Can capitalism survive without growth?

The pursuit of growth has brought real prosperity for many people. Can you ignore that?

Thanks to the economic growth of the past few decades, many people have fared much better than previous generations could have imagined. This applies not only to Germany, but also globally over the past 30 years. Never before have so many people been so well off materially as they are today - in absolute and relative terms. But if growth stumbles again and again, if growth has dramatic negative ecological and in the meantime also social side effects, then referring to the pleasant experiences of the past is no longer useful. Change is then necessary: ​​in thinking, in action.

Does a private company or a state have to keep expanding and getting bigger?

For companies, it depends on what kind of company they are and in which environment they operate. A start-up certainly needs a growth phase so that it can stabilize. An established craft business probably has no growth strategy and does not need one. Many medium-sized companies also do not have a clearly formulated growth strategy. Growth is more like something that happens because you are successful. And companies sometimes also shrink because the market in which they operate is shrinking. The growth narrative is above all one of the big business. As far as the state is concerned, we tend to see concerns about too much government activity and too much debt. The end of growth seems to be met with more acceptance, even if the national budgets of course continue to grow. The inevitability only arises when growth thinking is unquestioned as a basic assumption in every decision. To break free from it is a great challenge, probably the decisive challenge for the affluent societies in the 21st century.

That almost sounds like a quasi-religious belief.

That is also the case. Economic growth is the unquestioned conditio-sine-qua-non formula. As Angela Merkel once put it 15 years ago: Without growth, everything is nothing. Of course, this has nothing to do with the fact that an economy cannot function without growth, but rather with the fact that we have become so used to growth in recent decades that we can no longer imagine another world. Economic policy advice and media reporting on the economy have also played a not inconsiderable role in ensuring that "growth above everything" applies.

Have we made ourselves too dependent on growth?

As far as our mental flexibility is concerned, certainly. We just have to look at how our social security systems are financed - namely through taxes on incomes that will continue to rise in the future. A change of course would be advisable here, in order to at least make public finances somewhat less dependent on growth. Taxes on wealth and on environmental consumption are a better choice than taxes on labor income.

What are the limits to growth?

Economically, we have been in other growth periods since the economic crisis of 2008, after all the largest since 1929. The global economy is no longer growing with the same potential as it was before the crisis, and the risk of similar crises in the future is increasing. From a responsible ethical point of view alone, it would be advisable to become less dependent on growth. That does not mean that we should not continue to try to green the growth we have and make it more environmentally friendly. To rely solely on the fact that growth and the environment will be reconciled seems to me too naive and too risky.

How do we escape a world so dedicated to the concept?

The easiest way is a permanent lack of growth due to ecological and economic limitations - see climate change, the financial and economic crisis of 2008. So through crises. It's not a pleasant way to go, but we know from history that major social changes are mostly triggered by crises. The more difficult way is through a careful decoupling of quality of life and growth, through a restructuring of the social security systems in the direction of less dependence on growth and, the bad word, a change in values ​​in which growth is no longer thought of economically, but an increase in knowledge, experience, joy, Friendship means satisfaction.

Would post-growth, the reduction of consumption and production, be an alternative to the current system?

With the post-growth economy there is a whole bunch of concepts of what a new world beyond old growth constraints can look like. There are certainly no patent remedies for all of our problems, but some basic convictions point in the right direction: not leave everything to the market or the state, but rather the third sector, strengthening civil society; enable local economic cycles; Increase taxes on socially and ecologically harmful behavior and lower taxes on desirable behavior; introduce alternative forms of calculating prosperity in the state and economy; Making social security systems less dependent on growth by shifting taxation on labor income in the direction of wealth and environmental consumption; And very important: do not automatically call for more market or more state, but put people and their communities in the foreground.