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Deconstructing the “De-growth” Movement

20 Aug 2017

Tom Rogan in the Washington Examiner wrote a very interesting piece on the new expression of an old idea–”degrowth.”  (see http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/the-far-left-has-an-idiotic-new-craze-reduce-economic-growth/article/2631274).  He leads with these words: “Even the Soviets sought to maximize economic output. But today’s contemporary far-left are far bolder: they believe that economics itself is wrong.”  He writes further, “From their perspective, government shouldn’t simply control the means of economic production (socialism), it should actively work to reduce gross domestic product (GDP).”  Yes, you read that correctly.  The far-left has now come to the conclusion that economic growth is bad in itself and that nations ought to reduce GDP (the standard measure of economic growth).  This view comes from some at the London School of Economics and others.  It bears some resemblance to earlier movements like the Luddites of the early nineteenth century, but the latter’s resistance was to technology, not to growth per se.  

And how do we “achieve” this marvelous goal?  Jason Hickel of the London Schools proposes a “simple” way: curb advertisement and impose a carbon tax, presumably a very large tax.  But then Hickel adds, “degrowth is not the same as “austerity” (reduced government spending). Instead, he says, “’the goal is to increase human well-being and happiness while reducing our economic footprint’.”  So nations are to reduce real growth and at the same time not decrease government spending.  I wonder where he thinks all that tax revenue to support the state will come from?  No growth means no increasing taxable income or profit or sales. That means less tax revenue.  But government can’t grow without revenue.  And all those people who will no longer be employed and who will need government services (ostensibly at any rate) will not be able to be served as the left believes they should.

Apart from that problem, people in general will be reduced to lower standards of living, even deprived of the freedom and opportunity to make themselves better-off.  Hickel adds in this respect that he would implement a “basic income” and a “shorter work week.”  I am miffed that this person would be associated with an institution with the word “Economics” in its title.  Since tax revenues will be lower, the basic income must be lower, even very low.  Moreover, if the work week is restricted, individuals can’t earn extra income.  In an article in the Guardian, Hickel wrote that “industrialized countries will have no choice but to downscale their economic activity by 4-6 percent per year. And poor countries are going to have to follow suit after 2025, downscaling by about 3 percent per year.”  What will happen in poor nations?  I would predict without much fear of contradiction that many people would simply starve.  Unemployment would certainly be massive.  We would all live at a very basic level, if that.  Maybe Hickel wants a reduction in population, in that very pernicious way (I am only half facetious–some on the left have proposed the necessity of population reduction, recently and in the past.  

Now let me try to bring biblical principles to bear on this issue.  To be sure, Christians are no fans of a greedy, consumption-obsessed society.  People in such a society betray a basic idolatry of material well-being, Christians and non-Christians.  But the solution to idolatry is not to create conditions for the deaths and abject poverty of many just to “solve” a problem of the wrong object of worship.  The solution is better teaching, in our churches and other institutions.  We as believers should in no way support a reduction in well-being of individuals or entire nations.  Temporal though it may be, we support the “welfare of the city” that consists of both believers and non-believers.  This the “degrowth” idea has no place in Christian thought, let alone in rational economic thought, even apart from Christian foundations.