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Degrowth Beyond an Anti-Capitalist Argument: A Short Reflection

By Ishan Datey

March 13, 2024

In Response to Degrowth as the Imperative in the Age of the Polycrisis

Kohei Saito provides a compelling argument for the necessities of degrowth. He acutely points out the current pitfalls of modern society and the polycrisis, identifying the issues of exploitation, consolidation, and inequality. The argument of the essay, however, seems to shift as it goes on, going from “here is why degrowth is necessary” to “capitalism is bad thus degrowth is necessary.” The difference is subtle, but I don’t think the essay does, nor can it do, enough to convince readers that capitalism is the root issue. I would argue cultures of inequality, exploitation, and consolidation stem from a legacy of human greed and cruelty.

Systems of colonization, empire, and conquest have created and perpetuated such vices long before capitalism, and capitalism seems less a creator of these root issues but a proponent of them instead. As Saito says, many often conflate markets with capitalism, amongst other ideals such as competition and freedom from government control. In a situation where there is no one definition for capitalism, it is confusing how to separate corrupt actors from an inefficient system.

I do believe, however, that degrowth still does provide solutions for the issues discussed above. Moving away from the false narratives of GDP and focusing on social security and prosperity, reducing consumption, and promoting collaboration, these practices will most certainly alleviate the burdens of inequality today. Students and youth especially play a key role through advocacy and action. Making clear youth stances and views for the future through advocacy pressures current leaders—for if today’s leaders won’t do it now, tomorrow’s leaders will get it done instead. Replicating measure of social success in our own gatherings will also serve as proven effectiveness for these GDP-alternative measurements. University clubs focusing on social factors such as number and size of group interactions and quality of gatherings rather than just trophies for competitive teams or raw size for general clubs is but one example of this.

The ultimate limiting factor is the morality of society. Moving away from exploitation and consolidation requires an entire social understanding of how those systems evolve in the first place. It requires dismantling centuries of ingrained individualistic thinking and promises for success in a profit-first society and changing the definitions of what is success. I believe overcoming these ingrained ideas are not only feasible but also just, allowing humanity to overcome our root issues and “regrow” together.

Ishan Datey (SFS’25) is a junior in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.