Global Transition: From growth to degrowth and top-down to bottom-up

First published in the Deep Transformation Network

People have been getting poorer in most Western advanced economies since the early 2000s. With the same fate now starting to overtake emerging market countries too, global prosperity has turned down. One way of describing this process is “de-growth”.
Tim Morgan

We are well used to having a growth mindset.  Even those who dislike growth see their dislike from a growth mindset.  Degrowth changes that.  There will be no more growth.

There is no consensus about the meaning of the word “degrowth”.  It is generally and wrongly understood as a policy idea – how things should be.

Degrowth is the opposite of growth.  It is happening now.  Albeit hidden by Government borrowing which creates an impression of growth.

Dr Tim Morgan’s blog Surplus Energy Economics provides convincing evidence that the global economy stopped growing in the early 2000s.   A view shared by an increasing number of economists and free-thinkers. But rejected by those who have a vested interest in growth. In other words, most of us.

As George Monbiot has said, “perpetual growth on a finite planet leads inexorably to environmental calamity”.

We can now dispel that possibility.  Perpetual growth is no longer possible because the world is now in a state of degrowth.

The idea of a “steady-state economy” also has to be abandoned.

The essence of degrowth is the decline of top-down hierarchical organisations and ways of seeing things, and the emergence of bottom-up grassroots, local doings and ways of seeing things.

It is important to understand the two fundamentally different ways of seeing things.  From the top-down and the bottom up.

Growth was the dominant culture for over 200 years.  It was a top-down way of organising things enabled by an economy powered by a supply of surplus energy.

In top-down organisations, politicians and private sector bosses and their minions enhanced their positions by creating layers of bureaucracy, each of which is beholden to the layer above.  It is a natural empire-building process driven by individuals seeking the power that comes with having more minions and related spending.

Degrowth is a bottom-up process that occurs because the economy is unavoidably shrinking as a result of the declining surplus of fossil fuels.

It is a process in which top-down organisations shrink and eventually disappear as a result of de-layering. At the same time, individual and cooperative activities develop from the grassroots.

The activities (doings) undertaken by bottom-up communities will be quite different from the formal processes (aims, objectives, evaluation of options and policies) undertaken by top-down organisations.

The future will not just be a replacement of power from top to bottom.  The two cultures and associated mindsets are quite different.

As an example, the top-down health and social care organisations which exist in the UK will not exist once the (paradigm) change has taken place. The agonising now going on about how to reorganise and fund these organisations to cope with growth can be seen as symptoms of the need for transition.  It remains to be seen what will emerge from the bottom-up in response to de-growth.

As the top-down economy shrinks, new lifestyles and local communities will emerge.  I believe they will be family-based life-affirming cultures.

The process can be seen as the top-down culture of growth, based on imagined quantitative measures of everything, being replaced naturally by local cultures where the quality of life is all-important.

Quality instead of quantity.

A natural evolution from a predominant mindset based on growth to an ecological mindset.  Maybe leading to the emergence of new indigenous knowledge? A different kind of growth.

From a life of top-down glumness to the “always smiling” life of the Ladakhi people, before tourists arrived.  As described by Helena Norberg-Hodge in Ancient Cultures. 

From my home in rural England, I sense that bottom-up doings are already happening. Mostly hard to see because they are individual and family-based.

If I am right it will, in the end, be a nicer future than the way things are now.



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