickerson used to say, Live on earth as though we intend to stay.


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