Will everyone get a Ferrari some day?

Sudhirendar Sharma
Even if everyone were to get a Ferrari, it will only be the Fiat of its generation
With Covid-19 having slowed down everything, and with frugality in thoughts and actions set in, the idea of ‘de-growth’ may seem a possibility provided the newfound approach and attitude towards life and life processes persist both at the individual as well as at a societal level. But isn’t resisting growth a risk to economic and social collapse? To pursue it relentlessly may be risky one might wonder – endangering the ecosystems on which economy depends. Despite the classical idea of development been declared dead several times in the past, it continues to persist because ‘Ferrari for all’ is the elusive dream everybody has been made to strive for. Will the world be able to produce enough Ferrari for all, and for all those who are yet to be born? The truth is that not in a foreseeable future?
Even if everyone were to get a Ferrari, it will only be the Fiat of its generation and may do little good to the society at large. It will only make people yearn for something different and more, without any let down in the unending materialistic desires. The reach of markets into aspects of life traditionally governed by non-market values and norms will only rob us from finding the meaning of life individually. Isn’t unending desires the reason for growing anxiety?
Its essence may have existed across traditional cultures through the ages, de-growth has been rechristened by a group of academicians at the Autonomous University of Barcelona to pull the society out from its current abyss. Since it was launched at a global conference in Paris in 2008, de-growth has spread across countries engaging researchers and movements to deliberate and elaborate the idea from diverse perspectives. Confronting the idiom of economism head on, de-growth advocates shrinking of production and consumption with an aim to achieve social justice and ecological continuity.
Spread over four sections, the book is a compilation of easy-to-read essays which argue that the ‘shift’ is indeed possible. It in no way advocates back-to-the-roots journey but suggests learning from indigenous cultures and techniques for paving an autonomous, close-to-nature, and ecological way of life. The challenge is to give expression to indigenous knowledge and traditions that have been oppressed, minimized or subordinated over centuries. However, de-growth can only gain ground provided political strategies support the idea of non-GDP growth.
Taking cue from the Sarkozy Commission (Beyond GDP) many developed countries are toying with the newer ways to measure progress, and incorporation of the concept of Buen Vivir (living well) in the new Constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia only indicates that the idea of ‘de-growth’ in its diverse manifestations is catching on. Offering deep analysis, the book argues for a transformative politics that should support such initiatives aimed at decolonizing the imaginary of growth. De-growth challenges techniques rather than just calling for their control, providing alternative ways of thinking about environment and development.
For new ideas on de-growth like frugality, sobriety, de-materialization and digital commons to sink in, the editors have assembled keywords and concepts to construct a language that can take the discourse on de-growth forward. The book is not prescriptive but suggestive in nature, inviting readers to make their own voyage and reach their own sense of what de-growth means to them. It is a must read for all those who firmly believe that modern economy has reached its dead-end.
Degrowth: A Vocabulary for a New Era
by Giacomo D’Alisa, Federico Demaria & Giorgos Kallis (Eds)
Routledge, London & New York
Extent: 220, Price: $40
(Sudhirendar Sharma is a writer on development issues based in New Delhi, India)