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Less Is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World

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The world has finally awoken to the reality of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. Now we must face up to its primary cause: capitalism. Our economic system is based on perpetual expansion, which is devastating the living world. There is only one solution that will lead to meaningful and immediate change: degrowth.

If we want to have a shot at surviving the Anthropocene, we need to restore the balance. We need to change how we see the world and our place within it, shifting from a philosophy of domination and extraction to one that’s rooted in reciprocity with our planet’s ecology. We need to evolve beyond the dusty dogmas of capitalism to a new system that’s fit for the twenty-first century.

But what about jobs? What about health? What about progress? This book tackles these questions and offers an inspiring vision for what a post-capitalist economy could look like. An economy that’s more just, more caring, and more fun. An economy that enables human flourishing while reversing ecological breakdown. By taking less, we can become more.

336 pages, Paperback

First published January 13, 2020

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About the author

Jason Hickel

8 books478 followers
Dr. Jason Hickel is an economic anthropologist, author, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is a Visiting Senior Fellow at the International Inequalities Institute at the London School of Economics, and Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London. He serves on the Statistical Advisory Panel for the UN Human Development Report 2020, the advisory board of the Green New Deal for Europe, and on the Harvard-Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice.

Jason's research focuses on global inequality, political economy, post-development, and ecological economics, which are the subjects of his two most recent books: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions (Penguin, 2017), and Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World (Penguin, 2020).

Jason's ethnographic work focuses on migrant labour and politics in South Africa, which is the subject of his first book, Democracy as Death: The Moral Order of Anti-Liberal Politics in South Africa (University of California Press, 2015). He is co-editor of two additional ethnographic volumes: Ekhaya: The Politics of Home in KwaZulu-Natal (University of KwaZulu-Natal Press, 2014) and Hierarchy and Value: Comparative Perspectives on Moral Order (Berghahn, 2018).

In addition to his academic work, Jason writes regularly for The Guardian and Foreign Policy, and contributes to a number of other online outlets including Al Jazeera, Fast Company, Prospect, Jacobin, Le Monde Diplomatique, New Internationalist, Red Pepper, Truthout, and Monthly Review. His media appearances include Viewsnight, the Financial Times, the BBC World Service, Sky News All Out Politics, BBC Business Matters, Thinking Allowed, Renegade TV, NPR, Doha Debates, TRT World, the LA Times, Citations Needed, and Russell Brand's podcast Under the Skin.

Jason has received a number of teaching awards, including the ASA/HEA National Award for Excellence in Teaching Anthropology. His research has been funded by Fulbright-Hays, the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Charlotte W. Newcombe Foundation, and the Leverhulme Trust.

He is originally from Swaziland.


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Displaying 1 - 30 of 776 reviews
Profile Image for Bartosz Pranczke.
32 reviews39 followers
March 21, 2022
"Less is More" is the last piece of knowledge I needed to finally accept that we can invent a better system than neoliberalism. And I had been a neoliberalist for my whole adult life.

The first book that successfully challenged my economical views was "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond. It showed me that the current world order has its roots not in ingenuity or work-ethics. It's much more complex and societies didn't have equality of opportunities.

The second book was "The Divide" by the same author as "Less is More" that showed me how the core of the wealth of the rich countries was built in an almost zero-sum game. A lot of what rich people got came from what poor people lost. And there is still enormous pressure to not change the rules of that game.

The third book was "Capital in the 21st Century" by Thomas Piketty. Not an easy read but fundamental for me to understand that there is a problem when capital is becoming a lot more important than labor. It's hard to build an equal society when being a rent-seeker is enormously more profitable than being a hard-worker without capital. It's serfdom in disguise.

I was ready to change my views, but to what? "Less is More" convinced me that the idea of degrowth is something that we can build upon. What if we measure our progress not by the amount of money circulating in the economy (GDP), but by the value it creates for humans and the world?

First of all, degrowth is not socialism or regression. The name is a bit unfortunate because it is as much about growth as capitalism, but of different things. Instead of money, we can grow the wellbeing of everything around us.

When I was reading about why capitalism is destructive for the world (climate change, the sixth extinction) there is always a "but"? "But, the technology will save us" or "We just need a bigger carbon tax" etc.. The author did a great job of gathering most of the "buts" and explained why they are not enough.

Most countries measure their progress by measuring the growth of GDP. But they measure and set goals for it just for the sake of it. They don't focus on the actual effects of the growth - desirable or not.
‘Goals for more growth should specify more growth of what and for what.’

I recommend reading "Less is More" because it's a great trigger for starting the most important discussion about creating a sustainable world that is a pleasure for everyone to live on. It contains many ideas we can build upon. It challenges the right things in the right way.

Paraphrasing William Gibson: "The abundance is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed. "
Profile Image for Kevin.
290 reviews926 followers
September 7, 2023
Degrowth as decolonization… what an unexpected gem!

--Dream book = tackling the most urgent questions in an accessible synthesis of numerous sources that I was already sifting through... great pairing with:
-Hickel's previous gem: The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions
-Varoufakis' elegant primer: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works—and How It Fails


1) History of real-world capitalism:
--I’ve heard this story elsewhere (fellow anthropologist David Graeber, those influenced by Fernand Braudel like Immanuel Wallerstein), and of course this is a messy topic with many inner debates, but this was a refreshing summary: capitalism did not “evolve” from feudalism in a linear, progressive manner.
--Instead, European peasants had finally pushed back serfdom (assisted by labour shortages after the Black Death), leading to “the golden age of the European proletariat” (1350-1500)
--Capitalism was a bloody backlash (1500-1800) to recover elite accumulation, with the Enclosures. As was New World colonialism (as opposed to the “discovery” myth).

2) Logic of real-world capitalism:
--Marx’s M-C-M’ (Money invested into Commodity production for the goal of more Money) representing capitalist production's logic in contrast to pre-capitalist market exchange C-M-C (Commodity exchanged via Money for another Commodity). Thus, the capitalist logic is fundamentally about growing money.
--Marx’s exchange-value (selling private commodity on market for profit) triumphing over use-value (intrinsic use). In particular, Commons have intrinsic value despite abundance, whereas capitalist exchange-value requires artificial scarcity (central in the commodification market-creation of the Enclosures/colonialism/Neoliberal globalization).
--Even deeper, the ontology of the time was transformed to serve capitalist accumulation. Previous forms of animism (living Earth, nature as subjects) in European peasants and in indigenous colonies were stamped out with the dualism of early science (Bacon, Descartes; mind vs. body, nature as objects).
...This objectification facilitated extraction/commodification/privatization (property) of nature, as well as of labour (human body as machines… thus productivity and disciplining of labour).
“Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth - the soil and the labourer.” -Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1
--Hickel only later appends on money as debt, citing that more than 90% of money in circulation is loaned into existence by private banks via “fractional reserve banking” (banks only hold in reserves ~10%; the rest is conjured out of thin air) and the attached interest (esp. the infamous compound interest) that banks feast on is a deep driver of growth. If we bring back Marx, we get M-M’ (Money for more Money).
“It is perhaps well enough that the people of the nation do not know or understand our banking and monetary system, for if they did I believe there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” -Henry Ford
-Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present
-And the Weak Suffer What They Must? Europe's Crisis and America's Economic Future

3) Unpacking mainstream solutions:
--The Green New Deal at its core targets the urgency of climate change (although the broader movement has many overlaps with steps in this book), while Hickel’s scope is broader (considering the 9 “planetary boundaries” of the Earth System, where climate change is but one boundary) and deeper (decolonization: systemic change, power considerations ex. Green New Deal mineral requirements targeting the Global South; must-read: A People’s Green New Deal).
...It's a relief that Hickel is well-versed on the actual histories/political economy of imperialism on the Global South (his previous book is The Divide: A Brief Guide to Global Inequality and its Solutions, after all), so he can synthesize Global North degrowth + Global South “de-linking” from imperialist intellectual property trade/debt. Here are the gems Hickels refers to:
i) Political Economy: Utsa and Prabhat Patnaik: Capital and Imperialism: Theory, History, and the Present, The Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era: Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry, etc.
ii) History: Vijay Prashad: The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World, Washington Bullets: A History of the CIA, Coups, and Assassinations, etc.
...Related topics covered:
i) Technocratic climate “solutions”: “decoupling” myth of more efficient processes meaning we can “dematerialize” economic growth vs. Jevons paradox where savings are reinvested to grow production (“efficiency” for what? ...under capitalism, it is to endlessly grow profits and survive competition); the delusional assumptions behind mainstream negative emissions technology (esp. BECCS), etc.
ii) “Overpopulation”: I don't think we can stress enough how important the unequal distribution of per capita ecological footprint is here (https://youtu.be/OYuo2QdNu88 and Too Many People?: Population, Immigration, and the Environmental Crisis); only after this is made clear should we then add that population growth is the one growth curve we know how to flatten in a socially-just manner, i.e. infant/women's health, reproductive rights, education, and of course overall improved living standards.

