And The Next Big Thing Is... Degrowth?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Charles Hugh-Smith of OfTwoMinds blog,

This is not doom-and-gloom for society--it is only doom-and-gloom for the current unsustainable arrangement (Plan A).

The Grand Narrative of the past few centuries goes something like this: from religious authority to secular authority, from agriculture to industrial, from rural to urban, from local to global, from periphery to center, from decentralized to centralized, from low-density energy to high-density energy (from wood to coal to oil/natural gas), from industrial to communication technology, from gold to fiat currencies, from linear to non-linear (complex/fractal), from local scarcity and high cost to global abundance, from islands of prosperity to continents of prosperity, from cash to credit, from collateral to leverage,from productive to consumerist and from sustainable to unsustainable.

Many of these linear trends are running out of oxygen or reversing. Rigid hierarchies are being disrupted by self-organizing systems, centralization is being disrupted by decentralization, lower density alternative energy is distributed rather than concentrated, commodity costs are rising globally due to demand outstripping supply and leveraged credit is destabilizing financial systems across the globe.

In the past few decades, the growth narrative has depended on "the Next Big Thing" --the new disruptive technology that drives wealth and job creation.

In the early 20th century, the next big things were plentiful, and they clustered around transport and communication: autos, highways, aircraft, radio, telephony and most recently the Internet.

The progress of technologies tends to track an S-Curve, with a slow gestation (experimentation that drives rapid evolution of innovations), a period of widespread adoption and technological leaps, and then a maturation phase in which advancements are refinements rather than leaps.

Air travel is a good example: the leap from open-cockpit aircraft of the 1910s to the long-distance comfort of the DC-3 in the 1930s was enormous, as was the leap from the prop-driven DC-3 to the greater capacity and speed of the 707 jet airliner.

But since the advent of the Boeing 727 in 1964 and the jumbo-jet 747 in 1969, very little about the passenger experience of flight has changed (or has changed for the worse): the envelope of speed is little changed, and efficiency has improved, but these are mostly invisible to the passengers.

My 1977 Honda Accord was extremely safe, reliable, powerful, efficient, comfortable, etc. Improvements in the past 37 years since have been modest in these fundamental technologies. (I actually prefer the smaller, older, less luxurious Accords.)

Once computers reached the Mac OS X/Windows XP level, improvements have been of marginal utility. The lack of blockbuster medications--and the skepticism regarding the efficacy and cost of existing blockbuster meds--raise the same question: maybe the low-hanging fruit of present technologies have all been picked.

What Happens After the Low-Hanging Fruit Has Been Picked? (April 2, 2014)

No More Industrial Revolutions, No More Growth? (December 27, 2012)

The costs of our lifestyle continue to rise, due to financialization, cartel/fiefdom skimming, higher energy costs, bureaucratic bloat and related systemic causes. At the same time, more of our collective consumption is being funded with debt, which is another way of saying that present consumption is being paid for with future income.

For the past two centuries, each Next Big Thing magically created more wealth and more jobs. The progression has been straightforward: production moves to lower-labor cost areas or is automated/mechanized, and labor moves to providing higher-value services.

What if we've run out of Next Big Things that generate more jobs? What if the next big thing is Degrowth, i.e. consuming less and doing more with less? This is a problem, as the Status Quo has optimized only one pathway: higher consumption, costs and debt.Any reduction in any of these three collapses the system.

TEDx Tokyo: The "De" Generation (8 minutes) (de-ownership, de-materialism, de-corporatism)

Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption (May 9, 2013)

The American Model of "Growth": Overbuilding and Poaching November 19, 2013

When Conventional Success Is No Longer Possible, Degrowth and the Black Market Beckon(February 7, 2014)

Labor-saving software/communication technology has chewed through much of production and is now feeding ravenously on the service sector. As costs inexorably rise, enterprise has only one real way to reduce costs: reduce labor. As a result, the current Big Thing--the world-wide web--is the first technology that is not creating more jobs than it eliminates.

Many smart people retain the faith that technology always creates more jobs than it destroys, but if we look at our daily lives, I see little evidence to support this faith. Thanks to technology, sole proprietors in information/design businesses can create the same output that took multiple people just 20 years ago.

Russ in Redding: The Human Face of The End of Work (September 2, 2011)

America's Social Recession: Five Years and Counting (August 28, 2013)

The Ten Best Employers To Work For (Peak Employment) (March 28, 2013)

The Python That Ate Your Job (December 11, 2013)

In my view, the Status Quo has no Plan B, not just from habit and the desire of those in power to retain power; we collectively have a failure of imagination. We cannot imagine a world that consumes less, generates fewer conventional jobs and reduces debt rather than creates more debt. The only strategy left in a systemic failure of imagination is to do more of what has failed spectacularly.

