On October 30 and 31, 2020 the online seminar “Development Cooperation in a Post-Growth Era” took place, organized by the German ZOE – Institute for Sustainable Economies and the newly founded organization NELA -Next Economy Lab. Among the participants of the two-day seminar was a discussion of what the question of growth and post-growth means for the so-called Global South and development cooperation. The three speakers Dr. Rajeswari S. Raina (India), Dr. Roldan Muradian (Brazil) and Tonny Nowshin (Berlin/Bangladesh) shared their knowledge about the Global South and post-growth concepts.
“Without growth – no investments, without growth there are no jobs, without growth there is no money for education, without growth there is no help for the weak”, is an announcement that Angela Merkel made at Growth Acceleration Act in November 2009. The need for growth is a common slogan repeatedly declared by economists and politicians. But is economic growth indispensable for wellbeing and (global) justice? Or is it on the contrary a source of global inequalities, the advancing environmental crisis and a possible economic decline?
While growth continues, our planetary boundaries are nearly reached, and we become more and more aware of the fact that growth within limited planetary boundaries and with the exploitation of limited natural resources cannot be infinite. While climate change is progressing along with other environmental deterioration everywhere in the world, some people are better off than others. Eight of the richest people on this planet own as much as the poorest half of the world (Oxfam 2017). The people most affected by environmental degradation are at the same time the most socially disadvantaged. For more than 50 years development cooperation is trying to shift those inequalities between the so-called Global South and Global North but with limited success. The growth concept, which is also commonly applied in development economics, needs thorough revision.
What the question of growth and post-growth means for the so-called Global South and Development Cooperation, was debated amongst participants of the 2-day seminar “Development Cooperation in a post-growth era” held on the 30. / 31. Of October 2020.
The three speakers Dr. Rajeswari S. Raina (India), Dr. Roldan Muradian (Brazil), Tonny Nowshin (Berlin/Bangladesh) shared their knowledge on the Global South and post-growth concepts.
Dr. Rajeswari S. Raina, professor at the Department of International Relations and Governance at the Shiv Nadar University (Dadri, Uttar Pradesh) calls out on the fact that the Indian economy has its own rules and institutions which were partly destroyed during colonial rule and further on through capitalist Western economy. However, Indian ways of economic activities are still functioning and prevailing in the country, where 90% of labour is organized in an informal way. “The Indian economy does not have to ‘catch up’ with the West and repeat the mistakes of the ‘developed’ countries”, so her statement. According to Raina, Indian ideas of economic activities are not based on growth and external capital, but for example as in the case of Indian agriculture, on ideas of capital in the form of nature. A pluriverse, that means diverse and multifaceted forms of living and economic activities, is already established. A fair and environmentally friendly economy should be based on decentralized policies and direct democracy, especially in a very diverse country like India.
Tonny Nowshin adds up on the thought, that models of “primitive capital accumulation” imposed by the Global North should not be seen as an economic model that is worthy to be applied in every part of the world. Nowshin calls the assumption that every country in this world should follow the Western capitalist economic system “fundamentally wrong”. As an activist within the degrowth and climate justice movement, her statement “The Global North must degrow to change the narrative of the absurd, growth-based economic model, established through colonisation of the Global South.”, adds on the idea of the “maldeveloped” Global North that needs to change, instead of the Global South.
Dr. Roldan Muradian, Professor at Universidade Federal Fluminense in Niterói, Brazil, furthermore calls for the change of narratives within global interactions. The use of the three concepts of the seminar ‘development’, ‘development cooperation’ but also ‘post-growth’ would maintain the hierarchies created by colonial rule and capitalist economies, which however urgently need to be abandoned as they divide the world in categories of “those in need” and “those who give help”. He calls the concept of post-growth “a naive way of looking at the world”. It implies the narrative of growth and Western capitalism which is in his opinion not as important and all-embracing as it is seen to be, pointing again to forms of economic activities in the Global South other than the capitalist and growth-oriented models. His statement “Post-growth economic thinking seems to assume that a post-growth phase of capitalism is possible. This is a naive idea.” underlines this reasoning.
Having these statements as a background, the participants were linking the speaker´s inputs, postgrowth concepts, and their own experiences and knowledge from development cooperation to develop frameworks for a more meaningful, just and sustainable international cooperation. The concern arose, whether development cooperation should be questioned in its totality or if there could be changes within existing development cooperation. The main outlook after two days of input and lively online discussions was a critical view on development cooperation in its current form, a focus more on local and regional bottom-up solutions in the Global South as well as the Global North and the reconsideration and rethinking of frames and narratives considering development cooperation, to dissolve the persisting division of the world and paving the way for a more equal and just global distribution. In a concluding discussion round, some ideas for concrete actions were collected that imply the strengthening of people to be able to defend their own interest instead of being forced to follow “one size fits all” solutions. To implement this, a general political engagement to evoke a change in persisting power structures, global frameworks, institutions and rules is necessary. An even more concrete solution suggested during the final discussion round was the implementation of frugal innovations, to dissolve dependencies between the Global North and the Global South, and the support of more local change agents in each society who work for an empowerment of local structures and change from within societies.
One of the participants active in development cooperation stated that: “I try to think about creating a just global economy in my work and ask myself the questions: Is my project in the logic of someone needing to catch up? Or is it in the logic of creating a just global system?”
Even if the application of post-growth concepts in development cooperation is complex and certainly not an easy task, it offers alternative and progressive solutions and has the potential of shaping new working methods within development cooperation.
About ZOE Institute for Sustainable Economies
ZOE, the Institute for Sustainable Economies, is a non-profit Think & Do Tank. Together with politics, science and civil society we develop trend-setting impulses for the fundamental questions of a sustainable economy.
About NELA-Next Economy Lab
NELA is a team of economists who combine methodical scientific approaches of plural economies and sustainability expertise with co-creative process methods.