Slow Down

The Degrowth Manifesto

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Pub Date 09 Jan 2024 | Archive Date 06 Feb 2024

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"[A] well-reasoned and eye-opening treatise . . . [Kohei Saito makes] a provocative and visionary proposal."
Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

"Saito’s clarity of thought, plethora of evidence, and conversational, gentle, yet urgent tone . . . are sure to win over open-minded readers who understand the dire nature of our global. . . . A cogently structured anti-capitalist approach to the climate crisis."
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Why, in our affluent society, do so many people live in poverty, without access to health care, working multiple jobs and are nevertheless unable to make ends meet, with no future prospects, while the planet is burning?

In his international bestseller, Kohei Saito argues that while unfettered capitalism is often blamed for inequality and climate change, subsequent calls for “sustainable growth” and a “Green New Deal” are a dangerous compromise. Capitalism creates artificial scarcity by pursuing profit based on the value of products rather than their usefulness and by putting perpetual growth above all else. It is therefore impossible to reverse climate change in a capitalist society—more: the system that caused the problem in the first place cannot be an integral part of the solution. 

Instead, Saito advocates for degrowth and deceleration, which he conceives as the slowing of economic activity through the democratic reform of labor and production. In practical terms, he argues for:

  • the end of mass production and mass consumption
  • decarbonization through shorter working hours
  • the prioritization of essential labor over corporate profits

By returning to a system of social ownership, he argues, we can restore abundance and focus on those activities that are essential for human life, effectively reversing climate change and saving the planet.
"[A] well-reasoned and eye-opening treatise . . . [Kohei Saito makes] a provocative and visionary proposal."
Publishers Weekly, (starred review)

"Saito’s clarity of thought, plethora of evidence, and...

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Featured Reviews

This is an incredibly well-written book with clear and developed explanations behind reasoning and an engaging writing style. It has introduced me to a new world of economics that I had never heard of before and is deeply fascinating. It addresses complex ideas and explains them well enough for anyone with a basic understanding of economics, and for that reason I believe it’s an essential read for anyone who has this base level knowledge and wants to know more about the climate crisis. Having read a few books before about the economics behind climate change, this book has by far been the most exciting and thought provoking, and has truly changed the way I see Marxism.

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SLOW DOWN goes a step beyond the wonderful THE HEAT WILL KILL YOU FIRST. HEAT demonstrates that the only way out of the growing climate disaster is to stop burning fossil fuels. SLOW DOWN shows why we have to stop the reason for that burning: rapacious growth capitalism.

Saito's solution is degrowth communism, which replaces the empty "value" desired by capitalism, especially financial capitalism, with the substantive "use-value" promoted by communism. That is, we should make things because people need them, not just because they'll buy them. Companies should be about making these things instead of managing their returns a la Jack Welch in order to create stable, expected returns for shareholders. That is, our economy should be about people as people, not people as a resource to exploit and exhaust. To put in terms of the movie THE MENU, Saito's ordering up an actual cheeseburger, tasty and nutritious, with fries, not some calorie-free, avant, deconstructed cheeseburger. And he's absolutely right. The problem with green initiatives, however effective, simply can't counterbalance the destruction demanded by growth capitalism in its search for at least 10% more profit annually.

The one problem with the book isn't Saito's reliance on Marx's ideas, which make sense. It's that he's using the book also to champion and defend those ideas because they run counter to Marx's earlier thoughts. In addition, Saito often writes defensively because he knows the very notion of relying on Marx's ideas might cause readers to recoil, their having been raised in the capitalist faith. This defense might be important for an academic audience, which, being an academic, he might be writing for, but a popular audience would just want the ideas and how they'll save the world, so the academic defense is distracting and feels off-point. In addition, has no one else had thoughts along these lines since Marx? Bringing in more recent economists not just to contravene them would make the book feel fresher plus it would obviate Sait's defensiveness by showing that Marx isn't alone.

That said, SLOW DOWN, like THE HEAT WILL KILL YOU FIRST, is one of those books that prevents a positive and possible vision that, once seen, can't be unseen. It will make you question what you consume, why companies are creating it for your consumption and what that consumption means for our future.

Thanks to the publisher and Net Galley for the early llok.

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The concept of degrowth is something I have studied quite a lot and the idea never fails to captivate me. It’s such a new notion in development studies that there is not much literature on it outside of academic articles, so from reading the title alone, I was absolutely determined to get ahold of a copy of this book to read all about it.

In the most positive way possible, I genuinely would recommend this book to anyone researching and understanding Marxism and capitalism, over the actual works of Karl Marx.

Saitō’s main argument surrounds the idea that, as capitalism is the main cause of social inequality and climate change, it cannot also be the cure.