Why the Status Quo Is Doomed (June 27, 2013)

A Degrowth economy is not only entirely feasible in my view, it is the only way forward. The low-hanging fruit of Next Big Things have been picked, and wearable computing (Google glasses, etc.) is simply not a global growth engine. Robotic vehicles will eradicate millions of jobs without creating any more jobs at all; manufacturing self-driving cars will add very little labor to the manufacturing process.

Wages are no longer an adequate means of distributing the surplus of an economy. But this is not doom-and-gloom for society--it is only doom-and-gloom for the current unsustainable arrangement (Plan A). Plan B is actually a better plan, though few are able to see that yet.

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GetZeeGold's picture



The bigger cycle...


From bondage to spiritual faith,
From spiritual faith to great courage,
From courage to liberty,
From liberty to abundance,
From abundance to selfishness,
From selfishness to complacency,
From complacency to apathy,
From apathy to dependency, <----YOU ARE HERE
From dependency back again to bondage."

Headbanger's picture

This is the same thing guys like Kunstler have been saying for years.

And so we're going back to a "less is more" way of life and get out from under these feudal assholes ruining us!

GetZeeGold's picture



The bad news is.....we are they.


A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over a loss of fiscal responsibility, always followed by a dictatorship.


Wonder what parts of Obamacare are going to changed by edict next week? Stay tuned and find out.

SafelyGraze's picture

what we need is a set of large-scale investment projects that can spur the economy

things like aerial delivery of goods, right to your door

things like fast, efficient public transportation between and within every city and town

things like fusion energy for all humankind

things like the end of poverty

things like autonomous police and military 'helpers'

things like genetic modification and engineering

together, we can move forward together.

DaddyO's picture

Bravo, but please don't think this will be the next big thing.


new game's picture

GZG is firing on all cylinders today! good day to get some work done in the back 40!

toady's picture

I.have all my sprouts in the windowsill and see the first ones are coming up. Lottsa work this winter/spring,  trying to clear another acre so we have 3 under cultivation. It keeps the teenagers busy.

The two memes for me are ssustainable v unsustainable & independence v dependent.

jbvtme's picture

read an article about a "farmer" who fed 150 people on 1.5 acres?

DaddyO's picture

Start here for the most comprehensive method of market gardening.

I have been using his methods for many years.


cro_maat's picture

Thanks for starting my day with a smile. You forgot to add:

things like actual drone fired missiles controlled by teenagers' video games

things like transgender / transhuman erector kits for pre-teens

things like full body scanners for all public and private buildings in the USSA

things like disintegration ray weapons for all traffic officers (eliminating impound lots and motorists)

SafelyGraze's picture


also: why not put a man on the moon and bring him back safely and do it in this decade

also: eliminate terror

also: a college degree for every man, woman, and child

no cost is too great, no opportunity too small

foodstampbarry's picture

Take your 'forward' and shuv it up your ass.

Emergency Ward's picture

Shit like a 200 foot windmill in everyone's backyard?  I'll take two ha ha ha.....  Robocops, NSA helpers? No shit!

Sudden Debt's picture

We'll we're already in a "pay more get less" economy so we're half way there :)


and it's not "less is more".

It's: "Less is good for you"

new game's picture

thanks nixon and policy from lbj for final leg to dictatorship, with a war or two mixed in as war allows for new power structure-well on our way...

headhunt's picture

Less is good for us and more is good for them (elitist politico's)

TBT or not TBT's picture

Carter was big fan of hairshirt reactions to challenges of scarcity and growth, and we're now under Carter 2.0 or is the second term of this malthusian, less-than-zero-sum asshole technically Carter 3.0?

Emergency Ward's picture

Put your sweater on and freeze to death for the good of the nation.

Totentänzerlied's picture

"And so we're going back to a "less is more" way of life and get out from under these feudal assholes ruining us!"

Second term does not follow from first term. 10,000 years of perfect historical correlation indicate otherwise. Good luck.

PS: Feudalism is a defined term and has never been applicable to the US in its entire history.

wallstreetaposteriori's picture

Is it really apathy or just sheer ignorance anymore... I really think people are living in the "bubble".

BandGap's picture

It's behavioral modification. Having gone round and round the past five years it goes like this - 1. don't worry, be happy, 2. so what if the world is going to shit, what am I supposed to do about it? and 3. I'm doing well so all is well.

No one sees anything as being "bad", we have no moral baseline and people are just choosing to ignoire crap and take.

Has to end, don't know when.


