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Degrowth: Paring Down to Rise Up

Updated: Mar 15

Degrowth could be the key to helping us become a more prosperous nation.

We live in a capitalist society, meaning private entities control trade and industries for profit. Capitalism has advanced the world in incredible ways, granting participating nations improved living standards and greater access to consumer goods. However, with such relentless progression comes extreme environmental degradation, economic inequality and, for many, a pervasive sense of meaninglessness.

Economism describes the idea that the ideal life involves working tirelessly in order to amass capital; our values center entirely around status and material things. In capitalist systems, the underpaid and overworked proletariat is kept perpetually poor. Looking at research from the Pew Research Center regarding wealth inequality, the dwindling middle class might earn enough to live comfortably, but their work is often tedious. And despite an excess of material goods, as shown in a report published by academic journal Development and Psychopathology, America’s upper class—particularly its youth—is plagued with serious mental health and substance abuse problems.

Currently, we measure growth in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), which is the sum of money people spend. For a nation to “succeed” by these standards, its citizens must shell out an ever-increasing amount of capital. This is simply not sustainable. America’s steadily increasing GDP is not adequately addressing the millions of Americans who lack access to critical resources. We need a new way to measure progress. 

Degrowth suggests that we reverse our financial momentum and downscale the economy. Instead of accumulating capital, we’ll spend it. This idea may be met with laughter from economists who prioritize financial expansion, yet it directly offers us the opportunity to redistribute surplus funds to the places they’re needed most. Degrowth will address economic stagnation and allow our society to collectively identify and remedy our most pressing issues. 

This concept may be met with resistance from those who feel a degree of entitlement to endless consumption. Isn’t it our right to buy whatever we choose with the money we’ve earned? Perhaps. But, in an increasingly connected world, it’s difficult to turn a blind eye to human rights violations and resource depletion. As was discussed by Dan Ariely in an article for The Atlantic, Americans on both sides of the political spectrum want to see a more equitable nation, so let’s work to make substantial change come to fruition.

Degrowth asks us to collectively revisit what it means to live a good life and redefine what it means to be a prosperous nation. What if we judged a country’s economy not by its production and consumption, but by the well-being of its people? Together, we can choose to enrich the lives of our fellow Americans by utilizing our excess resources. We can find happiness and meaning in helping one another not just survive but thrive.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Ariely, Dan. “Americans Want to Live in a Much More Equal Country (They Just Don't Realize It).” The Atlantic, The Atlantic Monthly Group, 2 Aug. 2012, 

Horowitz, Juliana Menasce, et al. “1. Trends in Income and Wealth Inequality.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 9 Jan. 2020, 

Luthar, Suniya S, et al. "I can, therefore I must": fragility in the upper-middle classes.” Development and Psychopathology, vol. 25,4 Pt 2 (2013): 1529-49. doi:10.1017/S0954579413000758

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