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Spring 2021 Reading Group

Beyond “Economic Growth”: Practice, Theory, and Potential

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Mainstream development economics holds that increasing nations’ GDP is required to improve peoples’ well-being. But this growth obsession is no longer working. The global climate crisis shows how the Earth itself cannot take it. Toxic wastes are mounting, while frenzied extraction is eroding the land and polluting the seas. Mega-cities, devoid of adequate infrastructure, are exanding on every continent. Growth-propelled inequalities are spiraling. Good work is in short supply and low-paid workers are undermined by short-cuts in job safety and speed-up on the production line. In the face of these mounting forces, theorists and activists from many sectors are pushing back against the mantra of growth-at-all-costs through a new “de-growth” consensus.

The practical challenges of de-growth are both great and converging. How can political/economic/legal worlds be linked at the local, regional, national, and even global levels, so as to enable communities to thrive? How can extraction and production be orchestrated so as to make what we need and want without flooding us with what we don’t? How can the land be shared, preserved, and used so as to provide food security, living space, well-being, and more? How can just financial institutions be created on the community level? Promising experiments in all these spheres are now under way. At the same time global networks of scholars are creating forward-looking theories to undergird this hands-on work.

In this Reading Group we will map the literatures in the emerging de-growth field. We will start by surveying several examples of de-growth experiments in production, housing, food, and community justice. We will then survey key theoretical interventions in the domains of de-growth, post-development, and Buen Vivir through key readings. We will then consider de-growth themes in human rights doctrines and national constitutions. Finally, we will consider strategies of leading de-growth social movements.

Note: This reading group will meet on the following dates: 2/2, 2/16, 3/10, 3/23, 3/30, 4/13.