A post-growth society for the twenty-first century

Press release [13.11.18]

While politicians cite the return of strong growth as an achievable goal and the solution to all economic and social problems, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) and the International Research Centre on Environment and Development (CIRED) have just released a joint study entitled “A post-growth society for the 21st century – Does prosperity have to wait for the return of economic growth?”.

The return of strong growth is at the heart of political discourse: it is presented not only as an achievable goal, if only the means for its realization are made available, but also as a prerequisite for individual and collective prosperity. However, Damien Demailly, IDDRI’s New Prosperity Programme Coordinator, raises concerns over the validity of this assumption, commenting: “Beyond the current crisis, there are many doubts about the ability of industrialized countries to return to a sustainable level of growth at over 2% per year, and even more about the possibility of a return to the Trente Glorieuses [the Glorious Thirty]. The potential for persistently weak growth over the coming decades should not be ruled out.” The growth rates of most industrialized countries have been falling for forty years and the new IDDRI and CIRED study points to the many long-term challenges, such as the expansion of the service sector in the economy or the pace and nature of technological innovations.

The scarcity of energy resources and the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions enhance the uncertainty of future economic growth. Henri Waisman, CIRED Researcher, says: “The macroeconomic scenarios conducted in this study reveal contrasting futures. It is clear that if pessimistic–but plausible–assumptions on the evolution of fossil fuel volumes, the costs of alternative technologies or the capacity to transform lifestyles are realized, then growth potentials will be significantly reduced for decades.”

“But that does not mean an abandonment of prosperity”, insists Lucas Chancel, Research Fellow on Growth and Prosperity at IDDRI. “The study shows that the relationship between employment and growth or between well-being and growth are much weaker than generally believed, and that the call for growth in the political discourse is often an unnecessary distraction.” Weak growth, however, poses serious problems in terms of reducing inequalities and the financing of social protection. “Less growth means more deliberation and arbitration: more redistribution, more reforms of pensions and health systems. Prospering without growth is primarily a political ambition.”

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