Headbanger's picture

I've called it "la la land" mentality for decades and it's getting a lot worse from what I can see as denial has become rampant.

And that's why we elected such an ass clown liar for president.

It's going to change abruptly when people get sick of the bullshit and want to know the cold hard facts.


new game's picture

usually hunger sets in and the provider of the free meal goes bust.

nickels's picture

We elected a liar because we were sick of the warmonger. You can have phony wars or phony economy. Your choice. Don't forget to vote.

Emergency Ward's picture

Obama would call that a "false choice" because he brings you both....

TMLutas's picture

The next big thing is driving the cost of knowing the cold hard facts asymptotically towards zero. We are very far away from that today. In the USA, our federal system means that local governments can (and are) defined by both a federal and a state definition and the two definitions actually do not agree with each other. Nobody has a comprehensive list of what governments are out there. The vast majority don't even know what governments claim jurisdiction over where they personally live, work, and regularly travel. There is no easy way to assemble what this unknown collections of governments that claim to rule you actually do. There is no oversight possible without these two things which means about 40% of the US economy (the government sector) is low hanging fruit.

Things that go bump's picture

Yes, but in the natural progression of things, what comes after denial is anger. 

caShOnlY's picture

 I really think people are living in the "bubble"

It is an education bubble whereby academics are "dumbed down" to allow all to apply for loans and receive a "I'm smart" certificate at the end of 4 years. 

Education is one of our new TOP industries in America. 

Spastica Rex's picture

Education /= Training /= Certification

Certification is one of our (only relatively) new TOP industries in America.

Sudden Debt's picture

it's "don't be so gloomy! be happy! all will be fine! the good guys always win and we must be the good guys!"

Disney said so....

Gaurden's picture

yep. Although i dont think ill be making it to the next step personally. Im sure many will though.

BandGap's picture

Will repost this elsewhere, thanks. I have sent out at least three copies of The Fourth Turning in the past two years, this boils it down nicely.

I just wish there was a way to accelerate the process.

Boxed Merlot's picture

wish there was a way to accelerate the process...



What's old is new again.  Consider:


This is the foundation on which our last great awakening was based.  All change begins with the individual.  That’s the design.  We become apathetic, (and / or belligerent depending on our station in life), when we believe it’s everybody else’s responsibility to change but we exempt ourselves from this plain law of nature.



OldBoy's picture

BM have you heard of this guy. His books speak to a present day awakening. Your post reminds me of his work.

BuddyEffed's picture

The Hubbert curve strongly resembles  a pulse rather than a cyclic curve.

If you want a cycle, look to an agrarian society based on the sun rising and sun setting every day in cycles, and derive your society accordingly.

booboo's picture

The gravitational pull of reality coupled with re-entry without heat!!!

prains's picture

here's a documentary on DE-growth out of Canada


it's only an idea still and has many warts to it that needs to be worked out by trial and error BUT it is the ONLY way forward.......there's is no more Rah Rah we're number 1


it's over

blabam's picture

"Many smart people retain the faith that technology always creates more jobs than it destroys, but if we look at our daily lives, I see little evidence to support this faith."


Maybe because the current economy is not allowed to restructure?... basic Ausrian stuff really.

disabledvet's picture

the cotton gin unemployed millions. are we the worse for it?

we sure produced a lot more...and a lot better cotton.

the one constant is more debt, and more debt, and more debt, and more debt, and more debt, and more debt, and more debt.

and everyone agrees this is an "unreserved good" need only look at interest rates and the fact that they have plunged to at or near zero and are to remain there "forever" to know this to be true.

Everything else is just background noise.

q99x2's picture

Give the status quo pleasure circuitry implants so they stop being so greedy. The rest of us can go to college and imagine a better reality. But I think you will still have to lock up people like Cheney and Rumsfeld because they will activate the pleasure circuitry as they kill people.

Smegley Wanxalot's picture

You don't need groath when yaz gotz da EBT, bayyybeeee!

eddiebe's picture

Same old. Greed as always is the great destroyer. There is however a big difference this time around. After we've destroyed what we have in our myopic frenzy, we hit the wall of NO MOAR. 

stopthejunk1's picture

The relationship between labor and wages has been weakening for some time, and eventually will be broken altogether.  Society can and must find another way to distribute rewards.


Eventually, the machines will be doing nearly everything, and the nature of profit and risk and reward will have entirely changed.  This is not news to any fan of science fiction or any person who has observed technology trends and extrapolated beyond the near-term.  Heck, even Shulamith Firestone wrote about this in 1970, at the age of 25.  It is the natural progression of human culture.  The patterns are not even subtle, they are obvious, unless you take an extremely short-term view of things.