4) Building deeper solutions: reversing the logic (degrowth as decolonization):
--Perhaps the greatest problem with “degrowth” is the one-word label has a lot of baggage and confuses even those who should know better:
i) Liberal technocracy baggage: “degrowth” is close to the “Limits to Growth” MIT technocrats of the 1970's, who combined useful systems science (which eventually evolved into Earth System Science) with reductionist “overpopulation” analyses mentioned above.
ii) Economic Growth: perhaps more concerning for me is how even obvious allies like progressive economist Robert Pollin and anarcho-syndicalist Noam Chomsky counter with “well, we obviously need some green growth in renewables” in The Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet. This completely misses the point that “degrowth” is targeting overall economic growth (GDP)/ecological footprint! Of course we want to “grow” services for social needs, but economic growth (measuring instantaneous market exchange, which must continue to grow to return profits) is a perverse measure that rewards waste (requires growing re-purchases: single-use, planned obsolescence, advertising social addiction): see the excellent Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage.
...Even when Pollin considers “degrowth” of GDP, his progressive reformism barely registers as he compares this with economic crises which also “degrow” GDP! Who needs reactionary conservatives?! The amount of fetishization for an abstract macroeconomic measure rather than directly considering social health measures is appalling. We are not talking about basic accounting here; this is pure ideology!
--While Hickel does go over the issues with GDP (created during WWII to maximize war production, no accounting of costs or non-market goods, then enshrined as the universal target of “economic growth”), the crucial next step is exploring the strong coupling between (1) GDP growth and (2) raw materials consumption/ecological footprint which exploded with the “Great Acceleration” after WWII and no end in sight despite the supposed “Information Age”/“Intangible Economy”. Key in this is compound growth (exponential, not linear).
...I'd like to synthesize this with Michael Hudson's focus on Finance Capitalism's debt overhead (the aforementioned M-M’) and fictitious speculative growth (as opposed to industrial growth and its material use): The Bubble and Beyond. Hudson portrays "Industrial capitalism" being cannibalized by "Finance capitalism", which might sound like less raw materials use! One common ground is that high debt overhead forces more work to simply pay off the debts, thus more resource use.
...Indeed, as the magic of capitalism is driven by the abstract force of debt (see the "Great Reversal" in Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: or, How Capitalism Works—and How It Fails, where capitalism's finance-production-distribution starts with the debt of capital investments, whereas prior economies were production-distribution-finance), needlessly forcing workers and industrial capitalists to exhaust the planet just to pay off parasitic debts to the various layers of creditors (the worst being institutional absentee speculators/rentiers... i.e. rent-seeking/passive income/Ponzi schemes). Insanity.
-Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Bondage Destroy the Global Economy
...Thus, we need to pair
i) Debt cancellations: Debt: The First 5,000 Years
i) Degrowth of bullshit jobs required merely to pay off parasitic debts: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory
...so we can spend our precious time on earth with loved ones and rebuilding communities/ecologies; this is a crucial framing that Hickel should emphasize more.
--To reverse capitalism’s logic, the ontological change is to dismantle the dualism, to move from dominion to reciprocity. The interconnectivity of systems science has been the new paradigm in the physical sciences, from the human microbiome (The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life) to Earth Systems science (Facing the Anthropocene: Fossil Capitalism and the Crisis of the Earth System). In critical economics: The New Economics: A Manifesto
--Our fears of needing more to achieve a “good life” is contrasted with the actual measures of wellness. Historically, this has not been from working to death/destroying our surroundings but from the creation of new Commons: public sanitation, public healthcare, public education, public housing/land reforms, improved working conditions, socialized safety nets/old age pensions/childcare, etc. (Perilous Passage: Mankind and the Global Ascendancy of Capital). …Thus, degrowth is the transformation from artificial scarcity to radical abundance.
--Update: after reading a couple direct attacks on degrowth/Hickel's book, I re-read Hickel book and unpacked the critiques in reviewing Less Sucks: Overpopulation, Eugenics, and Degrowth.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,649 followers
December 31, 2020
This book was bleak, absolutely necessary, and so thought-provoking. I loved Hickel's the Divide and I love how he delivers the goods without softening it even a little bit. This one is a must-read.
Profile Image for Keyur Prabhu.
10 reviews17 followers
August 16, 2020
I feel quite conflicted about this book. On one hand, I believe everyone should read this book. However, I was a bit disappointed.

Good: The main theme of how we need Degrowth and Degrowth = Decolonisation = Dethingification is argued quite convincingly. All the arguments one might have against it and in favour of incremental solutions within the framework of our current economic system are refuted quite well. Most of the solutions proposed are much needed.

Not so good: A large part of the first half of the book is rehashed from his earlier book, The Divide. Some radical solutions seem impractical and not enough evidence nor a convincing argument is made to alleviate the doubts one might have about those solutions (New money). There was some cherry picking of evidence to feed a narrative regarding social welfare programs but to my knowledge the cherry picking was minimal and the arguments were convincing regardless.

Overall, I would have given it 3/5 if not for the fact that the main theme of the book is the most important public conversation of today.
Profile Image for Dragos Pătraru.
51 reviews2,752 followers
December 31, 2020
Nici nu știu ce să scriu despre cartea asta, ieșită în acest an (desigur, netradusă încă la noi) ca să nu acopăr zeci de pagini. La fel ca la Diviziunea, mi-am luat notițe și am scris idei care se întind probabil pe un spațiu mai lung decât cartea, care are și ea (în varianta Kindle) peste 300 de pagini. Deja m-am acomodat cu funcția de dictare de la Notițe, pe iphone-ul meu și în timp ce citesc dictez ideile principale, pe care le împănez cu idei de articole, exemple din România cu care pot ilustra ideile din carte și așa mai departe. Am avut pagini de care am trecut în 30 de minute, atât de multe lucruri am dictat/notat.
Așa că voi încerca să fiu concis. Less is More îți ia toate concepțiile despre lume cu care ai crescut, pe care ți le-au șoptit în ureche părinții, sistemul, politicienii, televiziunile care reprezintă interesele corporațiilor, nu ale cetățenilor, le strânge frumos într-o pungă, o leagă la gură și apoi dă cu ea în perete până nu mai rămâne nimic. Și îți oferă cu totul alte răspunsuri la întrebarea: cum am ajuns aici? Știu, nu te-ai gândi ca răspunsul să fie capitalismul. Creșterea de dragul creșterii. Cea mai interesantă parte este punerea în context, ce s-a întâmplat pe acest drum de la feudalism la capitalism, în ultimii 500 de ani, de-am reușit să ne separăm cu totul de natură și să îi privim chiar și pe cei mai mulți dintre semenii noștri ca pe niște suboameni. Dezumanizându-i pe cei din Sudul global, puternicii zilei le-au luat tot, de la pământuri la resursele naturale și i-au transformat în sclavi. La naiba, am ajuns pe drumul ăsta să tratăm și femeia ca pe ceva ce trebuie exploatat, de dragul creșterii. O lectură obligatorie pentru cei care vor să scape de imaginea despre lume fabricată de capitalism. Acea imagine la care contribuie din plin și ong-urile plătite cu miliarde de euro anual, imaginea în care țările dezvoltate ajută țările din lumea a treia să se dezvolte, acea imagine cu o lume bună, în care sărăcia să fie eradicată, un obiectiv principal al Națiunilor Unite. Bref, acea imagine e o ficțiune, n-are nicio legătură cu realitatea. Iar realitatea e îngrozitoare, poate de-aia nici nu avem curaj să o privim în față. Citiți cartea și mai vorbim.
În timp ce scriu asta, pe fundal se aude piesa Civil War, a celor de la Guns N’ Roses (au mai scos un Greatest Hits anul ăsta, 15 piese). Iar versurile sunt astea (cântați cu mine, le știți prea bine):

