“Retirement” in a degrowth world

The other day I made the following post to one of my favorite groups, Degrowth — join the revolution:

In other ecologically/socially conscious groups I participate in, many people (the ones who have money to do so) invest in the stock market to build a nest egg for their “retirement.” They try to choose funds that are green, socially responsible, etc.

Personally, I stopped believing in this concept of “retirement” some years ago, and stopped investing in the stock market in any form. I don’t see how the stock market, mutual funds, or any other financial instruments premised on “growth” can possibly be compatible with degrowth or a steady-state economy. And I see degrowth / steady-state economy as the only viable path for the survival of human civilization on this planet.

However, I am not well-versed in economics, and my assumption could be wrong. I realized I’ve never asked anyone in the degrowth community where they stand on mutual funds, the stock market, etc.

So I decided to ask.

Do you invest in stocks, mutual funds, etc.? And if so, do you find it compatible with degrowth?

Most people so far have answered basically no, they do not feel that investing in markets is compatible with degrowth. Some people are stuck in a situation where they are required by employers to put money into a fund they have no control over. And some people feel it goes against what they know is right, but they are afraid (for reasons of old-age security) not to invest.

One of the group’s more active members, Kirk Hall, shared with us a link to a post he made to the group back in 2018 on this topic. I found it very on-point and in keeping with my own plans. He gave me permission to share it:

Retirement in a Steady State Economy (SSE)

The growth economy is wrecking the planet. Things will change by disaster (business as usual) or design (degrowth to a SSE). One thing to change will be retirement funded by interest.

Ted Trainer said “in a zero growth economy there can be no interest payments at all. Interest is by nature about growth, getting more wealth back than you lent, and this is not possible unless lending and output and earnings constantly increase.” Others are more controversial saying “interest is unearned income”. Others say that a very small interest rate would be possible.

So retirement will be funded by drawing down savings and by the state funded pension. The old and less able will also be assisted in the way it has been done for most of human existence – with help from family and community.

So forget that long bucket list and lots of overseas travel in retirement. But also forget loneliness and poverty. Because of the shorter working week, in a SSE many people would choose to volunteer for “working bees … windmill maintenance, … public works, child minding, nursing, basic educating and care of aged and disadvantaged people”.

The [SSE] neighbourhood would be full of interesting things to do, familiar people, common projects, animals, gardens, forests, windmills, lakes, little firms and community workshops. It would be leisure-rich … One would certainly predict a huge decrease in the incidence of drug abuse, stress, loneliness, depression and similar social problems.


I made this comment in response:

this is a beautiful post and is pretty much what i have found myself moving toward, and trying to encourage others to do.

It’s a very foreign mindset to most folks here in my country, the USA. But I keep plugging away because i see it as not only the only viable way forward, but inherently a lovely thing.

People in the USA (and other wealthy nations with a lot of space and resources) have become so disjointed. Traveling to “picturesque” places where people hang their laundry out on lines and live in old stone buildings … then flying back home where they live happily in HOAs that outlaw clotheslines and any kind of natural asymmetry.

For retirement, as for other stages of life, the best approach I can think of is what I’ve been saying for awhile now: Minimize the amount of money we keep in banks and other financial markets. And work on covering our basic needs — shelter, transport, food, healthcare, essential goods — in as low-cost and low-footprint a way as possible, thus reducing our need to earn money or hoard money, hoard resources.

For the record, my “retirement” plan is not to retire. Instead, I have occupations that I’ll be able to do til I die. Writing, art, teaching, permaculture design / eco restoration, etc. And I strive to help other people see their way to that kind of old-age security too.

Many occupations can be continued into old age, and are fulfilling. Watching children, tending animals, storytelling, making music. Another traditional way for older people to earn income in a non-exploitive manner is to be the money partner in a local business. Or owner or part-owner of an apartment building or other commercial building in their local area.

The arts and teaching are way underestimated as a societal need and lifelong occupation.

One of my strategies has been to pare my cost of living to a very low level which is not hard to support by my various freelance occupations.

Further Exploration:

• A fellow member of D-JTR shared a book recommendation: “Local dollars local sense is a book on investing locally rather than Wall Street. You could focus your money on things that help your community resilience.”

• Another member, Brad Zarnett, shared a post he wrote on medium.com, and commented, “The established pathway to a comfortable retirement has vanished. Without a well-functioning climate none of it’s possible anymore. And yet the elite still push this lie…” Here’s the post, “Where Will Mainstream Climate Propaganda Take Us?” “We squandered the greatest sweetheart deal imaginable. Nature was happy to selflessly provide us with everything we could possibly want but instead of nurturing it, we went in another direction. We bought into the lie of endless growth on a finite planet. We chose to ignore science in exchange for shiny stuff that we mostly don’t need. We chose to serve a ravenous predatory master that incentivized greed as opposed to wellbeing, and in the process, we not only crippled the source of our success, we turned it against us. However, there is still hope in a ‘mathematical sense’ but we need to move quickly and get very serious about the next steps that we take … and it boils down to two choices.” I agree with his assessment of things. I also got a nice wry laugh out of the following, which sounds like the mind-set of so many jetsetting retirees I see in the social mediaverse: “Most people want to feel like they’re generally a good person. This is the bread and butter of marketers and propagandists. They tell us that we can have whatever we want and that our consumption is an important part of the economic ecosystem. It’s an easy lie to believe. By becoming a ‘champion consumer’, we can get cool stuff while simultaneously providing opportunities for others, so the story goes, while making the world a better place. A beautiful win-win. So hold your head high as you drive your Chevy Suburban to your newly built 6,000 square foot retirement summer home. Your plan to fly guests in for weekend visits to play on your new pair of jet skis, while you watch your sustainable (ESG) stock portfolio rise, is the culmination of a life of hard work. You’re a hero of global prosperity!”

• What is degrowth? Check out degrowth.info for an overview. “The degrowth movement of activists and researchers advocates for societies that prioritize social and ecological well-being instead of corporate profits, over-production and excess consumption. This requires radical redistribution, reduction in the material size of the global economy, and a shift in common values towards care, solidarity and autonomy. Degrowth means transforming societies to ensure environmental justice and a good life for all within planetary boundaries.”

• What is a steady-state economy? “A steady-state economy is an economy made up of a constant stock of physical wealth (capital) and a constant population size. In effect, such an economy does not grow in the course of time.” (Wikipedia). And check out Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) at steady.state.org

• “Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it” (Samuel Alexander; theconversation.com). Great overview of what everyday life a steady-state economy might look like. Less stuff, less rushing around, more DIY and mutual aid, more growing food everywhere.