Critique, Republished pieces

Open letter to Fridays For A Future. It’s time for action, but, what action?

Open letter by Marga Mediavilla to Fridays For A Future.  reposted from 15/15\15.

“There is one thing that worries me. In your speeches on climate change you can find demands for very ambitious decarbonization objectives…..

According to my knowledge and according to the studies we are making in our group, such ambitious goals as these would require very drastic measures which go far beyond the usual proposals such as investment in renewable energy, electric vehicles or energy saving and efficiency.

Therefore, I think we have to be very realistic about the decarbonization objectives and the measures we demand in order to achieve them. If we do not, our leaders can happily silence the protests, by using exclusively technological cosmetic measures that do not solve anything, and the hopes of many young people with good intentions may be frustrated.” 

Mediavilla goes on to explore decarbonisation scenarios using the MEDEAS simulation model.  The findings indicate the relevance of the degrowth perspective rather than technological optimism.

Read the whole post HERE.

Climate strikers in Manchester
Climate strike protesters in Manchester last September
books, Republished pieces

Utopian thinking in the ether: an interview with Boris Frankel

This interesting interview appeared in the Australian journal, Overland. It is relevant to many of the concerns discussed here. Frankel’s open access book, Fictions of Sustainability, is very good.

Thanks to Zacharias Szumer for this. Here is the beginning of the interview – follow the link at the end for the rest of it.

Is utopian thinking akin to casting a net into the ether – collecting the unimaginable and dragging it into the realm of the possible? Or, by neglecting to consider any parameters of the possible, is it a fanciful distraction from meaningful politics? Well, perhaps it depends on the type of utopian thinking. In Fictions of Sustainability: The Politics of Growth and Post-Capitalist Futures, social theorist Boris Frankel takes aim at certain types of utopian thinking: proposals that he argues are unrealisable or unsustainable regardless of whether political obstacles have been removed or transformed.  Throughout the book, which was released earlier this year, Professor Frankel seeks to ask the difficult questions surrounding concepts such as green growth, degrowth and post-scarcity, not with the aim of opposing radical solutions, but to facilitate the development of more plausible and effective policies. Political-economic dilettante Zacharias Szumer met with Frankel recently to try to get his head around this somewhat heavy going but important book.  

ZS: In the conclusion of Fictions of Sustainability, you write that one of your aims in writing the book was to “bridge the political and theoretical chasm or ‘analytical apartheid’ that characterizes so much socio-economic policy on the one side and environmental analyses on the other.” What do you mean by analytical apartheid? And how did you attempt to bridge this chasm?

BF: In the past, conservatives, liberal Keynesians, Marxists and anarchists were divided over how to analyse capitalism and debated its virtues and failings. Today, it is not enough to have a knowledge of political economy, whatever the political perspective, if it excludes crucial environmental issues. On the other hand, you’ve got many people who are active and concerned about environmental issues, but who neglect political economy. The ‘analytical apartheid’ I refer to is that environmental issues cannot be separated from political economy yet, political economists and environmentalists talk past one another and rarely consider one another’s issues and positions. Despite environmental crises being highlighted for over fifty years, traditional political economists and many on the left still treat environmental issues as marginal to the main issue of capital versus labour. This is now changing. But you’ll still find many leading political economists are completely silent on environmental issues. It’s important to bridge these two worlds. Similarly, many committed environmentalists have a detailed understanding of the damage being done to so many ecological habitats and the need to transform existing consumption and production. But apart from generalised ‘wish lists’ have a very limited understanding of how existing political institutions and the economy of capitalism works. So, in order to achieve their environmental goals, it’s critical that they become more familiar with the political economic debates that have been developed by non-environmentalists.
Click this link for the full interview on Overland.

Critique

Is the Degrowth Movement Delusional?