I don't need your civil war
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor
Your power hungry sellin' soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain't that fresh
I don't need your civil war
Ow, oh no, no, no, no, no

Look at the shoes you're filling
Look at the blood we're spilling
Look at the world we're killing
The way we've always done before
Look in the doubt we've wallowed
Look at the leaders we've followed
Look at the lies we've swallowed
And I don't want to hear no more
Profile Image for Keith Akers.
Author 6 books83 followers
May 24, 2021
Less is More is an important book that seeks to popularize the idea of economic “degrowth,” though it is somewhat flawed in significant details. Degrowth is a deliberate attempt to reduce the physical size of the economy — for example, we should prefer bicycles to cars, and plant foods to animal foods. Degrowth is widely discussed in Europe, where the idea originated. In America, the “heart” of the capitalist beast, it is still a relatively unknown idea.

Jason Hickel is right on his key point in this book. Our economy is already massively unsustainable. If human civilization is to have a future, we cannot continue with the growth economy. This should be the starting point of any discussion about the environment.

Degrowth, politics, and the environment

For Hickel, the problem is capitalism, and the solution is degrowth. Capitalism is more than just “free markets.” It’s a force which depends on and requires economic growth. In the first two chapters, he traces the origins of this view back to our separation from nature in ancient times, manifested in the idea that humans should have “dominion” over the earth (Genesis 1:26) and Plato’s dualism.

He exposes the foolishness of “green growth” and “decoupling” (economic growth without an increase in material consumption). Most importantly, he outlines a number of specific steps as “pathways to a post-capitalist world.” Post-capitalist, in this case, means post-growth. These policies will be quickly recognized by students of ecological economics. (Kate Raworth endorsed this book!) They include cutting advertising, scaling back ecologically destructive industries, ending economic inequality, and expanding the sphere of common goods. These policies can achieve “significant reductions in material throughput” (substantially reduced resource use) “without any negative impact on human welfare” (p. 221).

In the final chapter he revisits some of the philosophical and ideological issues discussed in the first two chapters, and suggests the idea of a new social and economic paradigm based on the idea that “everything is connected,” learning from primitive tribes and from animistic religions.

First of all, for all the vegans in the audience, let’s talk about livestock agriculture. Well, I have great news: Less is More attacks the cattle industry! (He doesn’t, however, criticize other forms of livestock agriculture.) The beef industry is at the top of the list of “ecologically destructive industries” which could be “radically scaled back,” and “the [environmental] gains would be astonishing.” It’s right there on pages 219-220, and he devotes two entire paragraphs to the subject. There you go, vegans!

He also links economic inequality and ecological destruction: “any policy that reduces the incomes of the very rich will have a positive ecological benefit” (p. 186). I was a bit surprised, though, to find that he doesn’t mention a universal basic income, which elsewhere he champions.

What are the limits of our economy?

I have two problems with the book. (1) His program doesn’t go far enough; the economy he champions is better, but still unsustainable. (2) His discussions of the philosophical and ideological background of the growth economy misses the mark on several key points.

Hickel mentions, but never addresses in depth, the question of where the ultimate limits to growth are — either for agriculture, for industry, or for human population. He assumes that we must and will switch to renewable energy, and this is probably better than using fossil fuels, but is it enough?

A renewable energy economy still consumes resources. Renewables would require a “massive increase” in some forms of extraction (p. 141-145). There is an active debate over whether renewables can sustainably generate anything close to the energy required by our current consumer culture. (See Alice Friedemann’s Life After Fossil Fuels, the debate between Christopher Clack et al. and Mark Jacobson, Gail Tverberg’s blog Our Finite World, the recent book Bright Green Lies, and others.) Do we really have the resources to sustain even Hickel’s somewhat smaller industrial economy renewably? Or would sustainability also require reductions in human population? He leaves us guessing where his thoughts are taking us.

Eliminating the cattle industry is clearly a good thing, but would it be enough? Wouldn’t a sustainable agriculture need to drastically reduce or eliminate all livestock, not just cattle? Replacing cows with pigs or chickens (something which Hickel is ready to countenance on p. 219) would require increasing factory farms, crops grown for animals, and energy use for agriculture. This is hardly consistent with a philosophy in which (as Hickel puts it) “everything is connected.”

Hickel briefly addresses population (p. 110-111), saying that we need to stop the growth of human population. But don’t we need to do more? Don’t we need population degrowth, a reduction in human population numbers, in order to provide space for even a renewable economy to operate? Hickel doesn’t say.

Perhaps this is the best we can do in 2021, given the current political climate. However, to me it is evident that we need much more. It’s not clear to me that renewables will be able to support even a substantial portion of our current energy use. We also need to drastically reduce or eliminate livestock agriculture; our agricultural system is already massively unsustainable. Irrigation from groundwater is indispensable to our current agricultural output; but most groundwater is irreplaceable. It is “fossil water”; when it’s gone, it’s gone. Soil erosion is even more serious; soil is eroding 10 to 20 times faster than it is being naturally formed. In the long run, agriculture is unsustainable even if everyone currently on the planet is vegan. We will have to go vegan and reduce population size.

The philosophical backdrop

Hickel isn’t content just to provide us with economic solutions to the environmental crisis. He wants to provide the philosophical background. Unfortunately this is probably the weakest part of the book.

Nearly half of the book is spent looking at the origins of capitalism in Western thought, and praising primitive cultures and their animistic, nature-oriented beliefs. He mentions the “dominion” passages in the Old Testament (Genesis 1:26), the Axial Age in which we saw the rise of the dominion ideology (p. 64), Plato (whom he says is dualist, p. 65), and the transition from feudalism to capitalism.

This oversimplifies and distorts history. Genesis has the seeds of a “dominion” ideology from Genesis 1:26, which Hickel rightly rejects. But the Hebrew Bible is a complex and contradictory document. It also has vegetarianism and compassion for animals from Genesis 1:29, plus later passages protesting injustice and the practice of animal sacrifice. Why pick one verse instead of another?

Describing post-1350 Europe as a “golden age” for Europe’s workers and ecology (p. 44) is peculiar. The transition from feudalism to capitalism in Europe had more to do with the Black Death and demographic pressures than any glorious working-class revolution. Yes, wages did go up and forests did recover. But the Black Death had just wiped out 50% of Europe’s population, and then the plague periodically recurred every few decades or so for the next 300 years, down to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Where exactly are we going with this lesson? Should we hope that some new plague will wipe out half of humanity so that we will improve the lot of the working class? Or perhaps the lesson is that we should try to reduce human population, a subject which he doesn’t directly address?

Even more problematic, though, is that he glorifies the animism of primitive cultures, and criticizes the Axial Age for promoting the idea of “dominion.” He’s got it exactly backwards on both points. The Axial Age in ancient Judaism did not produce Genesis: it produced the prophets Isaiah, Amos, and Hosea (among others), who critiqued the violence and injustice of early Hebrew society. Genesis was from an earlier period before the Axial Age. In Eastern philosophy, the Axial Age produced the Buddha whose “Son’s Flesh Sutra” Hickel quotes with approval in his Acknowledgments. The Axial Age thinkers are our friends; the problem is the earlier and more violent culture against which the Axial Age reacted.

