Less is More

When we truly decided to adapt to our full Earth, this book shows what we can do:

Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World
by Jason Hickel

Less is More is a masterful summary of how we got into the social, economic and ecological trouble we are in today and how we can establish a steady-state economy in balance with our finite planet.

While the convincing assortment of proposals is the main point of this article, some key details from the history that Hickel provides are in order. He starts with the epic, century-long struggles of the “forgotten revolution” in which peasants cast off the bonds of feudalism and achieved relative prosperity – until the land-owners cleared them from the land for personal profit. Without land, the dispossessed had few options but to compete for jobs in industrial mills, further enriching the elites with discounted labour.

Industrialists faced challenges locally and elsewhere as they colonized the world. People of the land were accustomed to working hard when crops and other necessities required and then relaxing and enjoying family and friends in between such efforts – various tactics were tried until labourers could be compelled to put in long monotonous hours day after day at industrial machinery.

Further cultural change was needed to clear the way for conscience-free industrial-scale exploitation of natural resources and indigenous populations. Many land-based people viewed the natural world with wonder, love, respect and even kinship. In an early feat of narrative manipulation, the conventional view came to see other life forms as mechanical, soulless entities and the substances of air, water and the land as dead. Even non-Europeans whose ways of thinking were not understood by the colonial powers were considered sub-human.

It is worth reading Hickel’s book just for the fascinating history he provides. Much else took place in the last 500 years to bring us to the critical situation we are in today.

To fully appreciate the solutions proposed, we have to receive them with the sense that we humans can indeed enjoy long-term success on Earth.

Fredric Jameson pointed out that “It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism!” This defies logic, but logic is a small factor in imagination. Most of our experience is dominated by the jobs, products and messaging of corporate industrialism. It flavours our world-views.

For the love of the children, please suspend your disbelief. Creatures far less gifted than humans have lived successfully on Earth for millions of years; we should accept no less.

Hickel illustrates how our views can change by pointing out that as long as people believed that the Earth was at the centre of the universe, mathematicians were unable to explain or predict the motions of the planets. Once the Sun was presumed to be at the centre of our local area, all the math became easier. Hickel concluded: “The same thing happens when we take growth away from the centre of the economy. The ecological crisis suddenly becomes much easier to solve.” (All writing in quotations is from Hickel’s book.)

The points sketched out below introduce the tactics which Hickel explains.


End Planned Obsolescence

The classic example was when light-bulb manufacturers “. . . formed a cartel and plotted to shorten the lifespan of incandescent bulbs – from an average of about 2500 hours down to 1000 hours or less. . . . Sales shot up and profits soared. The idea quickly caught on in other industries, and today planned obsolescence is a widespread feature of capitalist production.”

Often it only requires one weak part to end the usefulness of a product. “. . . mandatory extended warranties”, and “right to repair” legislation would compel producers to upgrade sub-standard parts and make parts accessible and replaceable. The additional production costs would be minimal.

“If washing machines and smartphones lasted four times longer, we would consume 75% fewer of them. That’s a big reduction of material throughput, without any negative impacts on people’s lives.” Further, “. . . people wouldn’t have to deal with the frustration and expense of constantly replacing their equipment.”


Jobs Guarantee

Ending planned obsolescence and other suggestions below will mean less work. It is therefore essential from the start that we assure people that they won’t be pushed into hard times. Without assurances of a just transition, the necessary cooperation will be lacking.

Some solutions are a shorter work week, retraining programs, and a job guarantee. Anyone who wants to work could “. . . get a job doing socially useful things that communities actually need, like care, essential services, building renewable energy infrastructure, growing local food, and regenerating degraded ecosystems . . .”

“. . . capitalism has produced the technological capacity to provide for everyone’s needs many times over . . .” Rather than creating new “needs” to keep the economy growing, we can minimize the time spent labouring and expand our enjoyment of the life we have technically mastered.


Cut Advertising

When advertising simply informed people of what products were available, people tended to stop buying once their needs were met. The application of psychological manipulation was introduced by Sigmund Freud’s nephew Edward Bernays. By exploiting inner longings, we are now enticed to continue buying even after our needs are met.

Presently, the advertising industry spends over $600 billion annually promoting sales, suggesting that our self-worth requires purchases; that we would be better people if we buy their products; that their products would increase our status and our attractiveness to mates. The more companies spend, the higher sales go. The fashion industry merges advertising with obsolescence to cajole people into buying new clothes with every change of seasons.

Advertising accosts us from every medium. Hickel suggests liberating public spaces from advertising. It has been tried in Sao Paulo and Paris resulting in “people who feel more secure about themselves and more content in their lives.” Curbing advertising can “. . . free our minds – so we can follow our thoughts, our imaginations, our creativity without being constantly interrupted.”

All in addition to reducing unnecessary consumption.


Shift From Ownership to Usership

There are many products that could be shared, thereby reducing the throughput of natural resources. How often are tools purchased for a home project only to be put on a shelf, where they collect dust for years to come?

Tool lending libraries and neighbourly agreements to share equipment can reduce unnecessary waste. In cities, “The most powerful intervention by far is to invest in affordable (or even free) public transportation . . .”.


End Food Waste

Up to 50% of the food grown world wide is lost: in the fields; due to cosmetic blemishes; going bad in transport, in stores, restaurants and in our homes; or served and not eaten. Eliminating these losses “. . . would allow us to cut global emissions by up to 13%, while regenerating up to 2.4 billion hectares of land for wildlife habitat and carbon sequestration.”


Scale Down Destructive Industry

Fossil fuels is the biggest industry on Earth. Clearly it has to be toned down and replaced by renewable energy and refocusing society toward activities that require less energy.

