Serge Latouche, Vers une société d’abondance frugale (2011)

In 2011, I challenged myself to do unusual things and learn new stuff in general each week. I loved this challenge so much that I’ll probably extend it for another year!

Thanks to this motivation, I ate new foods, signed up for a tai-chi class, went to museums I’d never tried, learnt to identify lots of flowers, followed improbable paths over the internet, attended an online course from Yale University on the old testament Hebrew bible… and went outside my comfort range for some books.

This one falls right into this category. Without this challenge, I’d never ever have contemplated borrowing this book from the library. Serge Latouche is an economist associated with alternative movements and has become a rather famous theorist of de-growth. This book’s title is quite provocative, as it can be translated as “Towards a society of frugal wealth”. His subtitle is “Misinterpretations and controversies about de-growth”.

(Ahem, don’t shoot. It’s difficult enough for me to tackle a political / economic pamphlet as it is – and even more to review it publicly. I know lots of people won’t agree with me).

Although I found myself agreeing to most facts about the stalemate global economic situation and the unsustainable contradictions and follies of the liberal system (for lack of better words), I could not help but find the book totally utopian in terms of solutions. Funny how we can agree on one point but totally diverge on the road to take, right?

Latouche not only criticizes the current economic model, that has fatal consequences on the environment and on people, but demands that we shift towards a more moderate model, where happiness wouldn’t be measured in terms of financial wealth, where only reasonable needs would be covered instead of greed and egoism. In theory I’m all for it, although I scratch my head when it sounds way too Pollyannaish.

The trouble started when I realized that, although he goes on and on about what de-growth is not (not a return to middle-ages, not a return of women at home etc. etc.), Latouche remained vague about exactly what he suggested and how to do it. The best I got from my reading was that we should return to the level of comfort of the 1960s so that everyone would be able to work and be comfortable. And there was next to nil about how to achieve that.

How in a free democracy can any leader say to the people who have chosen him (or her, let’s be idealistic): “come on guys, give up your big house and your smartphone and move over to a smaller condo so that the guy who sleeps on the street can have his share too?”. To my knowledge, whenever this was done, it wasn’t democracy and it ended up in bloodshed and terror.

Some people can take good resolutions and change their own consuming habits, choose local foods, buy from sustainable trade networks, avoid waste, give more to charities and recycle, but in my opinion it’s a social and individual shift linked to a better awareness and education. We can’t imagine that everybody will desire that, and I can’t imagine a (free) political system promoting this model.

Alright, I reckon it  was a challenge. I don’t do utopia. Please prove me wrong if you feel like it.

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