As capitalism peruses profit based on value of a product over its usefulness, it is impossible for capitalism to reverse the social and environmental damage it has also created.

Saitō advocates for degrowth and deceleration of the economy, as well as a dramatic reform of labour and production. The main ways Saitō proposes to do this, is through returning to a system of social ownership, which will encompass:
- The end of mass consumption and production
- Decarbonisation through shorter working hours
- The prioritisation of essential labour over corporate profits.
So, overall, a very well rounded and complete manifesto, covering many areas that all intertwine logically in a comprehensible way. This is in no way hindered by the English translation, which has been flawlessly executed by Bergstrom all the way through.

In this radical manifesto, Saitō does not shy away from calling out the constant greenwashing done by the UN, World Bank, IMF, IPCC, OECD, world governments, and MNCs seeking and promoting a more environmentally “sustainable” and decoupled mode of capitalist production.

Satiō ingeniously composes his manifesto with reference to classic Marxism and basic communist theory, which is indeed as true and radical as it has ever been, while simultaneously transformed and adapted to fit a modern, scientific society aware of the climate crisis.

My first impression of this book was that it discusses what I personally see as rather simple and obvious ideas and arguments. It felt quite underwhelming, until I continued to read and the pieces started falling together. The remarkable part of this book is how Saitō managed to compress so many arguments and so much historical and political context into this relatively short book, without seeming too rushed or unexplained.

And I learned a lot from this book, actually- despite my prior knowledge about degrowth and Marxist theory. The concepts of “Imperial Mode of Living”, “decoupling”, “bifurcation”, “Keynesianism”are basic in retrospect, but to give these systems and processes specific titles and to bring them to the surface in this comprehensive yet digestible form is a commendable choice, and I hope the usage of the terms and definitions in this book become more popular in language in the future.
This book also brings to light a very diverse range of amazing, modern philosophers, scientists and scholars, rather than heavily relying so much on such people from the far past who are well known, but who’s theories and knowledge is rather outdated today. I liked this a lot about the book, I learned about many new modern researchers and movements that I have not seen mentioned anywhere else before, and I’m looking forward to going on to read more about them elsewhere.

I then put myself into the shoes of someone who is curious, but has never read anything like this before. If you fall into this category, I genuinely recommend this book to you more than to anyone else- it is a fully immersive crash course- the lessons you will learn and the ideas you will earn will be invaluable, and I have no doubt that it will provoke you to want to read and do more regarding climate change, anti-capitalism and activism.

Again, thank you for the opportunity to review this book- it is tremendous and I will definitely be recommending this to everyone I know.

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I was unfamiliar with the idea that capitalism depends on constant growth of the economy until I read works by Richard Wolff who spoke about the unsustainability of the economy to be always growing and how our 21st century post-industrial economy shows the emerging strains of that expectation.

Slow Down by Kohei Saito is an interesting exploration into the idea of the necessity of our economic slow down, which would address not only our economic crises but also our environmental, labor, and our general well-being. This is a fascinating look at a potential solution to much of what ails our current society. Readers with an interest in left economic systems or who feel wearied by our current state of affairs should check this title out. While it is an economic text, it's quite accessible and would be enjoyed by most who have an interest in the content area.

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Slow Down: The Degrowth Manifesto by Kōhei Saitō is the climate change book I was hoping it would be and more.

Kōhei Saitō is a Marx scholar, so if you couldn't tell from manifesto in the title, this book talks a lot of about communism. Truthfully, this book shattered my ideas of communism, especially when it comes to climate change. You absolutely will not be reading about Soviet-era one-party rule and nationalization if you pick this up. I appreciated how Kōhei Saitō met all of my preconceived (negative) notions about communism head on, first thing, and counter argued them. Such a visionary and eye-opening read!

I appreciated the methodical, repetitive writing style 75% of the time. Repetition and circling back reinforced new terminology and concepts I was learning, but. 25% of the time this method felt tedious.

This book is clearly written, highly quotable, full of statistics, and concrete examples. It was wonderfully scathing at times: Kōhei Saitō is not afraid call out bullshit climate change policy and mediocre books..

This book is not full of climate optimism, but it is hopeful. I think this has a lot to do with the author's generation and belief in humanity. He's a millennial, born in 1987.

This is translated nonfiction, originally published in Japanese.

The book tore me down to start. Honestly, I wanted to cry reading some parts, but then it built me up. The book's overall focus on climate justice made this read like a prison abolitionist text, and I LOVED that about this book.

