growth politics

The French government discusses postgrowth economics

I’m convinced that a postgrowth economy is pretty much inevitable, and that it is only a matter of time before it is taken seriously at the highest levels. An economy that doesn’t require endless growth is still a toxic subject to British politicians, but not so in France. Last week saw a conference called An Innovative Society for the 21st Century. It was organised by the Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations in Paris, with the personal backing of President Hollande. 

Speakers included postgrowth voices such as Andrew Simms, and Dan O’Neill of the Campaign for a Steady State Economy, alongside French MPs and civil servants. The conference heard arguments from both sides, so it is not an endorsement of postgrowth perspectives in any way. But the idea that the pursuit of growth is no longer a legitimate goal for developed economies is certainly no longer taboo.

What’s particularly interesting is that while Hollande is a socialist, he is building on the work of his center-right predecessor Nicholas Sarkozy. It was Sarkozy who brought in Joseph Stiglitz to head up a commission investigating better metrics than GDP to measure economic performance and social progress.

Along with politicians, mainstream economists are increasingly prepared to discuss the topic. Lord Stern was among the speakers. He is still in favour of growth in the short to medium term, but acknowledges that it can’t continue forever. Jeffrey Sachs also spoke, and from Dan O’Neill’s write up, it seems he may have completed his transition to the postgrowth side of the fence. He’s hinted before that economic growth isn’t everything, but has sounded increasingly skeptical of late. His recent paper with Johan Rockstrom was pretty close, but according to O’Neill he has crossed the Rubicon entirely and told the conference that they “all countries need to pursue a new model of development.” I look forward to him developing this idea, as he’s a high profile figure and his contribution would be very valuable.

If someone was to organise a similar conference in Britain, do you think we’d get David Cameron along? I’ve got a book on my shelf here that in which he says that “the pursuit of wealth is no longer – if it ever was – enough to meet people’s aspirations; that overconsumption of the world’s resources cannot satisfy our most inborn desires; and yes, that quality of life means more than quantity of money.” That was written in opposition of course, where it’s a lot easier to say these things, but perhaps there’s hope yet.


  1. Where & when was it decided that this model of economy was the only way? As mentioned, it only leads to mindless and abusive consumption. In the U.S. the results have been paired with a lack of reinvestment, therefore stripping out any such wealth and decreasing quality of life to the bare essentials. Now it’s become such a sticking point that anything “extra” is frivolous, that we cannot afford, and a mentality to do things differently exists, but gets brushed aside for the quick and easy.

    I love the idea of sustainable growth and allowing growth to occur but understanding that a model built solely on fueling that desire is a house of cards waiting to topple. I know how politically and socially divided it is. Generally, until people seeing it work for them and become adjusted to how it operates, they are hesitant to buy into it. – I’m still waiting for it though…

    1. Well that’s the crazy thing, that nobody designed the system that we have today. It’s evolved over the decades, under the influence of theorists and economists, business interests and billionaires, the occasional political visionary. Nobody planned it, and nobody voted for it. We shouldn’t see it as unchallengeable and inevitable.

      Then again, neither do we want to replace it with some other grand plan, because there isn’t one. But we’ve had key turning points before, and we need another one today.

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