Contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Degrowth"
An exchange on the viewpoint The Degrowth Alternative

Michael Karlberg

A more coherent conceptual framework for the economy is clearly needed to inform direction and decision-making by both governmental regulators and self-regulating market actors. In this context, the semiotics of degrowth are limited because it connotes a limiting negative vision (what not to do) rather than a generative positive vision (what to do) for the economy.

A more positive vision can be found, in my opinion, in the analogy of an organic body. The economy is in many respects a complex living global system—like a single organic body. Organic bodies go through developmental stages. They require self-regulation at the cellular level and macro-regulation at the systems level. They require coordination. The gross accumulation of resources in different tissues and organs is a sign of disease. From these simple metaphors, one can derive a profound positive vision of the economy that can motivate change at the levels we are discussing.

There is, of course, a need to translate these metaphorical concepts into actual economic policies and practices, and that is not simple work. But that work can only proceed, and will only motivate action, move populations, and attract institutional support, within a coherent conceptual frame. I doubt degrowth provides an adequate overarching frame in this regard. It also does not make sense within the frame of a living organic body, which seems to me to be the most coherent overarching frame for thinking about the economy.

It should be noted, of course, that unlimited material growth also does not make sense within the frame of an organic body. In this context, we would do well to ask what kind of processes need to characterize a maturing body—or a maturing global economy characterized by organic interdependence.

Michael Karlberg
Michael Karlberg is Professor of Communication Studies at Western Washington University and the author of Beyond the Culture of Contest and Constructing Social Reality.

Cite as Michael Karlberg, contribution to GTI Roundtable "On Degrowth," Great Transition Initiative (February 2015),

Back to Publication

As an initiative for collectively understanding and shaping the global future, GTI welcomes diverse ideas. Thus, the opinions expressed in our publications do not necessarily reflect the views of GTI or the Tellus Institute.