Fiction-wise, Slow Down informed some of my favorite dystopian reads and genre-bending books. I couldn't help think about the hope and grassroots movement in The American Daughters by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, the disaster capitalism in Land of Milk and Honey by C Pam Zhang, the need for systemic economic change exemplified in Brother Alive by Zain Khalid, collective imagination in Meet Us By the Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy, and climate barbarism in Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler.

Lastly, I loved learning inspiring examples of change via social movements and the idea that local energy can form a worldwide wave of change. The way the book ended was so invigorating. Learning that a Harvard study estimates only 3.5% of the population is required in an organized movement in order for social revolution - wow! Loved that statistic so much. Gives me a lot of hope.

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Many thanks to Net Galley for the advance reading copy of this fantastic eBook.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of climate change and the action that can be taken to prevent a full-blown climate disaster. The strongest aspect, to me, is Saitō’s ability to explain the mechanics of fighting climate change, as well as the foundations of degrowth theory from a distinctly Marxist viewpoint. The weakest point, personally, is in the relatively absent discussion of historical attempts at achieving socialism; I think there’s a lot to learn from the history here regarding what is and isn’t effective and Saitō doesn’t really touch on this. That being said, I appreciate the discussions of a decolonial view of communal efforts as part of the historical basis for the concept of degrowth communism. Though some ideas are posited in the book, I would welcome a little more discussion of what we can do on an individual level to support the causes Saitō endorses in a more substantive way.

This is an incredibly well-crafted and coherent deep dive into the idea that the most effective way to fight climate change is degrowth, a movement in which reducing frivolous production and consumption is prioritized to minimize ecological damage as opposed to economic growth. Saitō is upfront about his thoughts on the subject of climate change and his overall message of degrowth in this book, providing clear explanations for both—as well as explaining effectively why the opposing options are not going to successfully prevent all-out ecological disaster (or, in some cases, will not be able to do so without simultaneous degrowth). Each chapter is a building block of the foundation necessary for an informed understanding of what degrowth is, why it’s necessary, and what different aspects of the degrowth movement entails.

The author handles the issue of people coming into this book potentially lacking familiarity with the gritty details of climate change, the ways proposed to fight it on a broad scale, and Marxist thought well. There’s not a lot of info-dumping so much as the reader is guided through each topic and its caveats in the order necessary to understand them. We aren’t overloaded with the entirety of each topic at a time: rather, throughout the text we’re given definitions when the topic becomes relevant, and then background information and examples follow as needed. The writing style was consistent and pithy, presenting an intimidating and daunting topic such as climate change and the various schools of thought around fighting it in an accessible way. Furthermore, Saitō seems to have been very conscious of utilizing consistent and easily digestible language throughout this book. Every relevant term is explained clearly, and he sticks to using the same terminology, acronyms, and parlance in a consistent manner, not treating anything interchangably and pointing out overlaps in definitions and similar terminology.

Overall, I think this is an incredible book for understanding climate change and how to fight it. It even convinced me to rethink my own understanding of green energy in some places: I’ve long been in the camp that nuclear energy is our most effective option, and Saitō’s explanation for “open” and “locked” technologies, and the ways in which other sustainable forms of energy would be more effectively managed by a community, has me thinking moreso about those alternatives. Not only was this an important and informative read, but it also fights the doom-based narrative a lot of us have about the state of the world, in a realistic and logical way. This book is a great jumping off point for degrowth climate activism, though it does more by way of giving the foundations of it and the grand scale of fighting climate change through degrowth than giving us an idea of where to start as an individual. I’m very interested to read more of Kōhei Saitō’s work in the future.

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How to solve a problem like capitalism? Kōhei Saitō suggests we get rid of it completely, which seems … fair. In his bestselling book, translated from Japanese by Brian Bergstrom, Saito advocates for degrowth communism as an alternative. Capitalism’s pursuit of endless growth and limitless prosperity, Saito argues, is unsustainable.

The first half of the book clarifies why. Among current arguments from the proponents of capitalism are Green Keynesianism, in the form of relative decoupling, which allows continuing emissions while, for instance, implementing green technologies; Negative Emissions Technology (NETs); Bio-Energy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS); and green technology itself, which is never as green as it hopes, as even the production of lithium-ion batteries depends on extraction under terrible conditions in the DRC. Even when it doesn’t, lithium production is a huge drain on groundwater. The production of biomass energy requires vast tracts of farmland. Solar farms are creating controversy—even where they are located on apparently unused land—as they disrupt ecosystems. Do most of these solutions sound like unrealistic techno-optimism? That’s because they mostly are.

