Over the summer I started reading Timothée Parrique's PhD dissertation on "The Political Economy of Degrowth" and I thought it was awesome! I started frantically highlighting and then summarising my highlights in a markdown document, the result of which you can find here.

As with all of my recent attempts to summarise books, this unfortunately is not complete, and I didn't manage to read more than Chapter 6. 7 and parts of Chapter 8. Recently someone said that for books they're really interested in they read them slowly and talk about them with people they think might be interested. This seems like a more realistic way of digesting a book by doing more than just reading it, so I will probably start doing that instead of these summaries. Let's see though.

General thoughts

I appreciated very much the dispelling of myths, many of which I understood only on a surface level. Seeing them written down helped me clarify my thoughts. For example, I would have probably lumped degrowth and collapsologists before reading Timothée, though collapsologists would probably promote some sort of survivalist thinking which is at odds with Parrique's definition of degrowth.

There seems to be an abundance of "cheat sheets" for degrowth, e.g. FAQ from l'Associazione per la decrescita. I say abundance, this is the only one I can remember Parrique citing, though probably if you write "FAQ degrowth" in Google you will already be miles ahead of most critics of the idea.

I also appreciated the depth and detail of policy analysis that Parrique provides, which surprisingly there doesn't seem to have been much beforehand. Of course, there is still much to be done. Things to look out for (were I ever to read his dissertation properly again):

  • Does he talk about dealing with the issue of autonomy and import / export dependency?
  • Advertising, how to curb exactly?
    • From a quick CTRL+F I could not find anything unfortunately. Will have to look elsewhere for this!

Myths and criticisms of degrowth


Recession is degrowth No, it isn't:

[p.323] Let there be no misunderstanding: there is nothing worse than a growth-based society without growth... degrowth calls for a shift to a different kind of economy altogether (an economy that doesn't require growth in the first place).

Degrowth is technophobic

[p.340] ... technology is no either a benefit or a hazard but often both at once, that is a benefit for some and a hazard for others... Instead of treating innovation as an all-or-nothing process being either boon or bane, these criteria [for a tool to be degrowth compatible] are always up for debate and citizens must have a droit d'inventaire (right to audit) in order to decide whether specific scientific and technological innovations should be pursued, paused, or abandoned... In saying this, I reject Jacques Ellul's point about the autonomy of technique. Instead, I argue that the making of technology is a consequence, and not the original cause, of certain institutions (even though impacts go both ways). Innovation is not inevitable but embedded into social practices; one of them, which degrowth criticises, is the quest for monetary gains.

The end of innovation

[p.346] what is new (innovation) is not necessarily better (progress)... Another mistaken assumption is that only private firms innovate. [Regarding pharmaceuticals], Hickels reports that 84% of research is funded by public sources

Retrograde and reactionary

degrowth refuses to ither idealise the past ... which would lead to stagnancy and melancholy, or demonise it ... which would forcefully propel societies forward, whatever the direction of this forward... tradition as the remembering of past innovation and innovation as the invention of new soon-to-be tradition.


[p.362] ... if one understamds degrowth as an emancipation from hierarchy and as a utopian aspiration for autonomy, then the term "authoritarian degrowth" becomes an oxymoron.

Degrowth according to Parrique seems to have strong democratic and anarchist values, which means that either frugality is decided upon and promoted collectively (probably while excluding the minority of super-rich who have had enough of their say) or it does not happen at all.


[p.364] Degrowth, however, promotes a different kind of localism ... [quoting Schneider and Sekulova, 2014 ] one that "does not create frontiers, which cherishes diversity and multi-level thinking while promoting the creation of open and integrative local projects as well as slow travels."


[p.367] Survivalism ... is a logic of closed localism that based on imposed scarcity, mistrust, and exclusion. It consists in surviving against the outside, let it be nature or others. Degrowth, on the other hand, ... is a collective project of ... living together in a chosen, post-scarcity spirit of frugality.

Degrowth as further deprivation

I think this was clear to me beforehand, but obviously degrowth is not about depriving the poor even more:

[p.371] degrowth is in line with the "incontrovertible" fact that "restraints on growth should be imposed on the rich".


Growth as eradicating poverty

Again, I didn't need to be convinced of this, but economic growth will not solve poverty:

[p.372] [According to Woodward 2015] eradicating poverty would take between one and two centuries (depending on whether one chooses $1.25 or $5-a-day line). At the end of the first century, the global economy reach 15 times it size in 2010; at the end of the second century, it would be 173 times bigger.

So yes, fucking stupid. The more interesting and subtle point regards what poverty is. Supposedly poverty has now become synonymous with misery, though this was not always the case. This is why Parrique uses the word frugal, since having little to no possessions (frugality) should not mean you live a miserable life cut off from society (poverty).

There is also an interesting point about consumption from the North helping the global South:

[p.374] the dependence of exporting countries on the world market is a genuine obstacle to degrowth, one that requires a more elaborate answer than the first degrowth must be the one of inequality that the movement takes as a slogan.

Motivated by scarcity and thus economic

This is one of the harder and most subtle points. Degrowth is not about imposing limits on others due to scarcity (survivalism) but about self-imposing limits because we care for the world and each other. Parrique gives the example of vegans, who don't eat meat because they don't want to and not because someone has imposed this choice on them. More on this:

[p.385, quoting Hickel] "while austeristy calls for scarcity in order to generate growth, degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary. [...] abundance is the antidote of growth.

I think that I will need to revisit this to understand better the, ultimately very philosophical, point being made. This whole discussion reminds me also of the point that the guy from the Convivial Society makes regarding attention as a resource (it's not, you have all the attention you need).

Update: I since listened to a podcast episode with Giorgos Kallis on "Economics for Rebels" and have thought about it a bit more. One useful insight here is that if you have unsatiable needs and desires you will always have scarcity. It is only when you limit yourself, voluntarily, to the extent that the world around you can provide more than enough of what you want, that you can have abundance.

Other quotes

[p.334] As a societal project, Degrowth is, by definition, designed, desirable, deliberate, and intentional.

[p.335, quoting Cheynet 2008] "accusing degrowthers to be in favour of a degrowth of population or of social relations is as dishonest as accusing pro-growthers to be in favour of the growth of crimes or cancers."

[p.356] "The whole point of austeristy is to slash public goods in order to re-start economic growth [...] Austeristy is a violent expression of our system's need for endless growth" (Hickel, 2017) ... Austerity is subjugating public governance to an economic reality, the economisation of the political that degrowth criticises so vehemently.

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