ABOUT how giving up the fetish of totalitarian economic growth will save the world and how to do it, writes Jason Hickel in Less is Better.
South Africa. After a day trip through the villages, economic anthropologist Jason Hickel arrives at his lodging. He parks the car. When he gets out, something strange catches his attention. Or rather the lack of something. No insects on the hood and on the radiator. He has traveled many miles in the wild and there are only a few dead insects on his car.
He becomes interested in the subject and discovers that insects are also disappearing in countries such as Germany. “Three quarters of all flying insects have disappeared from German nature reserves in 25 years. Scientists concluded that this was because surrounding forest reserves were turned into arable land heavily fertilized with fertilizers and pesticides, Hickel writes in his book Less is Better. About how giving up economic growth will save the world” (Character, 2022).
After rain there are no more butterflies
In the tropical forest of El Yunque in Puerto Rico, the amount of insect biomass has decreased by 98% in 36 years. “I remember in the 1970s when there were butterflies everywhere after the rain. When I was in El Yunque in 2012, I didn’t see any,” an entomologist said in an interview with The Economist, also quoted by Hickel.
The anthropologist also provides shocking data on fish catches. For example, halibut has fallen to 0.2%. state of several decades ago. In the Asia-Pacific region, with the current trend, fishing capacity will drop to… zero by 2048.
The animals disappear and the elements go wild, Hickel notes. The number of extremely violent storms worldwide has doubled since the 1980s. 2017 hit America with some of the most devastating hurricanes on record. Heat waves are sweeping all continents, in turn leading to ever larger and more dangerous fires – Australia will have killed several people by 2020, as well as a billion (!) animals, including kangaroos and koalas.
The Turbulent World of the Turning Point of Civilization
Who is guilty? Rather, the question should be: what’s to blame? Capitalism. But not the one known for centuries, but capitalism based on the fetish of GDP growth. “This is not a book about inevitable disaster. This is a book about hope. About how we can move from an economy organized on the principles of domination and abuse to one based on the mutual exchange of benefits with the natural world,” Hickel writes. “The ecological crisis we live in is much more serious than commonly believed,” he adds.
Totalitarian Growth Fetish
Hickel points out that capitalism has been around for centuries and that free trade is the basis of economic development. The problem is – and this is the main message of this book – that in the 20th century, capitalism degenerated and growth became the primary goal. The organizing principle of capitalism has become the continuous increase in extraction, production and consumption, the best known measure and symbol of which is GDP (Gross Domestic Product).
“Growth is a necessity for capital. And it is not growth for a specific purpose, but growth for the sake of growth. It is governed by its own quintessentially totalitarian logic: every industry, every sector, every economy has to grow constantly, all the time. There is no definitive end point for slowing growth,” Hickel emphasizes.
†Growth is a necessity for capital. And it is not growth for a specific purpose, but growth for the sake of growth. It is governed by its own quintessentially totalitarian logic: every industry, every sector, every economy has to grow constantly, all the time. There is no definitive end point for slowing growth,” Hickel emphasizes.
The anthropologist emphasizes that this is not a condition known to nature. After all, organisms grow to a certain point, but when they are mature, growth stops so that a state of equilibrium can arise. And if the growth in nature is not stopped for some reason, it is due to a coding error, for example the development of a tumor, and such growth often becomes fatal.
Hickel points out that healthy economies are believed to grow by 2-3 percent. annual. The problem is, if the economy really grows at 3 percent. per year it would double in 23 years because the growth is exponential. “The problem is that economic growth is linked to the use of energy and natural resources, and to the production of waste. Unlimited growth could have catastrophic consequences for life on Earth, warns the author of Less is Better.
Who is against nature?
Interestingly, as Hickel points out, more and more people around the world are seeing troubling trends in the capitalist growth fetish. And there are examples to prove this statement not only in the “broken” countries of the West, but also in developing countries.
