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Economy

The Folly Of 'Degrowth' Economics — A View From The Global South

Those touting degrowth for the sake of the planet should remember that the majority of the earth's population has yet to taste a fraction of the material prosperity now blamed for destroying the natural world.

The Folly Of 'Degrowth' Economics — A View From The Global South

Young children play soccer in Barrancabermeja, Colombia.

Reinaldo Spitaletta

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — A Colombian poet once said that to keep the peace in this country, people had to be kept fed. But to do so, profound changes need to be made that will tackle the causes of misery in a place like Colombia. That means industrializing the countryside, creating new fronts in employment, and, above all, developing that thing called capitalism.

James Lovelock, a pioneer of environmentalism, observed years ago that the friends of the earth had their heart in the right place, but not so much in their head. The industrialized world, he said, needn't yank itself back to primitive farming but rather the poorer countries should first industrialize their farming.

This beautiful and long-suffering homeland of ours remains today in the grip of a residual feudalism, with a countryside that grapples systematically, and fearfully, with such regular practices like paramilitaries grabbing fertile plots.

Growing calls to pursue a policy of degrowth in the world's advanced economies jibe very little with life in these parts.


Prior to any calls on the privileged of this world to cut consumption, surely the poorer countries must first strengthen and modernize their economies, set their farming and manufacturing in motion and break the chains of oppression and dependency.

That is the relationship we have had so far with the United States.

Neither Neoliberalism nor degrowth

Neoliberalism and its unfettered trade and money-making for big firms and a tiny minority has been the agent of massive impoverishment worldwide, especially in those places they used to call the Third World. In the 1970s, India was a land of hunger, where thousands died of famine. This began to subside with the coming of Indian agronomist Swaminathan and his Green Revolution, which introduced high-yield wheat and rice to the country. He touted freedom of speech as the best defense against hunger, which he deemed to be not natural but political.

Should the United States and Europe grow less, so our economies can be on the same level?

So the solution today may not be what Colombia's new Minister of Mines and Energy Irene Vélez proposes in demanding that other countries start shrinking their economic models, but to boost production and development here, after decades of our submitting to the manipulation and demands of the IMF and other agencies. And in any case, who would pay attention to a country of Colombia's stature?

Does the minister want the United States and European countries to grow less, so our economies can be on the same level?

The idea of degrowth began with the theories of economist Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen in the 1970s. It was controversial and prompted criticisms — from the biochemist Moisés Wasserman, for example. He observed that an economic theory wasn't validated simply "because someone proposed it and I like it. You have put it next to facts, models and calculations, or it will remain in the realm of economic fiction."

Modest shop made of found or recycled wood in a Colombian slum

Ton Koene/ZUMA Wire/ZUMA

More wealth, and more equitable distribution of wealth

The most urgent move in Colombia might well be a fairer distribution of existing wealth and rational production methods to help extract so many socio-economic sectors from a state of paralysis and underdevelopment. Let us first ensure that all, or at least the majority, of our citizens have a full belly and a contented heart. We may also have to nurture a resilient spirit, a determination to fight neo-colonialism and a love of independence and freedom.

Years ago, the Brazilian writer Jorge Amado wrote that "leaders and heroes are empty, mad, arrogant, hateful and malicious. They lie when they claim to be the people's interpreters and speak in its name. The standard they bear is of death, and to survive, they need oppression and violence."

He knew a thing or two because apart from being a wonderful writer, he was in the Brazilian Communist Party.

We might first urge a democratization of our economy, culture and education.

History may well have shown this to be relevant to all leaders, whether they're from the Left or the Right. Who, Amado asked, could "distinguish between a hero and a murderer, or a leader and a tyrant?" Think of the injustices we have seen in our own country: the "the extra-judicial killings of civilians," land expulsions and the multiple ways in which the weak are squashed time and again. Instead of waiting for those who have harmed the world so much to tighten their belts, let us nurture the seeds of humanism on our land.

Vain and idealistic though it may sound, we might first urge a democratization of our economy, culture and education. We should pursue "growth" — as a people — in the face of so many kinds of famine and shortages.

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