Macroeconomic Perspectives on Digitalized Economies: Socio-Ecological Risks and Opportunities of the Digitalization

Picture: Maksim Kabakou/

Digitalization changes what we produce and how these products are made. On a macroeconomic level, therefore, there are great expectations associated with digitalization: new growth impulses, more jobs and prosperity, but also higher resource efficiency and thus the possibility to reconcile growth and ecological sustainability. Digitalization is furthermore transforming the international division of labor in global value chains.

Do these expectations withstand a reality check? So far, it seems that they don’t. After all, growth figures in the early-industrialized countries have been low for decades while unemployment persists. These economies are far from sufficiently decoupling growth and environmental consumption, which is why we demand complementary sufficiency strategies.

Digitalization in a social-ecological economy

The habilitation project will firstly analyze environmental impacts of digitalization on a macroeconomic level. What is the relationship between positive trends such as efficiency increases and negative environmental impacts such as direct effects, rebound effects or increased resource consumption due to additional economic growth? What role do these rebound effects play and can digital technologies enable a decoupling of growth and environmental consumption? Building on this, the second question concerns the use of digitalization to facilitate sustainable economies: how can macroeconomic rebound risks be prevented, and sufficiency strategies be sustained? How can a digital economy be designed to be growth-independent in order to respect ecological limits? These topics will be investigated using a transdisciplinary mix of methods: quantitative empirical studies, analysis of theoretical debates, conceptual approaches, and model-based analyses constitute the basis for the project.