We already have degrowth in Britain – really?

The Guardian’s economics editor has written an article on the impact of the economic impact of the preventative public health measures used in the first phase of the Covid 19 pandemic.  In passing he makes the rather surprising statement that “for the past three years the UK has been through a process of de-growth”.

I wrote a short letter in response.  The Guardian hasn’t published it, but some people who have seen it thought it worth sharing more widely. So here it is.

One might think that your economics editor, Larry Elliott would be better informed.  While his article ( https://www.theguardian.com/business/2023/feb/12/price-britain-paid-lockdown-colossal-alternative-recession-austerity-stagnation ) was concerned with setting up and knocking down a straw man in respect of public health prevention measures in the first Covid wave, he also takes a sideswipe at degrowth, or as he, but nobody else, calls it, “de-growth”.  Degrowth is based on the established discipline of ecological economics.  One well known definition is “a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet”*.  It most emphatically is not the same thing as recession, nor even secular stagnation, which is what happens when a growth-seeking capitalist economy can no longer keep on expanding, due to its internal and external contradictions.  It implies a managed, intentional trajectory, not an accidental and chaotic one, which is what the combination of energy crunch, supply chain disruption and brexit have, together, superimposed on the longer term exhaustion of the capitalist accumulation regime.  Make no mistake, contraction of the economy is the future, and degrowth is the way in which it can be made equitable while minimising the ecological damage.

Mark Burton

Steady State Manchester Collective and co-cordinator Degrowth UK network.

* Source for the definition: https://degrowth.org/definition-2/

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