See also this article by list member Andrea Grainger:
In defence of degrowth: The climate movement and socialist movements must come together to build a new progressive movement.  Open Democracy, 5 September, 2019.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is the Degrowth Movement Delusional?

by Steve Gwynne

In his latest article, Leigh Phillips, a strong advocate of ‘Socialist Growth’ and ‘Luxury Communism’ condemns the Degrowth Movement as delusional with an array of arguments that suggest unlimited growth is technologically feasible.
However, despite his technological utopianism, his most poignant omission is the fact that most developed countries in the world are in ecological debt.
As a result, ecological debtor nations are highly dependent on less developed ecological creditor regions for materials and resources in order to sustain and maintain their unsustainable economies. In turn, these import dependancies and the vulnerabilities that they create gives rise to Western foreign interference, whether through the market or through military or diplomatic intervention, in order to appropriate, protect and distribute raw materials into ecological debtor nations.
Unambiguously, the Degrowth Movement recognises this vicious circle which emerges from ecological debt, a vicious circle which not only seeks to sustain the unsustainable through the appropriation and exploitation of foreign resources but also seeks to limit the ability of weaker nations and their impoverished populations to sustainably develop adequate infrastructure that enables them a dignified and secure way of life.
By ignoring the ramifications of ecological debt, Leigh unwittingly justifies the market and military interventions that keep millions of people impoverished whilst rich nations copiously consume.
Since non renewable resources are by definition not renewable and therefore finite in quantity and quality, the international Degrowth Movement advocates a just and equitable contraction and convergence of
Population,
Affluence,
Consumption and
Technology,
in order to help bring ecological debtor nations back into ecological credit. Through the communicative tool of IM=PACT, the main intention is to allow less developed ecological creditor nations to use their resources for their own development rather than them being used for the continued growth of unsustainable ecological debtor nations such as the UK, the US and other major European nations. As such, in opposition to Leigh’s assertions, the Degrowth Movement advocates human impact contraction because it recognises that the planet is home to a diverse array of limitations which cannot be transcended by technology.
Leigh’s article argues the opposite. It proposes that the limitations posed by the availability of non renewable resources can be overcome by technology without specifying how except through human ingenuity. In essence, the author is claiming that technology will avail us of our natural, societal and human limitations by being able to produce a diverse array of unlimited materials from the atmosphere we breathe.
This of course is an intriguing science fiction idea and would no doubt if realised bring some relief to growing global resource scarcity and a growing global ecological debt but unfortunately he does not explain how the impacts of an atmosphere that is transformed into tangible substances will affect ecospheric processes so perhaps should be viewed with extreme caution.
Meanwhile, whilst waiting for this ground breaking technology, humanity is faced with the hard realities of limitations and the fact that global ecological debt needs to be reversed if human flourishing on a global scale is to be sustained. This means focusing our attention and our national policies towards ways of life that are materially sufficient for our needs and our development rather than orientated towards unlimited growth. See https://goodlife.leeds.ac.uk/
It is clearly unjust for countries which are in ecological debt to appropriate resources from nations in ecological credit when their basic infrastructures, infrastructures which we take for granted, are hardly in place whilst in comparison, we enjoy unimaginable luxury. This therefore means a strategy of contraction and convergence so that limited global resources are equitably shared for the utilitarian benefit of all.
Ultimately, PACT contraction is unavoidable even if we choose to continue using economic and military power to appropriate ecological credit solely for ourselves since eventually these resources will too run out. In other words, unlimited growth can only ever lead to collapse.
The only logical alternative to growth is sufficiency, however much it might pain us to let go and sacrifice our unsustainable ways of life for the global common good. So the Degrowth advocate Jason Hickel, is correct, we must rid ourselves of the unnecessary and build our systems around what is necessary for a dignified life for all.
In this regard, Degrowth literature is rich in diverse ideas by which to navigate the difficult and sacrificial path towards sufficiency which Leigh has conveniently referenced in his techno-utopianism piece. So for all those willing to take the sacrificial degrowth path, we need all hands and heads on task if we are to avert a climatic, environmental and ecological disaster of our own unintentional making.
___________________________
Do you have a response to Philips or other misconceptions and misrepresentations of degrowth / post growth thinking?  We’d be interested in covering them.
News

7th International Degrowth Conference: Call​ ​for​ ​sub-themes

Update  January, 2020

The call for subthemes generated a great deal of interest.  We have consolidated them into 14 themes: see the conference website.  The open call for contributions will be announced there in later January / early February.

