By Brototi Roy:
It’s that time of the year again. The annual Rail Budget is already out, and the Union Budget of the new government is just hours away from being presented by Arun Jaitley. The common man is geared up to talk figures and percentages, of deficits and inflations; all set to listen and comment about the growth of the world economy, the national gross income, the growth percentages per sector in India, and the changes that the budget will bring. I remember, as a little child every year on the day the budget was presented, I would come back from school and every television in the block would be tuned in on the same channel. I remember my dad calling home during lunch hours to ask about the highlights (this was the era before smart phones), and I remember the lengthy debates on the growth targets and prospects of the new financial year over dinner with family and friends. And I don’t think I would be much out of track to say that the situation is more or less the same in most Indian homes.
We start valuing GDP and the economy’s growth long before we have any formal knowledge about what GDP actually stands for, what it consists of or what its limitations are. And believe me, GDP has a lot of limitations, which any first year undergraduate economics student in India could elaborate on. But, it has been so ingrained into us that we are unable to even consider that growth in GDP is not the ultimate answer to all our economy’s problems. Sure, we applaud Bhutan for developing the happiness index, but we still claim that a “double digit” growth by the Modi government will solve all our problems.
Hence, it was very refreshing for me to attend a conference last September that spoke of the new, but rapidly spreading concept of “degrowth”. The Degrowth Movement, started as a social movement in France in 2001, and accepted as an academic research area in 2008, has been gaining impetus over the years. It was very inspirational to realize that many stalwarts of our society, from academia, civil society, the corporate world and media, are questioning the relevance of the power given to GDP.
However, it is essential to note that “degrowth” doesn’t imply “negative GDP”. Degrowth can be defined as reduction in the production and consumption processes to increase human well-being and reduce environmental and ecological degradation.
According to Dr. Vandana Shiva, an eminent environmental activist and recipient of the prestigious Sydney Peace Prize in 2010, GDP is a narrow concept which excludes the services of homemakers, and subsistence farmers, and does not take into account externalities.
Dr Jayati Ghosh, a renowned economist from JNU, stated that we must look for a new indicator that captures the policy maker’s attention, as an alternative to GDP, whose consumption and work patterns do not disrupt ecological systems. Ashish Kothari, founder of Kalpavriksh, discussed the concept of “radical ecological democracy”, which is a grassroots concept of local self-governance in villages, taking decisions based on social justice and equity.
As I heard more and more speakers put up alternative perspectives, I realized GDP growth is one of those terms that we all talk about, but don’t really seem to grasp the concept. In today’s world, where climate change cannot be disputed any longer and global warming is causing such natural disasters all over the world, do we really need to hunger for “double-digit” growth without looking at the consequences it will have on the environment and the ecology? Shouldn’t we instead be looking for alternatives that increase the well being of the society and result in holistic development of the citizens without compromising the planet? I live in the world’s most polluted city, which is also the heart of the world’s largest democracy, and I wonder why can’t we shift our focus to a more sustainable way of progress; what is the growth for anyway?