Has he read Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature? Pinker’s popularization is well established in the scientific literature. Primitive humans were much more violent toward their fellow humans than modern humans. They were more violent, on a per capita basis, than humans during World Wars I and II, by an order of magnitude. Primitive humans were also, we might add, totally out of balance with nature. With just the tiniest sliver of today’s population, they wiped out over 3/4 of the biomass of all the large animals in North America, South America, and Australia (a fact which Hickel, to his credit, acknowledges). It���s only when humans started running out of things to kill that we turned from hunting to agriculture.

The Axial Age (800 BCE to 200 BCE) actually produced a decline in the scale of violence between humans (see Peter Turchin’s book Ultrasociety). The rise of large empires in China and Rome was only possible because of the acceptance of these new universalist ethical ideas from such Axial Age thinkers as Buddha, Pythagoras, Plato, and Confucius, who promoted the idea of cooperation among humans. By modern standards these ancient empires were not exactly apostles of nonviolence, but compared to the “constant battles” that came before, they were an important step forward, and everyday life became much less violent.

And, if you’re looking for an ancient author to express the idea of simple living in a political setting, you could hardly do better than Plato. In Plato’s Republic “the true state” was one in which people ate moderate vegetarian meals, “not begetting offspring beyond their means lest they fall into poverty or war” (see Republic 372). Hickel derides Plato, but Plato actually addresses both population and food limits much more directly than does Less is More. The proto-fascist state that eventually evolves out of the Republic is a consequence of the insistence of Glaucon (Socrates’ interlocutor in the Republic) on a “luxurious state.” Plato thus provides an indictment of the perpetual growth mentality. Arguably, it is the demand for meat and luxuries which causes the downfall of the ideal state. So I really have to take exception to his treatment of Plato and other Axial Age thinkers.

So there you have it. Less is More is an important book, though somewhat flawed. (There’s one other minor problem: it lacks an index.) Even though I am critical of some aspects of the book, in general it is spot on as to both the basic problem of modern civilization and the approach which we should take concerning the environmental crisis. It’s unfortunate that he has botched a number of the significant details that should emerge from a book on degrowth.
Profile Image for Bridget McGovern.
25 reviews14 followers
August 25, 2021
Major take-home points
1. Enclosures, slavery, and colonization were (and still are) fundamental to capitalism’s objective of perpetual growth.
-- Capitalism is organized around perpetual growth. Hickel outlines quite succinctly how capitalism developed through extremely violent and bloody activities.
-- The Black Death reduced the reserve of laborers, thereby increasing the bargaining power of laborers. During this time, peasants gained several rights and improved working conditions.
-- In addition to the “crisis of elite disaccumulation,” Europe’s capitalists had created a system of mass production and needed somewhere to sell it. Enclosures and colonization became the solution (also acting as a source of primitive accumulation):
a) The Enclosures: The elite enclosed the commons, a violent process known as the Enclosures. The Enclosures destroyed self-sufficient economies, which created a mass supply of workers and a mass supply of consumers.
b) Colonization: Similarly, colonization broke up sufficient Asian trade networks and destroyed global South Industries through asymmetric trade policies. This forced them to serve as a source for raw materials and an important market for mass-produced goods.
c) Slavery: Slavery was both a process of enclosing and colonizing the body.
--We cannot view the enclosures, slavery, and colonization as separate processes. All operate under the same logic/system (the latter experiencing much worse conditions than the latter, of course) and are fundamental to the functioning of capitalism.
--Ultimately, these processes created artificial scarcity.

2. Growth-ism
--The objective of capitalism is to make a profit. Hickel covers Marx’s infamous M-C-M’ economic model. Capitalism is organized around exchange-value rather than use-value, and profit (M’) becomes capital.
--If corporations fail to grow (~3% annual growth rate), investors will back out and corporations will inevitably fall. So they must adhere to the growth logic under capitalism. We must remember that it’s not that corporations are evil, but that we’re in a system that needs perpetual growth to avoid social collapse.
--The reality is that most global South countries will need to increase resource use to meet human needs, while high-income countries will need to dramatically reduce consumption to get back to ecologically sustainable levels.
--Hickel argues a country’s carbon footprint is akin to “atmospheric colonization.” I think ecological unequal exchange is relevant here, too (see: Foster and Holleman, 2014).

3. The fallacy of technological and environmental economic solutions
--Negative emissions technology: NET (and BECCS, in particular) is included in the IPCC’s scenarios for carbon drawdown, but the technology doesn’t even exist yet.
--The illusion of “clean” energy: Although wind, water, sun, etc. are “clean,” the infrastructure for clean energy is not. Transitioning to clean energy at our current (and projected) consumption rates would require more aggressive extractive measures to build the necessary infrastructure.
>>Ultimately, we need to consider where this energy is going, because the source is only half the problem. Under the business-as-usual scenario, clean energy would simply support further ecological damage (e.g., deforestation, industrial ag expansion, waste generation, etc.)
--Decoupling domestic material consumption (DMC) and GDP: Decoupling is a myth. (Although decoupling is sometimes talked about within the environmental community as a feasible solution, many scholars have debunked it. For example, see: Guo et al., 2021 or
Ward et al., 2016). High-income countries externalize production, thereby making the appearance of reduced or slowed DMC.
--Circular economy: Most of what is produced is either still in use (e.g., infrastructure) or is wasted/cannot be reused (e.g., waste generated from mining activities). Only a small fraction has circular potential, but economic growth would keep driving total resource use up. In essence, a circular economy would be ineffective in reducing net material use (e.g., Kasulaitis et al., 2018)

4. Meeting everyone’s needs, globally
a. We have enough global GDP to achieve a wide range of key social indicators – health, education, employment, nutrition, social support, democracy, and life satisfaction.
b. We can meet these by investing in public goods and distributing incomes and opportunities more fairly. He offers a handful of strategies to more quickly invest in public goods (e.g., democratizing international institutions, forgiving debts).

5. Alternatives
a. He presents a range of solutions that are interesting to think about, but ultimately should serve as a primer to kickstart our own social imaginations.
b. Ultimately, we must shift our exchange-value-based economy to one centered around use-value. This will rely on a philosophy of animism, reciprocity, and radical abundance.

Some general thoughts
1. Hickel’s logic is that everything is interconnected; therefore, we cannot analyze the world or our existing systems through a reductionist lens. Even within the environmental community, ecologists can take a reductionist approach. “Solutions” often reside within a micro-understanding of ecological processes, so it was refreshing to read an approach incorporating all these seemingly disparate systems and processes that are very much intricately linked.
2. The first two chapters provide an easy-to-understand “creation story” of capitalism that is in line with the tradition of dialectics. The history of capitalism is marked by material productivity and by famines and economic impoverishment. For anyone confused about the process of the Enclosures or M-C-M’, this is definitely a useful resource.
3. I’m not sure how I felt about him providing “steps” to shifting our economy centered around exchange-value to one centered around use-value. I think it’s important to foster our social imaginations, yes, but his solutions felt reformist and idealistic.
Profile Image for Zoltan Pogatsa.
79 reviews
December 8, 2020
If you wanna read your first book about degrowth, or if you only want to read one book about degrowth, read this one. Even if you are instinctively opposed to the idea, this book will go a long way towards convincing you. It's not just the kind of abstract and sometimes metaphysical philosophising that you often read in degrowth books, especially French ones. This one is social science, with facts and figures, and some very good insides about capitalism and how it is incompatible with sustainability.
Profile Image for Jowita Mazurkiewicz.
304 reviews98 followers
July 1, 2021
Karakterna perełka.
Jason Hickel w tym kompleksowym, zgrabnym i niezadętym eseju rozprawia się z mitami na temat kapitalizmu, kreśląc jego rzeczywistą, brutalną historię, obala paradygmat wzrostu, krytykuje zachodni dualizm człowiek-przyroda, a przy tym proponuje wiele rozwiązań, które mogłyby uratować planetę i jej mieszkańców, przedstawia wizję świata postkapitalistycznego i postwzrostowego - a jest to świat, o którym warto marzyć, o który warto walczyć, mimo że jest utopią.
To jedna z tych książek, które naprawdę sprawiają że wie się więcej i patrzy się inaczej. Właściwie nie miałam ochoty sięgać po nic innego przed końcem.
166 reviews
August 18, 2021
I'm recommending this book to everyone with the condition that if you are already in a sad/bad place regarding climate change, just read chapters 5 and 6. The first part of this book is absolutely brutal, and I had to take a lot of breaks and literally walk away from it. However, the first part is excellent at illustrating exactly how destructive capitalism and its mandate of constant, exponential growth has been for our world, and I do hope that everyone can read it and understand fully how we ended up where we are.