There will always be a Malthus among the commentators, but he will always turn out to be wrong, and it will always be due to his lack of imagination, which is not shared either by mankind or by nature.  Evolution will continue; it began with biology, continued with culture, and furthered with technology, which is the final stage and which allows progress and refinement without bound, changing both culture and biology along with it.


The ones that will profit the most with the coming changes are certainly NOT those that fail to imagine or understand them.  Those types will be the reactionaries, soon deafeated and forgotten, that accompany every period of great change.  (Remember the Luddites?)


The most important events of the next 100 years will be the arrival of Kurzweil's "singularity," which will see machines exceeding human beings in many avenues.  This will be even more disruptive than the Enlightment and the Industrial Revolution, will require just as many changes, and will take most people completely by surprise.   Many will gape at their new surroundings the way that the Native Americans gaped at the horses and "thundersticks" of the European settlers: complete incomprehension, fear, superstition, loathing, worship, and ultimately a collapse of their outmoded culture/beliefs/worldview/philosophy, to be replaced with an improved paradigm better suited to the times.  One of the pillars of the new paradigm will be the absence of any relationship between labor and wages, and the final failure of the Old Testament dictum that you must "work in order to eat."

When this happens, profit, AKA "growth," will not be important.  Fortunately, machines are not motivated by profit.

Bearwagon's picture

Great words - according to experience to be followed by small deeds.

zuuma's picture

Agreed that the labor/wage thing will somehow reset.

Trouble is, how do we (or even should we?) distribute goods & services to useless, worthless takers-up of space?

The illiterete, lazy anchors of the economy, who's skill set includes converting free food into shit , oxygen into CO2, mating, and crime -- not neccessarily in that order.

I see no vast ditch digging projects on the horizon.

Perhaps an undersea tunnel to China.

Its_the_economy_stupid's picture

too much utility in a tunnel (even if it is almost none). better to build giant pyramids (by hand, no mechanisation) in order to allow time for reflection on a worthless endeavors.

DaddyO's picture

While your post has some nuggets to be pondered, your summation has some holes.

Namely, there is no such thing as a free lunch, someone, somewhere has to work in order to eat.

The idea that machines will pick up the slack is misguided. The notion that people will be able to eat with out some form of labor input is pure fantasy and does not reflect reality.

Whose going to till my ground?

Whose going to plant my crops.

Whose going to build my shovel, my hoe, my planter, etc.

The sheer lunacy that machines will accomplish all this without human labor input just does not wash.

Overall, pfffft!


Totentänzerlied's picture

Whose = possessive form of interrogative pronoun "who"

Who's = contraction of interrogative pronoun "who" + "is"

I'm a pedant, downvote me to oblivion.

As for your counterargument, automated plows and tillers are trivial, automated seed sewing is not exactly hard - given currently feasible technology - and fabrication of hand tools is already almost fully mechanized and automated. Currently that technology is not affordable, but large-scale farming has not been affordable in a century. Difference now is that toward the end of a debt supercycle, unaffordable things become unavailable things for all the well known reasons (debt saturation, credit unworthiness, rising costs, shrinking margins, etc.). The largest farms (those with the best access to funding) win again. Incremental debt has always been required in order to accomplish large-scale economic transitions - progress has never been able to pay its own way. From this point, everything depends entirely on one's personal predictions; technocornucopians must assume there will be enough credit available to enough people to actually buy and use their savior technologies. To me, this is rather silly, in reality it just means slightly lower costs and slightly higher productivity for the small portion of companies who adopt early - in exchange for their frontloaded cost, nothing more is properly entailed. Extrapolating utopian ideas from a marginally lower cost-structured future is precisely the kind of non-thought that gets us into predicaments like the current one, where everyone was wantonly promised free shit galore, but the fundamentals needed to actually permit the possibility of delivery on those promises never materialized (and never would have, as should have been obvious).

What is going to happen to these surplus jobless of menially employed humans? Minimum income guarantees (to replace the welfare system)? I'd like to see one country that could afford such a thing even in the rosiest of remotely realistic predictions. The notion that structurally lower labor demands will free up people to do other things presumes that either everyone will be magically nigga-rich and have no need of income (in the contemporary sense), or that "other things" will somehow pay as well as or better than the jobs that were mechanized/automated/computerized/obsolesced. Briefly, how many underwater basket-weaving communications major can a labor market actually support?

TMLutas's picture

One of the jobs of the future will be calculating and checking the promises of "free shit galore" so that when they exceed capabilities we nip that nonsense in the bud and don't let the politicians rob the future or shift money around so that maintenance and infrastructure replacement gets shorted again. This is a durable job and will absorb a lot of people's time and effort.