Another major industry is beef. “Nearly 60% of global agricultural land is used for beef . . .” “Switching to non-ruminant meats or plant proteins like beans and pulses could liberate almost 11 million square miles of land – the size of the United States, Canada and China combined.”

“We could scale down the arms industry and the private jet industry.” “. . . single-use plastics, disposable coffee cups, SUVs and McMansions . . .”

Hickel outlines a variety of ways to incrementally accomplish such economic changes.

* * * * *

If at this point if you are finding it easier to imagine the end of the world, remember that we have more than enough knowledge and vision to secure a place for the grandchildren on this bountiful planet. Your imagination visualizing possibilities moves us in that direction.


Reduce Inequality

Wealth is created when labour converts natural resources into things that people can use. To make vast fortunes grow, ever more has to be extracted from the Earth. As the rich get richer they buy up natural resources and other assets, and then sell or rent them to the rest of us further increasing their fortunes and decreasing ours. “We are made to plunder the Earth simply to pay tribute to millionaires and billionaires.”

Inequality breeds feelings of inadequacy and envy, which are themselves drivers of consumption as people seek to reinforce their self-images. “ . . . reducing inequality is a powerful way to reduce ecological pressure. It cuts high-impact luxury consumption by the rich and reduces competitive consumption across the rest of society.”


Decommodify Public Goods – Expand the Commons

With housing increasingly bought up and rented out, over-abundant capital looks for other opportunities to profit. Healthcare and education are targeted for capture and exploitation for private gain. Housing, healthcare, education and food are human rights, and should not be fodder for overgrown collections of capital.

Public transport, the Internet, energy and water, public libraries, parks and sports grounds are all areas that could be (or have been) captured for private profit. Such “Universal Basic Services could be publicly funded (with progressive taxation on wealth, land, carbon, etc.) at costs much lower than we presently spend, while guaranteeing everyone access to a decent, dignified life.”


Radical Abundance

The advances mentioned above all lead to “. . . reducing energy demand and enabling faster transition to renewables.” . . . “They fundamentally alter the deep logic of capitalism.”

Scarcity stimulates profits: Scarcity of jobs renders lower wages as people compete for employment; scarcity of natural resources or housing or food drive up prices; and planned obsolescence causes things we already have to become scarce. They all make the economy grow as people scramble to get by. The compulsion to work enough to overcome scarcity produces a scarcity of time, causing further growth as people have to hire others to do what they would have done for themselves.

If instead of shoddy products, inflated fees and high rents, people had access to reasonable prices and public goods, they could have satisfying lives without having to unnecessarily stress the Earth.

“Austerity calls for scarcity in order to generate more growth. Degrowth calls for abundance in order to render growth unnecessary.”



One of the greatest sources of scarcity is debt. Loans are often needed to get an education, buy a house, start a business or expand an existing enterprise. Borrowed money comes with interest charges which, if not paid off each month, are compounded and grow exponentially. “You may end up paying off your original loan many times over – perhaps for the rest of your life.”

It is not because all finance ministers are incompetent that almost every nation on Earth is deep in debt. The exponential nature of debt inevitably out paces the linear nature of natural systems and human activity. As with the board game Monopoly, when capitalism is pursued to its final conclusion, some players end up owning everything.

From ancient times, extreme inequality has been known to blight communities. “Ancient Near-Eastern societies regularly declared non-commercial debts void, clearing the books and liberating people from bondage to creditors.” Indeed, the foundation of “Western Civilization” was prepared by debt forgiveness in ancient Greece. Hebrew Law called for periodic Jubilee years in which private debts were forgiven. It is time again to level the playing field so we can all work toward a viable future.


New Money

Money is the blood of society. Like the blood in our bodies which enables our lungs, digestive system, brains, muscles and other parts to operate together, so circulating money enables farmers, educators, builders, entertainers and all manner of other people to work together as a society. As money circulates, with interest charges added every time it passes through a bank, it becomes expensive to live.

There are currencies which can serve our needs for credit and exchange which don’t leak out value into the pockets of those who are already wealthy.

Some consideration may be needed to keep people interested in paying off debts, but no one should be in debt after they have paid back everything they borrowed and a reasonable fee for the opportunity.

* * * * *

Collecting capital originally gained its legitimacy when volumes of funds were needed to set up mass-production of necessary goods. Such enterprises proved effective at providing for human need at considerably reduced costs – accumulating capital for industrial development was therefore considered a worthy objective. Capitalism came of age.

That was hundreds of years ago. Today, in industrialized countries, everything that humans need, and much that we don’t need, is produced in vast quantities. Those dedicated to the accumulation of capital circle the Earth looking for any resources that they can turn into more money. Their power now exceeds that of many nations and the disruptions they cause could end civilization. It is time for this bloated, old, capital-centred system to give way to a new order.

In its place “. . . an economy where people produce and sell useful goods and services; an economy where people make rational, informed decisions about what to buy; an economy where people get compensated fairly for their labours; an economy that satisfies human needs while minimizing waste; an economy that circulates money to those who need it; an economy where innovation makes better, longer-lasting products, reduces ecological pressure, frees up labour time and improves human welfare; an economy that responds to – rather than ignores – the ecology on which it depends.”

In discussing how to achieve this transformation Hickel points to the possibilities of a process that is not captured by money, but instead supported by the broad population. Without the disproportionate influence of wealth, a vast majority of us would soon make the well-being of people and the Earth our primary goals.

All creativity starts with a vision of what might be created. If, instead of imagining the world’s end, we envision a sustainable world, we can assemble the knowledge, the mechanisms, the alliances and the collective effort to bring it about. “Less is More” offers such vision in greater quantity than outlined here. Read it, share it, internalize its possibilities, merge them with your own vision and with your love for people and the Earth.

Every step toward the new order brings it closer.