The 7th International Degrowth and 16th International Society for Ecological Economics Joint Conference – Manchester

Building Alternative Livelihoods in Times of Ecological and Political Crisis

Call​ ​for​ ​sub-themes

Panorama of Manchester from the North
                                                                                                              Manchester, from the North (Mark Burton)

updated with some missing text, 19/9/19

We are delighted to announce that the first ever joint conference between the International Degrowth Research Network and the International Society for Ecological Economics will take place 1-5 September 2020 in Manchester, UK. This conference will bring together academics from the Degrowth and Ecological Economics communities, voices from the Global North and Global South, civil society actors, activists, artists and policy-makers. It aims to break down silos and stimulate dialogues between and within different perspectives, disciplines and social movements.

Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis is the overarching theme of the conference. Economic systems have always co-evolved with social, environmental and technological systems. The worsening ecological and climate crisis means we must urgently abandon practices of production and consumption that drive ecological degradation and that rely on unsustainable extractivism. We must develop alternative livelihoods which are harmonious with planetary limits and safeguard material living conditions.  We must invent and trial new ways of working, providing for everyone’s needs, caring for each other and democratising the economy. We must seek clarity about the systems of provisioning which will be utilised in a society beyond growth where states and markets play more peripheral roles in the allocation of resources. In short, we must ask what are the alternative livelihoods which ensure the future conditions of societal wellbeing.

The construction of alternative livelihoods entails a radical transformation of economy, culture and society. What are the institutional arrangements which safely provide for basic needs, social stability and democratic legitimacy in the transition to environmental sustainability? How can both social and ecological justice for the populations of the Global North and the Global South be ensured? How can political support be mobilised for the necessary transformations? How can the transition to environmental sustainability be made politically viable and democratically legitimate?

We list below some of the topics that the conference could cover. We also look forward to ideas beyond these, which would expand the geographical and thematic scope of degrowth, as well as advance and further substantiate current debates and dialogue within and between degrowth and ecological economics.

  1. the economy beyond states and markets
  2. the future of employment,  work and care
  3. debates on degrowth, green growth, the circular economy, and decoupling
  4. the democratisation of the economy and alternative models and forms of organisation
  5. the production and conservation of energy
  6. low carbon and low energy futures
  7. forms of decommodification and non-capitalist modes of resource allocation
  8. commoning resources
  9. money, debt and the financial system
  10. financing the (transition to a) post-growth society
  11. monetary and non-monetary measures of prosperity and well-being
  12. a universal basic income or universal basic services
  13. the green new deal
  14. the decentralisation of power
  15. decolonization and feminist economics as challenges to power
  16. post- growth policy-making, law and governance
  17. how to respond to the ethno-nationalist environmentalism and anti-environmentalism of ascendant populist groups
  18. the politics of transitions to sustainability and the lessons to be learned from past socio-economic and cultural transformation
  19. spatial issues: planning, housing and the future of cities
  20. diversity: class, race, gender, abilities
  21. Sustainable Development Goals
  22. conflict resolution processes and socio-ecological transformations
  23. biodiversity, ecosystem services, and sustainable livelihoods
  24. social metabolism
  25. political economy and ecological economics/degrowth
  26. sustainable livelihoods and ecological sufficiency
  27. languages of valuation and ecological conflicts
  28. extractivism, environmental justice and illicit activities
  29. social ecological economics
  30. production and consumption
  31. slow science and degrowth of publication economy
  32. strategies for degrowth transformation: lessons from the Vienna conference

Submission Procedure

There will be two stages for the call for academic and activist contributions. The first stage is a call for sub-theme conveners. Academics and activists who wish to actively participate in these sub-themes or suggest new sub-themes for inclusion in the conference should submit a proposal by 30th September 2019. Descriptions of the sub-themes should speak to the overall conference theme. It should be sent to degrowth2020@manchester.ac.uk