I put this book on my to-read list because of a YouTube trend called "I do not dream of labor," where young folks criticize the idea of having a "dream job" and instead critique the system that forces us to work for access to things that should be common goods, such as housing and food. From this rabbit hole, I found a great anti-capitalism reading list that included this book. I've worked my way through a few titles recently that tied into anti-capitalism sentiments, such as Jenny Odell's How to Do Nothing and David Graeber's Bullshit Jobs. These books did not prepare me for exactly how searing Jason Hickel's assessment of capitalism and ecological destruction would be.

Where do I even begin? Hickel combines so many different fields to put together this book. From philosophy to ecology (though he eventually argues they are one and the same) to economics, he shows the horrifying truth about capitalism: that scarcity, lack of public welfare infrastructure, and inequality are not unfortunate side effects of the system—they are the entire point of the system. He shows that capitalism was supported by a philosophical division between man and nature (we are now canceling Descartes). The abandonment of animism is what allowed capitalists to exploit nature and fellow humans to the point of billionaires. It is thoroughly disturbing.

One of the first things that really grabbed my attention is when Hickel traces the history of capitalism over the past 5 centuries and talks about artificial scarcity. He writes, "Scarcity — and the threat of hunger — served as the engine of capitalist growth... all the same land and forests and waters remained... but people's access to them was suddenly restricted... in the very process of elite accumulation." Later, he quotes Reverend Joseph Townsend in 1786 as saying, "'hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry... Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjugation to the most brutish, the most obstinate, and the most perverse.'" Horrifyingly, this connected to a screenshot I saw from our favorite non-news, entertainment program, FOX News. Laura Ingraham is quoted as saying, "What if we just cut off unemployment? Hunger is a pretty powerful thing" and Jon Taffer replies, "A hungry dog is an obedient dog." Nothing has fucking changed in this conversation. How despicable.

Capitalism demands constant and exponential growth, and we believe growth is good. We believe it because we believe that when a country's GDP increases, so too does the quality of life. Hickels debunks this, and he also debunks the very simple idea that growth for growth's sake simply doesn't exist in nature. In his great way of simplifying things, he writes, "The natural process of growth is finite. We want our children to grow, but not to the point of being 9 feet tall, and we certainly don't want them to grow on an endless exponential curve; rather, we want them to grow to the point of maturity, and then to maintain a healthy balance. We want our crops to grow, but only until they are ripe, at which point we harvest them and plant afresh. This is how growth works in the living world. It levels off." And so too, increases in quality of human life level off, regardless of how much more quickly GDP grows. In fact, once GDP outstrips the peak of quality of human life, it actually starts to hurt that quality. A constantly growing GDP uses too much energy, destroys too much of the environment, creates too much inequality, that it then hurts the lives of the people who contribute to said growth. It's madness. Quality of human life levels off at some point; there is a time where things cannot improve. And yet, capitalism demands that production increases not only linearly but exponentially, and if it doesn't, society will collapse.

Hickels also thoroughly explores our childish expectation that technology in "clean" energy will save us. He discusses that investments in clean energy have not replaced use of coal and oil but have simply added to our net energy demands. He writes that "Even if we doubled or tripled our output of clean energy production, we would still make zero dent in global emissions. Growth keeps outstripping our best efforts to decarbonise." He also attacks the logic that technological advances will lead to less resource consumption. All products are made to be sold, and when a company figures out how to make a product better/faster, they simply want to sell MORE of it. Hickel writes, "In a system where technological innovation is leveraged to expand extraction and production, it makes little sense to hope that yet more technological innovation will somehow magically do the opposite."

There is so much more that I want to quote from this book, but frankly, I'm afraid of being accused of plagiarism and distribution/licensing issues. Read this book. If you're too sad and distressed about the state of the world, read chapters 5 and 6, which leave you with wonderful jumping-off points for embracing degrowth policies, such as ending planned obsolescence, cutting advertising (to prevent excess production and consumption), shifting from ownership to usership (publicly owned tools like cars and lawnmowers instead of falling prey to capitalist apps), ending food waste, scaling down ecologically destructive industries, pursuing public job guarantees (for when politicians scream and whine that degrowth will destroy jobs), reducing inequality, and finally, decommodifying public goods and expanding the commons. We all deserve clean air, clean water, healthy soil, a healthy ecosystem, and access to public programs such as education, housing, healthcare, food, and anything else that is simply a fucking basic human right. I plan to spam my representatives with these policies. I plan to bring this up at holiday dinners. I plan to radicalize my friends and family. And I hope that one day I am not beholden to this stupid fucking system that holds all of us hostage to an unsustainable demand of exponential growth, I really do.
Profile Image for Szymon.
45 reviews5 followers
October 11, 2020
Ive finished reading this book last night.

It's safe to say that, along with the ‘Divide’ by the same author, those books had the biggest impact on how I perceive modern economics. Funny thing is, I picked those titles to challange my view on capitalism and economics right after reading (and very much enjoying) a couple of Thomas Sowell's books ('Basic Economics', 'The Quest for social justice', 'Wealth, Poverty and Politics').

I have not yet turned full-on-against capitalism but I feel like I've heard both sides and no longer feel that neoliberalism is the best we can come up with. Actually, it will sooner or later kill us if we don't question what seems to be the status quo, but actually has been around for only about 500 years.

Great book, highly recommended. I wish it was translated to more languages.
3 reviews
January 21, 2021
This book has some excellent criticisms of modern capitalist systems and proposes some practical methods that could be used to reduce our obsession with and dependence on economic growth.
However, it seems to spend more time positing a concept of an idyllic past where humans were happy and at one with nature. Even if this is accurate, the subsequent proposition that we can return to such a state and resolve our current ecological crises is unworkable and has very little logical support in the book.
The discussion of alternative economic system elements such as reducing inequality, limiting material extraction, and non-debt-based money are useful but under-developed. There is no discussion of how we might transition to such systems, no addressing of the many criticisms of them and no attempt at describing an overall economic system for de-growth.
Overall I think this is a useful introduction for those unfamiliar with the problems and limitations of the economic foundations of our civilisation. Its attempts at spiritualism might inspire some, but will probably alienate others. It is obvious that serious synthesis of de-growth economic systems is still something that is desperately needed.
Profile Image for Faaiz.
221 reviews2 followers
March 28, 2022
An excellent and fascinating introduction and primer to the concept of degrowth as an alternative to the growth-fixated paradigm under neoliberal capitalism. We will not be able to grow ourselves out of the current and imminent climate catastrophe, nor will magical thinking about technology as some sort of savior of humanity prevent or offset the catastrophe. Degrowth is not a call for primitivism, but it is a call for reduced production and consumption, equal distribution of income and wealth, and elimination of parasitic practices such as compound interest, food waste, enclosure of commons, artificial scarcity (planned obsolescence, advertising aimed for increased consumption) that have eroded our ability to imbibe our lives with meaning.

