Why do economists care about economic growth?

Economic growth: Less is hard

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So: what about the turn to less, with this conscious turning away from growth, this shrinking health? Would it make sense as an answer to climate change and the rapid succession of capitalist crises? And is Corona an impetus because people are turning away from consumerism in the pandemic and henceforth prefer a more sustainable way of life?

In this series, we've tried quite a bit to find answers. Asked seven well-known economists how to make the turnaround - although the majority were skeptical and preferred to strive for sustainable growth rather than none at all. The German citizens also gave the idea of ​​not buying so much in the future a basket in our survey. So we asked whether economic output could not be measured in any other way than with gross domestic product or GDP. In such a way that the consequences for the environment, solidarity and attitude towards life are factored in. However, there is still a long, rocky road to go before such a yardstick guides economic policy. After all, the economy could continue to grow to such an extent because, little surprise, at least industry in the richest countries has recently got by with fewer and fewer resources.

But what if all of that is not enough? What if the sharp turn to less becomes necessary at some point? Conversations with researchers and practitioners who want to slow down capitalism provide information - and also cause fear.

Luis Hanemann, member of the ZEIT Readers' Economic Council, is a green investor in Berlin. At the same time, he wants to save the environment and earn money as a partner in a venture capital firm for digital start-ups. In his opinion, macroeconomic growth must come to an end. The state should change course, he says, with higher taxes on resources and lower taxes on labor. Also with an import tax on products that have not been sustainably produced abroad.

In addition, Hanemann would like to accelerate the rethinking in society. He speaks of his grandpa, who lived less polluting than most people today. We could go back to that, such a lifestyle just has to become "acceptable, cool, desirable". Luis Hanemann sees reason for hope: many are joining the climate movement, and even among managers who fly a lot today hardly anyone gives their miles and membership in Lufthansa's noble HON Circle. Most of the people around him reacted negatively to large cars.

This means that status symbols that are hostile to the climate no longer work. In order to reinforce the trend, the state should, like a marketing office, nudge the citizens with gentle means and, for example, make the purchase of green electricity the standard option. You would only get conventional CO₂ electricity if you consciously order it. "You have to make it easy for people," says Luis Hanemann. This creates a huge trend in this imagination. And at some point, according to the green investor, the old part of the economy will be so small that politics can ban it.

The turn to less with the help of a smart state and a willing population - one could imagine that if it weren't for the time factor. Fridays for Future demands loudly and clearly what the planet needs: an end to all subsidies for coal, gas and oil and a fee of 180 euros for every tonne of CO₂ emitted, immediately. Coal phase-out by 2030, one hundred percent renewable energy and a climate-neutral economy by 2035. But suddenly it doesn't sound so friendly anymore. That would only be part of the turning point.