Why “Less is more”

Today, I am sharing with you the English version of a book review which I wrote originally in German for the blog postwachstum.de with the editor’s permit. You can find the German version here.

Start with praise from Maja Göpel and a great vision

In the German version of Jason Hickel’s book “Weniger ist mehr – Warum der Kapitalismus den Planeten zerstört und wir ohne Wachstum glücklicher sind” (Less is more – How degrowth will save the world), Maja Göpel (author of “Unsere Welt neu denken” (Rethinking our world), among others) sums up my first impression pretty well in the preface: “If you have not yet met Jason Hickel, then let me assure you that there could hardly be a better person to provide the debate about our future with the foundations that make a serious discussion of solutions possible” (Hickel 2022: 9; own translation).

To connect the future, present and past, Jason Hickel starts with a personal story from his childhood in Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). In those days, there were huge numbers of insects that had to be removed from the cars after every journey. Nowadays, the windows are empty of insects – which is a bad sign and happened in Germany in exactly the same way, as my parents told me. In the introduction, he leaves it up to sustainability-conscious people to decide to skip his descriptions of the ecological crises and come back to it a few pages later – so I only read it crosswise. As we all know, the facts are not uplifting. For the less informed or those who still want to see the part, it is a helpful summary.

Hickel closes the intro with a vision of being surrounded by insects again in his old age and the whole world blossoming again. On the one hand, this shows what Hickel thinks is possible, and on the other hand, that positive visions can connect internationally and give strength for the way ahead.

“More is less” – Why our world has developed the way it has

The graphs showing how human population, resource consumption, emissions, etc. have grown exponentially since the Industrial Revolution are now widely known. However, Jason Hickel explains in a very vivid way that from a historical perspective these developments were psychologically and economically triggered much earlier.

It is about how people were taught over the centuries to regard nature as external and inferior to humans and, from the Enlightenment onwards, to separate body and mind. It is about colonialism and how Europeans, or European capitalists, first exploited their own farmers and then increasingly ‘resorted’ to people and resources in other countries to accumulate more and more capital. This is a model that continues in our economy today under a different title. He describes the negative consequences of ‘growthism’ and why technology need not be a saviour and efficiency alone does not bring progress.

Some of this was familiar to me, but from an anthropological-historical point of view there were many interesting new aspects in it that are worth thinking about. The development since 1300 in the direction of our current way of dealing with the world has never been shown so clearly to me anywhere else, nor why we will not inherently overcome these crises with our capitalist system.

“Less is more” – There are ways out of the drama: we just have to get started

Fortunately, Jason Hickel does not stop at his very successful derivation and description of the problem, but explains in the second part of the book in an equally fact-based way why capitalism and “growthism” are not at all necessary for a good life (in relation to the oversaturated Global North). Then he explains measures that should not be new to those familiar with post-growth and degrowth. What was new for me, however, was partly the argumentation on how these approaches work individually and how they are connected. And for people who are not yet familiar with the discourse, it is a very clear introduction and explanation without too much academic vocabulary.

At the end, Hickel deals with our relationship to the ‘environment’ or ‘nature’, which especially in animistic worldviews, in contrast to Western thought, is so not separate from us and with what we can and should therefore learn both in language and behaviour from such – mostly indigenous – approaches.

If I could recommend just one book out of all the degrowth/post-growth literature I know of that a person should definitely read, it would be this one by Jason Hickel. The book’s title might not convince the capitalism-oriented masses, but the arguments inside are of compelling logic and also formulated in a very reader-friendly way. It is worth taking a look at the book in English or translated to another language: Both for people who are already familiar with the topic and for those who are ‘new’ to it. A full recommendation for this read!

Reference: Hickel, Jason (2022). Weniger ist mehr. Warum der Kapitalismus den Planeten zerstört und wir ohne Wachstum glücklicher sind. München, oekom verlag. 

in English: Hickel, Jason (2020). Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World. London, Penguin Books.

Source of header image: Bild von Sabine auf Pixabay

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