But it should be emphasized that given the current widespread inequality, "most global South countries will need to increase resource use in order to meet human needs, while high-income countries will need to dramatically reduce consumption to get back within sustainable levels." Disproportionate impact of climate crisis will be on the Global South which is the least responsible for the current situation. The onus lies with countries of the Global North to reduce their consumption, production, and eliminate the growth imperative.
Profile Image for Vinayak Mishra.
51 reviews13 followers
March 18, 2021
A controversial but thought provoking book which has deeply influenced the way I think about economics, consumption and growth. The ideas it proposes run so contrary to some of the basic assumptions we are taught that I decided to let my thoughts stew for a bit before I wrote this review. Sharing some of the brilliant points made by Jason Hickel in this book:

Our governments, our companies and our economies all run on the assumption that GDP growth is a good thing. After all, why not? More growth means that more people have more money to spend, which means that people lead better lives, right? Not true, beyond a point.

1. Unchecked growth means that corporations grow larger and larger , and their sole focus on profitability comes at the expense of squeezing out other stakeholders - consumers, employees and the environment. As their size grows, so does their influence - politicians scramble to reduce taxes and minimize regulation, under the direct influence of money (lobbying) or indirect support in the form of the ability to create jobs in their constituencies. Indeed, many large corporations are beholden only to their shareholders, whose primary incentive will always be value creation (growth)

2. Exponential growth is possible only with endless extraction , which involves bringing more and more of the planet and human activities under the economy, and this is causing us to fast approach the point where our planet cannot regulate and regenerate itself successfully. Ecological collapse is coming. And no, this is not just about climate change. Think water, for example - how long are our ground water supplies supposed to last if both industries and population keep rising at their current rate?

3. What about technology? Surely, technology will save us? Question - Have you ever wondered why we work longer and longer hours despite all the technological advancement we've made over the last half century? Shouldn't that mean we live more relaxed lives, if the work that took ages can now be done at the click of a button? Answer: All the efficiency gains arising from technology are swallowed up by the growth machine. The baseline is reset and we start off anew, with the goal of squeezing in even more output into the same amount of time.

4. So what do we do? It is important to realize that growth started out as a means to an end - as GDP grows, people move out of poverty and their standard of living improves. But this is not true exponentially. Beyond a point, people's satisfaction with their lives does not improve as GDP rises. The gains accrue only to a few. The solution is to instead focus on the end goal itself - why not measure people's satisfaction with their lives? Why not adopt measures such as HDI, Gross National Happiness as indicators of a nation's progress. If your nation is already a "developed" country, why obsesses over further GDP size increase and growth?

We still need growth to ensure that billions rise out of poverty in developing nations. But not everything needs to grow, all the time. For example, growth in fossil fuel consumption is clearly detrimental to the planet. Thus, by managing the amount that countries and industries are allowed to grow, we can ensure a more equitable state of things and prevent ecological collapse.

5. Lastly, my favorite portion of this book: What if we did something even more radical? What if we adopted a new paradigm in terms of how we view the Earth - what if we were to treat everything in our environment as "connected"? This isn't some spiritual mumbo-jumbo. Think about it - all processes on this planet are linked. Each component of an ecosystem takes from it's surroundings but also gives back. You can't remove any one component without causing an imbalance in the whole system. What if humans were to also live in the same way - instead of just taking taking taking (extraction), what if we also focused on giving back? What if we managed the amount we take such that we never disrupt the balance of things?

This book isn't perfect. The core message is heavily driven by the idea of balance and equality, which is something not everyone agrees with. However, even if you're a skeptic, do read it. It is definitely an eye-opener which has caused me to reconsider how I live in my life and what I should work towards in the future.
Profile Image for Wout.
44 reviews1 follower
January 10, 2021
Al jaren worstel ik met wat ik als de grootste paradox van onze tijd beschouw: we moeten als brave burgers zo veel mogelijk consumeren, en dit om ervoor te zorgen dat iedereen aan zijn basisbehoeften kan voldoen. Hoe meer er geconsumeerd wordt - of we het nu nodig hebben of niet - hoe beter, en als we te weinig consumeren, komen grote groepen mensen in de miserie terecht omdat ze de eindjes niet meer aan elkaar kunnen knopen. Waarom? Omdat het de economie is, natuurlijk. Hoezo, dingen hergebruiken en zuinig omspringen met middelen? Dat is slecht voor de economie!

Eindelijk is een goed onderbouwd boek verschenen waarin aangetoond wordt dat de hardnekkige economische dogma’s van deze tijd, die door links en rechts algemeen aangenomen worden, helemaal geen goddelijke natuurwetten zijn. In minder dan 300 vlot geschreven pagina’s wordt duidelijk gemaakt dat het blijvend nastreven van continue economische groei niet alleen overbodig, maar ook onhaalbaar is en zelfs enorm schadelijk voor onze planeet. Als we willen vermijden dat hele ecosystemen op zeer korte tijd onherstelbaar beschadigd geraken, is een snelle overstap naar een ander soort economie nodig. Vooral de economieën van rijke westerse landen moeten juist snel krimpen, of beter “ontgroeien” om een catastrofe af te wenden. Dit klinkt misschien dramatisch of zelfs een beetje radicaal, maar het goede nieuws is dat dit mogelijk is zonder dat we moeten inboeten op vlak van welvaart en welzijn, integendeel.

In het eerste deel van het boek plaatst Hickel geschiedenis van de laatste 500 jaar in een compleet ander perspectief. Hij legt op een beleefde, niet-aanstootgevende maar niettemin duidelijke manier uit dat het tijdperk van het kapitalisme helemaal niet zo’n succesverhaal is als we wel zouden denken, en dat vele vooruitgangen hier ten onrechte aan toegeschreven worden. Hierbij neemt de auteur rustig de tijd om ieder mogelijk tegenargument zelf aan te halen en vervolgens te weerleggen.

Verder is niet alleen het overheersende economische systeem dringend aan vervanging toe. Het dominante wereld- en mensbeeld – waarin de menselijke geest geacht wordt de natuur en ook het lichaam te onderwerpen en exploiteren – dient plaats te maken voor een alternatieve filosofie, die je als lezer graag in de plaats wil laten komen eens je weet dat het mogelijk is: een filosofie gebaseerd op wederzijdse afhankelijkheid, evenwicht en respect, die stelt dat alles met elkaar verbonden is en men niet meer mag nemen dan men kan teruggeven.

Ten slotte volgen enkele losse voorbeelden van interventies die de transitie naar “degrowth” zouden kunnen ondersteunen. Er worden echter geen concrete oplossingen aangeboden voor hoe dit effectief bereikt kan worden. Daar wringt het schoentje toch wat: directe democratie is allemaal goed en wel, maar in deze gepolariseerde maatschappij waar macht vaak corrupt is kan ik me niet voorstellen dat deze noodzakelijke snelle en wereldwijde overgang zonder slag of stoot zou kunnen gebeuren, of zonder dat totalitaire leiders zich hier en daar in het machtsvacuüm wringen.
De eerste stap naar een betere wereld zal dus simpelweg zijn dat zo veel mogelijk mensen dit boek moeten lezen. Dat zei ik een jaar geleden ook over “De Meeste Mensen Deugen” van Rutger Bregman, en ik zie inderdaad parallellen tussen deze twee belangrijke werken. Vertrouwen hebben in de goedheid van de (meeste) mens(en) zal onontbeerlijk zijn in de zoektocht naar een duurzamere en eerlijkere samenleving.
103 reviews9 followers
December 17, 2020
Even though I agree in pretty much all what the book claims, I find the book very negative and depressing.
There is a massive amount of cherry-picking and in some instances manipulation of the wording to assign blame.
Profile Image for Jesse Ward-Bond.
89 reviews2 followers
February 3, 2022
There is something wrong here.

For years, I (and many others, I suspect) have been feeling this small tug in my head - a slight force that would pull me out of reality for a second. Seemingly anything could trigger this derealization, a billionaire buying a yacht, my boss saying "you have to be a hustler to work here", Christmas gifts, ticket resellers, me throwing out a food processor because I couldn't find a cheap plastic part, the homeless woman I see sitting outside the pharmacy building on campus, the fact that I want a Tesla so badly , paying rent to corporations, corporate green initiatives, trying to figure out how best to spend my two weeks of vacation, etc. etc. etc.

