Regulation beyond Growth

By Durand, Cedric; Lege, Philippe | Capital & Class, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Regulation beyond Growth


Durand, Cedric, Lege, Philippe, Capital & Class


Introduction

De-growth theses have attracted growing interest in the past decades, as the appeal of the concept of sustainable development has decreased in the absence of substantial progress concerning environmental and social durability (Martinez-Alier et al. 2010), and as ecological concerns are growing with the rapid extension of the Western capitalist civilisational path all over the world. In December 2009, the failure of international negotiations in Copenhagen to tackle the rise of greenhouse gas emissions along with the subsequent climatic disorders have given momentum to a general sense of alarm--a feeling that became even more acute with the disappointing results of the Rio Earth Summit in June 2012. With the beginning of the great economic crisis, sustainability has receded on the agenda again, as governments all over the world struggle to maintain financial stability and to escape from another great recession. Taken together, these elements cast doubt on the very possibility of the implementation of the sustainable development paradigm. Contrastingly, de-growth arguments may seem to offer a consistent diagnosis of the degradation of the economic, social and ecological situation, and point to the need for an alternative civilisational path.

We can trace the origin of 'de-growth' in Andre Gorz's comments on the Meadows Report in the early 1970s (Bosquet and Gorz 1973). However, the intellectual appeal of this current is the result of its combination of two distinctive schools. Economists such as Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly focus mainly on the ecological limits of Earth and its economic implications. They consider that a decreasing material intensity of GDP growth is not able to stabilise the material throughput of economic activity. Indeed, the hypothesis of Kuznets's environmental curve has so far proven to be misleading: if local pollution is able to diminish above a certain level of GDP per capita output, the global environmental negative externalities - in areas such as climate change or biodiversity, for example--are not. For these ecological economists, the main issue is thus to de-grow, or to attain a steady state in order to diminish the material throughput of the economies.

The second main source of influence of the de-growth current is post-development literature, including leading authors such as Ivan Illich, Serge Latouche and Arturo Escobar. Development is considered to be a Eurocentric anthropological project and, more specifically, an occidental 'belief' (Rist 1996) which has been imposed through colonisation and neo-colonisation at the expenses of other cultures. Most of the research has focused on discourses and aims to deconstruct this concept in order to free subjectivities from its domination. According to Serge Latouche, a society of de-growth should thus be understood as a 'society built on quality rather than on quantity, on cooperation rather than on competition ... humanity liberated from economism for which social justice is the objective. ... The motto of de-growth aims primarily at pointing the insane objective of growth for growth' (2003:18).

Drawing on both ecological economists and post-development studies, a rich network of grassroots movements, political currents and journals have emerged that endorse the de-growth slogan. It is influential in the global North, but also in the global South, especially among indigenous movements from Latin America, and has attracted interest from across most of the spectrum of the left. (1)

For the regulationist school in particular, and radical political economy in general, de-growth theses are thus important since they point to a potential renewal of critical thinking able to link intellectual research and social movements. However, from a regulationist perspective, the debate is troublesome. Indeed, the focus of regulation theory (hereafter RT) is to analyse the social conditions of the accumulation of capital in the medium term, but not so much the wider prospects for growth. …

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