Taking off or Tearing down? Risks and Side-Effects of a Postgrowth Economy

Almost a decade after the financial crisis of 2008/2009, the global economy is still searching for a new normal. Especially the outlook for future economic growth remains unclear and talk about an ‘end of growth’ or at least a slowdown to a very different growth path does not seem too far-fetched anymore. But what is the difference between different notions of future growth, between green growth, degrowth, and post-growth, as well as the idea of increased growth independence? What are the underlying causes visible in this day and age where we have to rethink the paradigm of economic growth more radically? What does that mean for business, politics, and consumers? Will sharing economies replace our drive to ownership and status symbols? About 30 young and motivated brains rolled over these questions during a workshop on the post-growth economy by Prof. André Reichel at the Mannheim Forum on 18 March 2017. Here is what they came up with:

Consumers & Lifestyle

Living in a post-growth economy might – on an individual level – look unattractive at a first glance. Can I still buy all the things I want to have? Won’t everything become more expensive? … But hey, maybe I don’t even want to buy more stuff! Maybe a post-growth lifestyle will liberate me from financial and material burdens so that I finally can see and do what I really want. This liberation could meaningfully improve our quality of life by giving us back some of the responsibility we lay into the hands of our demand-creating society.

(image source: http://www.mannheim-forum.org/kongress/)

Education & Science

This change of lifestyles and attitudes towards quality of life also requires a change in what we teach our present and future generation. It should be norms instead of numbers, values instead of valuations and creative minimalism instead of consumerism. Sustainability and Ethics have to be part of every student’s study program. What we need is more creativity and interdisciplinary competencies to successfully tackle the socio-ecological challenges and citizens taking on this responsibility.

Businesses & Economy

Alright, so the individual and the education system might be d’accord with promoting Décroissance. But what about businesses? Don’t they have to grow in order to survive? Well actually, they don’t. There are a lot of opportunities for businesses in a post-growth economy. But to realize this potential, they first have to acknowledge its advantages. Meaningful long-term inventions instead of short-term growth goals, more flexible working contracts and reduced working hours instead of an ever-increasing number of sick-days and appraisal of quality of life instead of pushing annual profits. With the change already happening, these will be the new competitive advantages.

Politics & Institutions

Last but not least, a transformation towards a post-growth economy also has to be on the national political agenda. Only if institutions are ready to support or even actively push for an economy beyond growth will it have an impact on the entire system. Porter’s studies have shown that economies with stricter ecological regulations are more competitive, still, social and economic desirability hinders the potential of the commons circular economy approaches as well as ecological supportive tax reforms. Let “less is more” be the new social and political paradigm!

Although a withdrawal from our comfy consumerist lifestyle causes worries to some of us, we see the need for a bigger change in how we (re)think economy and the huge potential a transformation towards a post-growth economy provides. Maybe we first have to tear down our old ways of thinking before we can take off towards a new liberating mindset.

Maren Ingrid Kropfeld, Ph.D. student in Sustainability (author of this article)
Lukas Müller and Marvin Roß,  International Energy Management
Marielle Rüppel, International Sustainability Management

P.S. For information on risks and side-effects read the literature and ask your professor or lecturer.

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