For years, I (and many others, I suspect) have been reacting to this tug the same way: Saying Yeah, something is wrong here and then continuing to go about my day. I can't do that anymore. I can't. The way that everyone interacts with the world is a product of a system that is fundamentally flawed. A system that has taught us to assign value to a thing not based on utility, but based on how hard it is to get, on scarcity, on how it makes people look at us, on how much we can get for it when we sell it. Capitalism.

We are fleas on the back of this system and it is carrying us into oblivion. We are hurtling towards destruction in every direction - wealth inequality, the environment, healthcare, security - and the only people who have any control over The System are the people that have learned how to manipulate it to accumulate astronomically unequal levels of wealth.

If I sound unhinged, it's because I am (slightly). This book ripped the door right off my temple and has brought into full view the grinding paradox that I have been blithely skipping around on my way through the rat race. Thankfully, this violent breach has also exposed a revolutionary fervor that I didn't know I possessed. Never before have I been so motivated to find a way to fix the problems I see.

I am aware that this book has its problems (cherry-picked data, details conveniently missing for the sake of a stronger argument, a cover that forces me to tell everyone "this isn't a book about minimalism") but it did what it set out to do. If you read one environmental economics book in your life, this should be it.
Profile Image for Kate Savage.
669 reviews120 followers
December 28, 2022
One of the best books I've read in a long time.

It's the only book about economics that I actually feel like I understand. Hickel never floats away into theory, he's always grounded, asking how each idea materially affects ecosystems and human lives. I mean, imagine my joy to open an economics text and the first paragraphs are about insects! I've never felt so welcomed into a book about global economics.

I've also felt strangely hopeful since I finished this book. I say "strangely" because the billionaires aren't just going to calmly give up their fantasies of eternal growth, they'll gladly take the whole earth down with them. But Hickel actually convinced me that the well-being and joy of humans is tied up with thriving ecosystems, and that systems of real democracy can protect it all. He eroded my misanthropy and my sense of doom. For the moment at least!

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Niki Chalusi.
6 reviews2 followers
September 9, 2022
This book changed my perception of the world. I feel truly greatful to YouTuber Anattynook who recommended the book.
Profile Image for Wietse Van den bos.
205 reviews20 followers
July 25, 2022
Tamelijk briljant boek. De eerste helft is een uiteenzetting van wat tegelijkertijd als een totale open deur als als een revolutionair verhaal. Onze maatschappij is ingericht op oneindige groei, en dat kan helemaal niet. Het is gewoon inherent onmogelijk, maar in onze maatschappij is het ook bijna onmogelijk om er van af te wijken. Doodeng, doordat het tegelijkertijd zo logisch en zo allesomvattend is.

Het tweede deel schetst, in hele grove lijnen, wat je wel moet willen. Wat kan een wereld waarin groei niet meer het overkoepelende doel is betekenen? Zoals wel vaker in dit type boeken is dat utopistischer, misschien een beetje naïef. Maar tegelijkertijd vond ik het wel inspirerend. Een wereld gericht op overvloed aan wat nodig is, en die niet meer de harde natuur/mens grens hanteert. Volstrekt utopisch natuurlijk, maar niet absurd. Een alternatief op het kapitalisme waar ik wel over wil dromen.

Al met al een goed geschreven en heel overtuigend boek. Geeft woorden aan dingen die ik eigenlijk al wel vond, maar niet zo expliciet verwoord had. Heel goed boek.
Profile Image for Tristan Eagling.
63 reviews32 followers
September 6, 2020
Welcome to the Capitalocene

"Take the chainsaw.....it’s a remarkable invention that enables loggers to fell trees, ten times faster than they are able to do by hand. But logging companies equipped with chainsaws don't let their workers finish the job early and take the rest of the day off. They get them to cut down ten times as many trees....."

The book starts with a breakneck, take no prisoners critique of capitalism, and how it has ultimately caused climate change. The argument covers 500 years, so there is no time for reflection, nuance or counter argument. Hickel cherry picks data, conflates economics and philosophy with reckless abandon (dualism and capitalism are apparently the same) and occasionally uses trite terminology (we need to decolonize our minds🥴) to drive home the narrative.


But, this uncompromising and urgent approach is wholly warranted giving the scale of the challenge, to counter a narrative that perpetual growth is good. An idea which is so deeply ingrained in society few of us ever question it (even though, as we learn, this idea is based on questionable evidence).

The ideas Hickel presents are by his own admission, not new. He very much stands on the shoulders of the late greats, Frantz Fanon and David Graeber to name a couple.

What makes this book so brilliant is how well researched it is. Using data from a wide range of disciplines and Hickel’s own research, we are given a holistic overview of, not only the drivers behind carbon emissions (and some of the technologies that have been proposed to offset them), but also the less discussed extraction industry.

Unlike many books in this genre (climate doom), Less is More: How Degrowth Will Save the World ends with some hope and offers a number of workable and grounded solution to humanity's impending doom which anyone, regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum, should read.
Profile Image for foteini_dl.
455 reviews128 followers
September 25, 2020
Κοιτάχτε τώρα τι γίνεται. Έχω ένα θεματάκι με τους βαρύγδουπους τίτλους. Ε και τούτος εδώ είναι, όχι; Επίσης, είμαι επιφυλακτική με όσους ασχολούνται με την αποανάπτυξη. Οι περισσότεροι (ακτιβιστές) που ασχολούνται με αυτή σε κάνουν να νομίζεις ότι η λύση στην κλιματική αλλαγή, την περιβαλλοντική κρίση εν γένει, είναι να πάμε στα βουνά, να βρούμε ένα ωραίο μέρος και να ζήσουμε όπως οι άνθρωποι των σπηλαίων.

Και είναι κρίμα. Γιατί δεν έχουν άδικο όταν λένε ότι η αύξηση του ΑΕΠ δεν συνεπάγεται μετριασμό της περιβαλλοντικής υποβάθμισης. Και αυτό το δείχνουν τα επίσημα παγκόσμια δεδομένα. Ούτε ότι η αύξηση του ΑΕΠ δεν μπορεί να συνεχίσει επ' αόριστον. Ούτε όταν λένε ότι έχουμε ένα φετίχ με την ανάπτυξη για την ανάπτυξη. Το θέμα είναι ότι αυτά που λένε ακούγονται υπερβολικά απλοϊκά και αφελή.

Εδώ, τα πράγματα είναι λίγο διαφορετικά. Ο Hickel είναι ένας οικονομικός ανθρωπολόγος που βλέπει ότι το περιβάλλον και ο άνθρωπος είναι ένα ενιαίο σύστημα που δεν είναι ξεκομμένο απ' την οικονομία. Στο πρώτο μισό του βιβλίου ανατρέχει στην ιστορία του καπιταλισμού και τη θέση του ανθρώπου και του περιβάλλοντος σ' αυτό. Στο δεύτερο μισό προτάσσει πολιτικές ώστε το οικονομικό σύστημα να γίνει πιο δίκαιο. Βέβαια, για να γίνει αυτό, πρέπει πρώτα, εχμ, να αλλάξει. Το πώς, το έχει δείξει η Ιστορία.

Μάλλον θα συμφωνήσεις με πολλά απ' αυτά που λέει. Επίσης, μάλλον θα διαφωνήσεις με άλλα τόσα. Και μάλλον θα αναγνωρίσεις ότι ο Hickel βάζει -με τον τρόπο του- ένα λιθαράκι στο ζήτημα κλιματική αλλαγή/περιβαλλοντική κρίση και βιωσιμότητα. Το μόνο σίγουρο είναι ότι θα σκεφτείς. Και, δεν ξέρω, ίσως σε κάνει να σκεφτείς τι είναι σημαντικό τελικά και πώς ζεις.
5 reviews
November 15, 2021
The author was dogmatic. Rather than making a strong argument for degrowth, he made a straw man argument for growth, which he could then easily tear down and scoff at. Growth is at the center of our economy and our way of life and arguably has been the source of prosperity and wellbeing for many people. I was hoping to have that dealt with coherently, and have explained how there are other ways, better ways, fairer ways to get that prosperity and wellbeing.
Profile Image for Gina.
134 reviews11 followers
December 5, 2021
Probably my best non-fiction read of the year.

