The Negation of Growth

A small minority of economists is at present beginning to question how much further “growth” will be possible, since infinite growth in a finite environment is an obvious impossibility; but even they cannot get away from the purely quantitative growth concept. Instead of insisting on the primacy of qualitative distinctions, they simply substitute non-growth for growth, that is to say, one emptiness for another.

It is of course true that quality is much more difficult to “handle” than quantity, just as the exercise of judgement is a higher function than the ability to count and calculate. Quantitative differences can be more easily grasped and certainly more easily defined than qualitative differences; their concreteness is beguiling and gives them the appearance of scientific precision, even when this precision has been purchased by the suppression of vital differences of quality. The great majority of economists are still pursuing the absurd ideal of making their “science” as scientific and precise as physics, as if there were no qualitative difference between mindless atoms and men made in the image of God.

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This is the danger of the term "degrowth": that it projects the discourse around abolishing the growth ideology back down to the pre-existing axis of less < - > more, with no room for nuance about qualitative changes that can come about with a turn away from the solely "economic".

There's something Taoist in this statement: that to name something means also to name its negation, and to escape the paradigm of the name altogether one needs to revert to a primordial state without names.


small-is-beautiful Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich. 2001. Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as If People Mattered. Random House. ↩︎ 1