22nd June, 2023
This article extracts its ideas from two recently published books, the first being “Slowdown or Perish: The Economics of Degrowth” by Timothée Parrique, published on September 16, 2023, and the second, “Féminicène” by Véra Nikolski, published on May 3, 2023.
Parrique outlines the ineffectiveness and paradoxes of economic growth, while Nikolski argues that economic growth, despite its flaws, has leveraged the emancipation of women. This article will review the perspectives of both authors, commencing with the socio-economic disadvantage of the GDP-growth economic model, followed by its controversial socio-economic advantages for women.
The concept of degrowth originates from the detrimental–social, environmental, and political–effects of GDP growth-driven economies. GDP is an erroneous indicator of the prosperity and wealth of a country. For instance, tranquility, environmental protection, or familial ties; are not considered. However, because they spur spending, GDP counts pollution, crime, health expenditures associated with smoking, and environmental disasters as "growth."
Degrowth would completely reshape our GDP growth-driven economies. The value associated with various jobs, an individual’s relationship to time, productivity, and the quality of life indicators would all be altered. Many claim Degrowth would inevitably result in lower standards of living. However, this pessimistic vision of degrowth inaccurately portrays its objectives. A degrowth model would pay close attention to ecosystems and the social fabric of society, two characteristics that growth models have failed to acknowledge.
Ecosystems and Sociosystems
Ecosystems enable pollination, water supply/sanitation, and climate regulation. Likewise, social systems–or reproductive forces–deliver crucial services and regulate social lives. The support of parents, the presence of friends, and the help of community members all benefit the functioning of societies and their economies.
Social systems create a web of fragile and necessary social interactions. Without this infrastructure of social relations enabling people to rest and grow as individuals, economic growth would not be possible. Feminist economists have compared the limits of ecosystems to the limits of our socio-systems. Both spheres have boundaries and demonstrate the impossibility of perpetual economic growth.
Producing are Produced
GDP growth is reliant on the production of services and goods, which also falls upon factors of production: land, labor, capital, and entrepreneurship. Writing a novel requires a computer, time, and competencies acquired through education. However, other elements contribute to the novel’s creation: friends, family, proofreaders, and discussions sparking ideas and inspiration. Writing a novel does not just depend on having access to a piece of paper and a pen.
Rather than solely looking at factors of production for the conception of a product or a service; the reproductive forces surrounding us should be acknowledged. Reproductive forces consist of bettering working conditions and all contribute to the functioning of our social lives, such as; domestic house chores, the collaboration between family members, reciprocity, volunteer work, and activism. For those conceiving products made from themselves, those products were also produced by a network of people and interactions surrounding and raising them.
Destructive and Dependent Economic Growth
Unfortunately, reproductive forces do not benefit from economic growth; they are taken for granted. As a result, it becomes increasingly harder for individuals to find the time to take care of others and themselves. For example, despite the importance of rest for the sake of sustained productivity, GDP-driven economic growth requires the constant attempt to surpass the budget of time that individuals allocate to their social life. Ironically, economic growth is reliant on social interactions and feeds into the deterioration of social interactions.
Feminism and Degrowth
Contemporary feminists may disapprove of the concept of reproductive forces due to its association with the role women have provided as nurturers. Rather than neglecting these biological differences between men and women, Nikolski provides a lengthy explanation of the differences in strength between men and women.
In the past, a pregnant woman was less fit to hunt, or to go to war, than her male counterpart. However, recently the GDP-driven economy and the control women have gained over their bodies, thanks to methods of contraception, have allowed women to surpass their biological characteristics. Physical strength and the ability to have many children are no longer as crucial in our societies today as they were in the past.
Unlike ecofeminists, who argue that “the domination of women and the degradation of the environment are consequences of patriarchy and capitalism,” Nikolski urges young women to pursue studies in science and engineering. The consequences of climate change have guided some to believe that technology will save humanity. Parrique argues that this constant race toward technological progress to accelerate the production capacity of our society is counterproductive. Nikolski's attachment to technological innovation resides in her materialist understanding of society and her belief that capitalism leveraged opportunities women could not fathom in the past.
Undeniably, society's current adherence to a capitalist model is unsustainable. Nikolski speaks of the climate crisis and the likelihood of new emerging diseases. She sustains a Malthusian perspective and believes losing children will once again be a usual phenomenon and will injure ideals of perceiving men and women as equals. Hence, according to Nikolski, women should be vigilant and remind themselves that a common aim toward economic growth, created and sustained by constant technological innovation, has contributed to liberating women from their biological chains.
Comparing Nikolski and Parrique’s books allows a greater perspective on both author’s visions of radical societal changes. The extent of issues our world faces today leads to the powerless feeling of impossibility in the face of change.
Parrique provides a vision founded on our traditional understanding of economics and unveils its theoretical flaws. Nikolski’s area of interest is a lot more specific and retraces the history of feminism while pointing out the progress that must be sustained and should not be taken for granted. However, she does not address the prevailing and worsened struggles faced by indigenous women and women of color. Her Westernized vision of feminism is not wrong but remains limited.
Capitalism has helped women move away from their biological attributes but it has worsened the living conditions of women simultaneously.
In Parrique’s book, the assessment of reproductive forces is a powerful analysis that should be made more important but not delegated primarily to women. Likewise, science and engineering should not be seen as incompatible with a degrowth economic model. The changes in society that are needed should be meant to serve society as a whole. Science and technology have benefited the health and well-being of many, and a degrowth economic model is founded on those same objectives.
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