If you choose to read a single non-fiction book next year, then this should be the one. I left so many little colorful bookmarks in this book that it looks now like a rainbow. Definitely on my list to re-read in the near future.
It is not that this book is bringing only information that you totally didnt know. This is not the point. The point is that it describes in a clear, straight to the point manner the expected effects in the short, medium and long term of climate change, without being alarmistic, but rather more to raise awareness. Despite this, the introduction got me depressed more than the best novel of Dostoyevsky or so.

'And if temperatures rise by 3 or 4 degrees Celsius, sea levels will go up by as much as 100 cm, and possibly 200 cm. Virtually all of the planet's beaches will be underwater. Much of Bangladesh, home to 164 million people, will disappear. Cities like New York and Amsterdam will be permanently flooded, as will Jakarta, Miami, Rio and Osaka. Countless people will be forced to flee coastal regions. All this century.'

And if you are telling to yourelf that won't happen in your lifetime, then it is good to know that:
'In the past, most climate models have assumed that even if global warming locks in the total melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, the process of disintegration will stretch out over a couple of centuries. But in 2016, two American scientists published an article in the journal Nature pointing out that it may well happen a lot faster. Ice sheets are thicker in the middle than they are around the edges, so as icebergs break off they once they expose taller and taller ice cliffs. This is a problem, because taller ice cliffs can't support their own weight: once they're exposed they begin to buckle, one after the other, in a domino effect, like skyscrapers collapsing. This could cause ice sheets to disintegrate not in centuries but decades - perhaps as little as twenty or fifty years.

Of course, one can say this is not true, how can we know, maybe there are just speculations. Or maybe he just wanted to make this book a best-seller, so it is a marketing strategy. But actually there are numerous studies that the author cites throughout his book. And it was surprising that most of the shocking information in the introduction was already known to me from various documentaries on the topic.

Once he got the reader hooked on, the author then moves on to build his arguments on what got us here. I found very interesting the assumption that philosopers like Decartes or Bacon with their dualism determined the society to move from a state of nature worshipers where pesants were bringing offerings to the gods of harvest to a state where man is considered above nature and animals in general, where it is our right to do whatever we wish as we are not one with nature. Of course this is not the only cause of our current condition, but quite insightful to note.

As a critique, it would have been nice to see a chapter on what you and me can do on a daily basis to help reduce the upcoming disaster: e.g. consume local produce, shopping in the old fashion way directly in the store and not by ordering online, reducing meat consumption etc.

I recently saw a documentary on how the nature strives and took back the lost land, after the Chernobyl accident. The area is like a urban forest with trees that thrive among numerous residential and industrial areas and wild animals teem freely. And this in only 35 years. And this brings me hope.
Profile Image for Ryan McCarthy.
262 reviews18 followers
July 24, 2022
Honestly, this book probably did more to push me left than anything else I’ve read. I’m convinced anti-capitalism is an ecological necessity.
Profile Image for Raul Terhes.
115 reviews
January 26, 2022
Terrifying and also bringing a bit of hope. It's the kind of book you don't want to put down, but still have to because you need to better grasp all the levels of what is described.

First part shines a great spotlight on all the things you didn't know about capitalism (going past the common portrayals in mass media) from It's inception to the current day, the motivations behind it and mostly how the whole mindset caused so much suffering and disasters.

Second part is a brilliantly put together argument completed with quite a few well thought possible solutions to our main issues.

This is definitely a book to read in these times.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Stephen Holland.
9 reviews4 followers
January 29, 2021
Less Is More is a book by economic anthropologist Jason Hickel. It examines the reality of climate change in the world today and tackles the true root of the problem: Capitalism. This book explains that if we truly wish to overcome the largest issue humanity has ever faced, that there is only one solution and that is degrowth.

Capitalism is run on the concept of perpetual economic expansion, but the consequence of this is that it will never be enough. There is no end point to capitalism, there is no moment when giant corporations say, “Okay, that’s enough money, time to restore the amazon”. If we wish to restore the planet and save it from utter destruction, we need to find balance and that balance is diametrically opposed to the values of capitalism.

These are the concepts that Hickel outlines in his book, offering statistics and examples that would shock and appal even the most staunchly conservative yuppie. I would recommend this book to absolutely anyone wishing to educate themselves on the climate crisis and what can be done to prevent it. This book is important because it firmly places blame on those who are the root cause of the issue and clearly demonstrates that the only way to change things is if we all come together collectively and say, “NO MORE!”. This book presents consumers as victims of capitalism who have no choice but to unwittingly participate in ecological destruction. While it is important for individuals to try and live a sustainable existence, the average person’s carbon footprint is not even a drop in the ocean of damage being done by corporations and governments in the name of capitalism.

This book shows us that there are alternatives out there, there are different ways we can live in this world without doing harm to it, and the result will be a freer, happier population. If we shift our perceptions from one based around profit to one based on necessity, we can eliminate waste and even reduce the need for gruelling work schedules and pointless stress.

Less Is More explains how GDP, the measure through which countries calculate their economic progress, is inherently flawed. It does not measure happiness or sustainability, it does not measure the millions of hours of unpaid labour such as domestic or care work that keeps our societies going. It merely measures profit for profits sake, without any thought given to the deathly consequences. If an alien were to observe our planet from outer space and was able to see the rationale behind some of the systems that we have in place, they would not be able to comprehend how we have all the information in front of us but somehow still follow these farcical systems. This book expertly shines a light on these absurdities and leaves you baffled about how it has been allowed to go on like this for so long.

Hickel shows us that even though the current system of the world seems unchangeable, it has not always been this way. Before the advent of capitalism there was still exchange. People bought and sold things. People still produced products. However, the philosophy underpinning this was that the product should be useful and not that it must make money regardless of its use or not.

One of the most powerful examples in the book shows how even though capitalism is presented to us as the most efficient economic system it is by design inefficient. Under capitalism things are not built to last. The goal is to keep people buying, and to keep people producing waste. This is good for business but terrible for the environment. The way this is achieved is through something called planned obsolescence. This is when products are designed with the express purpose of being obsolete after a certain pre-determined amount of time. Apple are particularly bad for this, making your IPhone run slower after each update, convincing the consumer that they need a new phone every 2-3 years. In the USA, approximately 151 million phones are discarded each year, amounting to 17 tonnes of copper waste. This waste is entirely unnecessary, it is built into the design of the product itself.

Jason Hickel discusses all these issues and expands on them much further in Less Is More. Whether you are a long-time activist or completely oblivious to the issue of climate change this book will teach you something. The world does not have to be the way it is, people do not have to suffer under capitalism as they do, and the prevalence of ecological destruction and natural disasters that we see increasingly in the world today can be stopped. We must all come together to inform ourselves and demand change. The powers that be may say growth is the only way, but this book shows us that the alternatives are more desirable for everyone.
Profile Image for Elsa.
101 reviews2 followers
June 21, 2023
This is such a vitally important book and probably the best on the climate crisis and capitalism I've read so far, at least in its analysis of the madness we find ourselves in and how we got there. But also in the array of possibilities he provides, Hickel proposes realistic yet deeply radical ideas. I was afraid it would be politically shallow in not being explicitly anarchist/communist/socialist/whatever, but I found myself to be undisturbed by this. The degrowth, anti-capitalist narrative is in no way reformative and encompasses much more than is suggested by the (clumsily chosen) title.
Add in a book with a critical analysis of the state, another one on revolutionary tactics and a book or two anti-oppression and you'll have a very strong basis to be the radical the world needs you to be.
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