A 2015 YouGov poll found that 64 percent of the people of Britain view capitalism as unfair. In the US, 55 percent share a similar view. In Germany, a whopping 77 percent. In 2020, the Edelman found Trust Barometer survey found that 56 percent of people in the world agree that capitalism does more harm than good. In India, 74 percent agree with this statement. People, a 2018 Yale University study found that only as many as 70 percent. Americans agree: environmental protection is more important than growth. Such opinions also prevail in traditionally Republican states, including the so-called Deep South “- mentions Hickel on the pages of his book.
The masses are therefore increasingly on the other side, opposing growth advocates at all costs. Hickel emphasizes that such growth is only possible if nature is treated as an object, as a resource, if societies do not recognize that nature has a spirit. According to Hickel, the shift from animism to deep defense opened the way to the degradation of Mother Earth many centuries ago. The natural environment gradually began to be considered only as a backdrop to humanity, following the Christian principle of “take the earth and subdue it,” Hickel says.
The anthropologist does not mince his words when he writes about the relationship between capitalism and nature. “The basic principle of capitalism says: the world is not alive, and certainly not related to us. It’s something we can get and throw away. Capitalism is naturally at war with life as such,” Hickel roars. “Descartes preached that science aims to make us masters and possessors of nature. 400 years later, this ethos is still deeply entrenched in our culture. We treat the world of living organisms as an enemy. When Google executives started a new life sciences company in 2015, they named it Verily, for the word truth. When asked to explain the name, CEO Andy Conrad said only the truth will defeat Mother Nature,” he adds.
Even in the Middle Ages, enjoying life was an important part of human life. Now there is less and less of it in the daily lives of people from all over the world. Hickel emphasizes several times in his book that he is not against economic activity or even economic growth. The anthropologist points out that, for the good of all people and Mother Earth, the fetish of growth should be killed for the sake of growth, which benefits a small group of bankers, politicians and shareholders of the largest corporations.
Hickel also emphasizes that GDP growth alone is not necessary to increase quality of life. This requires efficient income distribution and high-quality public services.
Hickel also emphasizes that GDP growth alone is not necessary to increase quality of life. This requires efficient income distribution and high-quality public services. The simple proof of this is that there are countless very fortunate countries that are not in the group of countries with the highest GDP per capita or not in the group of the fastest growing economies at all. Hickel points out that, for example, life satisfaction is much higher in Finland or Estonia than in the US, and one of the main contributing factors is the high quality of education and health care.
How To Get Away From The Growth Fetish
According to Hickel, a “new Copernican revolution in the economy” is needed. There are now several new economic indicators that could replace GDP, but they are not just indicators, Hickel emphasizes.
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Praise the author of this book for presenting his ideas on how to move away from the GDP fetish. Because just throwing slogans, without concrete proposals, is not enough. It proposes the following steps: moving away from planned obsolescence of products, less advertising opportunities for products and services, evolutionary transition from ownership to use, reduction of food waste, reduction of the activities of environmentally harmful industries (e.g. fossil fuel production, beef production, plastic production), departure from plutocracy in business. “Much of the shareholders of the largest companies are controlled by huge funds BlackRock or Vanguard, which are institutions without any democratic legitimacy. A small group of people has a powerful influence on business practices, requiring profits to be placed above social and environmental interests,” emphasizes Hickel.
“The response to the ecological crisis must be a radical policy change, reducing the consumption of energy and materials. It is essential to switch to renewable energy sources. An economic transformation is needed to a post-capitalist economy focused on human well-being and ecological stability, not on continuous growth. What is also needed is a change in the way of thinking about the relationship between us and the natural world. […] What is needed is post-growth (de-growth), which means that countries, peoples and even minds are decolonized, slowing down work and pace of life. It means a departure from the reification of man and nature, as well as a de-escalation of the ecological crisis. […] What we call an economy is ultimately our material relationship with each other and with the rest of living beings. We have to ask ourselves what these relationships should look like. Do we want them to rely on domination and exploitation or on reciprocity and care’, Hickel summarizes his book.
“Less is Better” is an extremely interesting book that will make you think. Moreover, it is very neatly written, it is a pleasure to read. You can disagree with the author in many places, especially when he talks about colonialism, but it is a book worth recommending. And not just for those interested in economics. Every thinking person should read it, because it can make him think not only about the economy and capitalism, but also about his own life, about his own daily life.