Contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Degrowth"
A more coherent conceptual framework for the economy is clearly needed to inform direction and decision-making by both governmental regulators and self-regulating market actors. In this context, the semiotics of degrowth are limited because it connotes a limiting negative vision (what not to do) rather than a generative positive vision (what to do) for the economy.
A more positive vision can be found, in my opinion, in the analogy of an organic body. The economy is in many respects a complex living global system—like a single organic body. Organic bodies go through developmental stages. They require self-regulation at the cellular level and macro-regulation at the systems level. They require coordination. The gross accumulation of resources in different tissues and organs is a sign of disease. From these simple metaphors, one can derive a profound positive vision of the economy that can motivate change at the levels we are discussing.
There is, of course, a need to translate these metaphorical concepts into actual economic policies and practices, and that is not simple work. But that work can only proceed, and will only motivate action, move populations, and attract institutional support, within a coherent conceptual frame. I doubt degrowth provides an adequate overarching frame in this regard. It also does not make sense within the frame of a living organic body, which seems to me to be the most coherent overarching frame for thinking about the economy.
It should be noted, of course, that unlimited material growth also does not make sense within the frame of an organic body. In this context, we would do well to ask what kind of processes need to characterize a maturing body—or a maturing global economy characterized by organic interdependence.