Samuel Alexander calls for ‘degrowth‘, ‘an emerging term that designates a radical concept of economic growth,… of planned economic contraction … [where] over-consuming societies begin repaying their ecological debts to the Wild.’ In ‘Earth Jurisprudence And The Ecological Case For Degrowth’ [ewl, 293-302] he observes that real growth is finite, yet our civilization, including our jurisprudence, is built on the faulty foundation of infinite growth. Property law, he writes, supports this fallacy. The liberal conception of humanity places limits on the individual, but allows for infinite growth–no limits–for the state.
The great philosopher of liberalism, John Stuart Mill, in 1848, recognized the limits to growth. More recently, Herman Daly’s Nobel-winning economic work recognizes the limits to growth too. Why, then, do we persist in the dangerous fallacy of growth? Because it is assumed, says Alexander, that technical and allocative efficiencies will allow us to consume ever-more. But we have reached and exceeded these efficiencies. We are no longer growing. Instead, we are causing great economic, social, and environmental harm. Have we no alternatives?
We do. Over 160 years ago, Mill proposed a solution that still has merit. He proposed an economic and social steady state theory. Based on the modern work of Herman Daly, Alexander includes zero population growth and the Index of Sustainable Economy Welfare (ISEW) as part of steady state. Infinite growth of the human economy is based on anthropomorphism. In the natural world, cancers and viruses have an infinite growth model, but they are self-limiting because they kill their host, their life-support system. Are we a run-away cancer, or can we change our laws and economies to a steady state model?
In 2008 the First International Degrowth Conference was held in Paris. Degrowth, while diverse in many policies, allows the poorest states to grow economically and socially while limiting the economies of the rich. Called ‘right-sizing’, it decouples the notion that individual happiness depends on community economic infinite growth. In so doing, it strives for social justice. ‘Time has come,’ Alexander writes, ‘for the over-consuming nations to give up growth, for it is looking ever-more like an act of violence.’ To achieve this, Alexander proposes changes to property law, including that we democratize corporate structures, devise land use rules that benefit all, and increase taxes to correct/redistribute disparities, better fund public services, and internalize externals to reveal true costs. Such are the economics of happiness.