Established in 2011, Research & Degrowth (R&D) is an academic association dedicated to promoting the concept of “sustainable degrowth,” which it defines as “a multi-level voluntary path towards reduction of production and consumption, aiming at ecological sustainability, good life, liberty, and social justice.” Additional major hallmarks of degrowth, says R&D, include: an ethic whereby societies resolve to “live within their ecological means”; the development of “localized economies” where “resources [are] more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions” (i.e., socialism); and the cessation of “material accumulation,” in favor of “convivial” and “frugal” lifestyles that assign more importance to “sufficiency” than to surplus.
To advance these values, R&D conducts research, provides academic trainings for individuals and groups alike, and organizes events designed to raise public awareness about degrowth. Most of R&D’s activities presently take place in Spain and France, though the group also has held major conferences in places like Venice, Montreal, Leipzig, and Budapest since 2012.
Rejecting “the centrality of GDP [Gross Domestic Product] as an overarching policy objective,” R&D views free-market capitalism as inherently destructive to human relations and the natural environment. Capitalism’s “ever-expanding financial and monetary sphere,” says the organization, “is related to our ever-expanding exploitation of resources and humans.” Thus R&D favors “a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems.” The group’s anti-capitalist catechism also advocates strict “limits to private property” while championing “communal property rights” over all manner of commodities. For instance, R&D maintains that “superficial, ground, and desalted water” should be publicly—not privately—owned and managed at the municipal level.
On the premise that “harmful industrial production” and “conspicuous consumption” are among the many vices intrinsic to capitalism, R&D advocates a new economic arrangement that features “work-sharing,” “limits to paid working hours,” “earlier retirement,” “longer holidays,” “accessible childcare” (funded by tax dollars), and “a progressive income tax [designed] to reduce inequality.” Further, the organization calls for a monetary value to be placed on “unpaid, household/community work.”
These new economic policies should be complemented, says R&D, by public education campaigns aimed at persuading people to believe that high levels of consumption, production, and long-distance travel are not only unnecessary in most instances, but are also harmful to the environment. Impugning “the drive to buy/produce more than our basic needs require,” R&D asserts that advertising in public spaces “should be limited.” Further, the organization maintains: “[A]ll ads that affect children/vulnerable people, [affect] health, involve CO2-intensive sectors, or have sexist messages” should—because of their “manipulative nature”—be subject to heavy “regulation” and “taxation,” and in some cases outright “bans.”
Endorsing “a global moratorium on resource extraction” in areas of “high biodiversity and ethnographic value,” R&D contends that: (a) societal reliance on energy derived from fossil fuels should “degrow dramatically”; (b) nuclear energy should “disappear” altogether; and (c) “locally produced renewable [wind, water, and solar] energy” should take prominence in all developed nations.
By R&D’s reckoning, the federal government should guarantee that every member of society will receive at least a basic income that essentially amounts to a living wage. Conversely, the organization advocates a “ceiling” on personal and corporate incomes, meaning “a 100% tax above [a] certain level.”
Exhorting the federal government to minimize economic inequality by means of “a progressive tax on income, property, or natural resource use,” R&D endorses “a limit to human appropriation of net primary production”—i.e., caps on private-property ownership. It also advocates a “transition towards local currencies for trade degrowth”; believes that the size of companies and their productive output should be limited to what is necessary merely for the “satisfaction of local needs”; and contends that the “ownership of the production units” of any corporation should go to its workers, while “profit dividends and profits of distant shareholders that do not take part in the [company’s business] activity” ought to be “abolished.”
Among R&D’s most significant priorities is its call for American cities to: (a) be “reshaped and reformed” by measures that replace their automobile-centered infrastructures with facilities geared toward “walking, cycling, and open common spaces”; and (b) “use zoning” to “keep neighborhoods compact” and reduce “urban sprawl.” These related proposals constitute a broad political agenda in the guise of environmental concerns. (Research on population density has found that there is an average tipping point at which municipalities tend to shift politically from Republican to Democrat: roughly 810 people per square mile. Above that, two-thirds of metropolitan-area counties elect Democrats to Congress; below it, two-thirds elect Republicans. Thus, by encouraging people to live in densely populated, geographically constrained communities, R&D can help promote the election of left-wing political candidates.)