growth

After growth, maturity

I’ve written a fair bit about postgrowth economics, and it’s a term I’ve never been entirely happy with. It’s better than many of the alternatives, as it leaves it open: it is whatever comes after the age of economic growth as our highest ambition. The downside is that it’s not particularly inspiring or aspirational. It’s kind of content-less and neutral.

I learn that, surprise surprise, the Germans may have a better name for it. Postwachstum is the literal translation of postgrowth, and the term that I’ve come across before. But there is an alternative translation, ausgewachsen. That means ‘grown up’.

As Josef Senft writes on the degrowth blog, that has two helpful connotations – that of enough, of having achieved a sufficient amount of growth; and maturity or adulthood. It’s a more fulsome word than postgrowth, and more positive than ‘degrowth’, which is very much an anti-word. (Serge Latouche, a leading proponent of degrowth, says that the word itself is intended as a weapon.) Unfortunately the word doesn’t back-translate into the English very well. Senft has a go, and comes up with – and I warn you, it’s not pretty – ‘adultum’. So that’s not going to catch on.

However, the idea of economic maturity has legs. We’re near enough to that when we say that a country is ‘developed’. Maturity, a grown up economy, is one that has built enough, earned enough, established itself enough to provide a decent way of life for all its citizens. It’s an economy that has arrived.

Economist Noriko Hama takes this view of Japan. To some, Japan’s failure to grow is a disaster. For Hama, it’s something quite different: Japan’s future “could be all about affluence, maturity, refinement, and leisureliness. It could be all about being grown up. A grown up economy that is the envy of the rest of the world. That could be Japan’s position in today’s scheme of things.”

Now that’s a vision of postgrowth that people might be willing to contemplate.

6 comments

  1. You do know Japan is still growing on a per capita basis, it’s declining population is the reason it’s GDP is static.

    We could replicate that but we would need to stop almost all immigration. Who knew the Brexiters were grown up?

    1. Yes, Japan has very low levels of immigration, and has traditionally preferred temporary work schemes over permanent resettlement. If Britain decides to close up its borders, we’ll be making a similar choice, and sacrificing growth for a more homogenous society.

      As far as I know, nobody in any of the Brexit camps (for they are plural, lest we forget) has made that argument. If presented as a choice between growth or immigration controls, it would be interesting to see how people would choose.

    1. Sure, but everything in nature reaches full size, doesn’t it? As nef demonstrated with the hamster:

      So I think there’s a real difference between ongoing development and evolution, and ongoing growth in size.

  2. I like the concept of a mature economy. However, we’ve still got to explain it to people. It needs a short explanatory phrase – ideally of no more than 6 words – that would happily follow it. For example: it might be ‘the Mature economy – fully grown, stable, prosperous and equitable’.

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