Décroissance: How the French counter capitalism

[Articles and opinion pieces published in this blog do not necessarily reflect the polices and opinions of the organizers of the International Conference on Degrowth in the Americas. They are posted here to stimulate discussion and debate on issues relevant to degrowth.]

by Christopher Caldwell
Financial Times, 14 October 2011

Probably the most profound current running against the capitalist stream is that of the décroissance [degrowth] movement. Economic growth has done enough damage to our planet, says a coalition of activists. Not only must it stop, it must be reversed… The currents that make up décroissance have been around a while. It shares a pantheon of heroes with the 1960s counterculture: the Christian social thinker Jacques Ellul, the anti-industrial German philosopher Günther Anders and, above all, the Romanian-American utopian theorist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen.

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One Response to Décroissance: How the French counter capitalism

  1. Bob Thomson says:

    Letter from Giorgos Kallis and Joan Martinez-Alier to the Financial Times

    Letter to the editor – correction to article published on Saturday edition 15/10/11
    To: letters.editor@ft.com

    Not utopians
    Sir,
    Christopher Caldwell in “Décroissance: how the French counter capitalism” refers correctly to Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen as an intellectual hero of the degrowth (décroissance) movement, but qualifies him wrongly as a “utopian thinker”. Far from a utopian, Georgescu-Roegen (1906-1994) was a distinguished fellow of the American Economic Association and a professor of economics at Vanderbilt, holding a PhD in statistics from Sorbone and a degree in mathematics from his native Bucharest. As a Rockefeller scholar at Harvard he worked closely with notable economists Joseph Schumpeter and Wassily Leontief. Paul Samuelson called him a “scholar’s scholar, an economist´s economist”.

    A truly “worldly philosopher”, Georgescu-Roegen in “The Entropy Law and the Economic Process” (Harvard University Press, 1971) argued that economic growth increases entropy; useful energy is dissipated, it cannot be recycled. He predicted that the economy simply cannot continue to grow forever no matter how much technology advances. Once fossil-fuel stocks are depleted, a simpler living out of renewable, flow resources will be inevitable, and the descent better be a smooth rather than a catastrophic one. For his disciples in the community of ecological economics, the crisis came as no surprise: energy and food prices knocked the economy down. It is easy for the financial system to increase private or public debts and to confuse this expansion of credit for the creation of real wealth. But the real economy of energy and materials cannot be forced to grow at the compound interest rate necessary to pay off debts.

    It is a hopeful sign that the degrowth movement is grounding its view of the economy on the thermodynamic analysis of Georgescu-Roegen. Utopian is to think that endless growth is possible in a finite planet.

    Prof. Giorgos Kallis
    Prof. Joan Martinez-Alier
    ICTA, Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona

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