Some of Saito counters: the Netherlands Fallacy, where apparent decoupling in Global North countries is in part due to displacement of carbon emissions to the periphery or the exterior, the Global South; thermodynamic limits mean there are very few alternatives to the incredible energy efficiency of fossil fuels; Jevon’s Paradox, which suggests that cheaper alternatives to fossil fuels will only lead to increased consumption of fossil fuels; and yes, the magical thinking of many green technologies, which have still not delivered all they’ve promised.

Some of Saito counters: the Netherlands Fallacy, where apparent decoupling in Global North countries is in part due to displacement of carbon emissions to the periphery or the exterior, the Global South; thermodynamic limits mean there are very few alternatives to the incredible energy efficiency of fossil fuels; Jevon’s Paradox, which suggests that cheaper alternatives to fossil fuels will only lead to increased consumption of fossil fuels; and yes, the magical thinking of many green technologies, which have still not delivered all they’ve promised.

Even degrowth capitalism is not the answer, Saito says. He spends a lot of time making a strong and convincing case that Global North consumption is made invisible by extractivism and exploitation of the Global South, in a kind of “ecological imperialism”. No Green New Deal will fix the crisis we’re in, for the reasons outlined above. As long as we pursue profit and consumption, we will exceed planetary boundaries, and end up with an unliveable Earth.

Proving the unsustainability of current levels of consumtion:
The truth is, the total consumption of resources in 1970—including mineral resources, ores, fossil fuels, and biomass—was 26 billion 700 million metric tons, while in 2017 it surpassed 100 billion metric tons. By 2050, this figure is predicted to rise to 100 billion 800 million metric tons. Only a mere 8.6 percent of these resources are recycled, a proportion that’s actually decreasing in the face of the rapid increase in consumption.

Your paper straws and bamboo toothbrushes are simply not going to cut it.

Saito’s central argument rests on the following, that there are four possible futures for humanity:

Climate fascism, where a “special class of elites” uses the planet’s crisis as a business opportunity (see Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism);
Barbarism, where the 99% rebel and overthrow the ruling class, plunging us all into chaos;
Climate Maoism, which would end free markets and democracy in favour of authoritarian policies to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor;
Saito’s Degrowth Communism, a proposal for a “just, sustainable future”, where there is no central political control, as it depends on mutual aid and other individual strategies.
In a kind of callback to Ingrid Robeyns’s Limitarianism, Saito talks about the impact on the planet of the 0.1%. Unlike Robeyns, however, Saito emphasizes that the middle class of the Global North is part of capitalism’s consumption problem, as that class is in fact part of the world’s richest 10%, and:
The fact is, if the world’s richest 10 percent were to lower the amount of emissions they produce to that of the average European, overall emissions would decrease by a full third.

As Saito says:
We cannot solve a problem triggered by capitalism while still preserving capitalism, as there is no other root cause.
[The] solution to this problem cannot be the tepid call to modify neoliberalism and tame the capitalist system until degrowth can be brought about within it…. This is because the devil destroying the global environment is none other than the capitalist system itself and its demands for constant unlimited growth. … [If] we allow things to continue as they are, capitalism will transform every inch of the Earth’s surface into an environment unable to support human life. This is the endpoint of the Anthropocene.

Saito and Robeyns both acknowledge that the gap between the world’s wealthy elite and the poor is unacceptable; how to change that is where they differ, with Robeyns seemiingly supporting the maintainance of capitalism’s central tenets—free markets, private property, and so on—while Saito’s approach is communism. Saito is unequivocal:

A true transition to a degrowth or steady-state economy cannot be brought about by laws and policies meant to prioritize sustainability and the redistribution of resources as long as the fundamental essence of capitalism is left intact.

Saito spends the whole of Chapter Three of the book making the argument that degrowth capitalism will never work, for reasons of sustainability (capitalism’s dependence on limitless growth in profits, expansion of markets, displacement, and extraction of human labour) and politics (the wealthy are able to exert outsized influence to drive policies in directions that benefit them). To Saito, the very term “degrowth capitalism” is in fact an oxymoron.

Saito talks about protest as a way of bringing about change, in the end, like Ajay Singh Chaudhary in The Exhausted of the Earth: Politics in a Burning World; however, Saito is for non-violence, where Chaudhary argues for the (realistic) place of violence in bringing about change. Also like Chaudhary, Saito believes salvation may be found in worldwide solidarity. The magic figure, according to Erica Chernoweth—quoted in the book—is 3.5%: [The] percentage of a population that must rise up sincerely and non-violently to bring about a major change to society.

We cannot afford to continue to choose capitalism, Saito says. And when we all realise this and work together for the alternative, there may be hope after all. This, argues Saito, is the revolutionary trinity: overcoming capitalism, reforming democracy, and decarbonizing society.

Thank you to Astra Publishing House and to NetGalley for the DRC and for food for thought!

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