Each sub-theme can go from one to four sessions, with up to four papers or other contributions per session. There are many formats which a session can adopt, including the traditional format of paper presentations with a specific thematic​ ​focus, roundtable discussions, and participatory sessions encouraging reflection on a particular topic using an open format​ ​(e.g.​ ​discussion​ ​workshops,​ ​dialogical/reading/planning​ ​sessions,​ ​walks​, ​etc.). Sub-theme conveners will be given full autonomy and responsibility for the organisation of sub-themes.

Sub-theme conveners should present the following information in their proposal:

  1. theme title;
  2. convenor(s);
  3. presenters/roundtable participants anticipated;
  4. subtheme abstract (1 paragraph, maximum 250 words);
  5. how does this subtheme relate to the overall conference theme (maximum 100 words);
  6. format (paper presentation, round-table debate, etc.);
  7. live or remote or both;
  8. number of 1-2 hour sessions anticipated. 

Successful sub theme proposers will hear by 30th October 2019

Once sub-themes have been selected, we will announce a second deadline for individual papers. The main language of the conference is English, but we will review submissions in other languages​ ​also. For​ ​any​ ​questions,​ ​please​ ​contact​ ​us​ ​at:​ degrowth2020@manchester.ac.uk

News

7th International Degrowth Conference – Manchester September 2020

Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis

7TH INTERNATIONAL DEGROWTH / 16TH ISEE INTERNATIONAL JOINT CONFERENCE

Manchester, September 1st to 5th 2020

Download the first call for activists and campaigners.

Come to Manchester in September 2020 to meet with other activists, artists and scholars to explore how alternative livelihoods can respond to the worsening ecological and climate crisis.

We face a worsening ecological and climate crisis and that requires an urgent transformation of the the ways we organise, produce and consume. Alternative livelihoods could be the key to this in a democratic society that has gone beyond economic growth.

How can we ensure both social justice and ecological justice for the peoples of the Global South and North? How can we mobilise political support for the necessary transformations? How can we make the transition environmentally and socially sustainable, politically viable and democratically legitimate?

This conference will bring together academics, policy-makers, artists and activists in order to discuss these many challenges. There will be workshops, debates and discussions, artistic performances, walking tours and installations on the themes of the conference. It will also seek to contribute to local activist initiatives. It will strive not only to demonstrate and explore cutting-edge thinking on alternative sustainable livelihoods but also encourage political mobilisation amongst academics, activists, artists and policy practitioners.

The conference will include events and discussions, all underpinned by the search for social and ecological justice, will include topics such as,

  • The future of states and markets,

  • The future of employment and work,

  • Cutting carbon emissions: degrowth versus green growth,

  • The production and conservation of energy

  • Non-capitalist modes of resource allocation

  • Democratising the economy and alternative forms of business ownership

  • Re-commoning and de-commodifying resources,

  • Non-monetary measures of prosperity and well-being,,

  • Welfare arrangements such as basic income or jobs guarantee

  • Decentralising power,

  • How to respond to the threat of racist, nationalist populism,

  • The politics of transitions to sustainability

  • The lessons to be learned from past socio-economic and cultural conflicts.

The conference website is now live at http://www.confercare.manchester.ac.uk/events/degrowth2020/

Critique

Green New Deals – the degrowth perspective

Cover from the NEF Green New Deal report, 2008.
Cover from the NEF Green New Deal report, 2008.

Most recent update: 18 May,, 2020

The idea of a Green New Deal (or New Green Deal), despite first appearing more than 10 years ago, has become very popular in recent months. These Green New Deals “make an analogy to the response to the Depression of the 1930s with an idea today that with greater state expenditure a huge effort can be put into developing the infrastructure of an economy based on renewables and a decarbonised energy system. This would simultaneously create jobs...”(1). There is a lot to agree with, given that a massive transformation is needed towards a clean economy.  However, these proposals all assume continued economic growth, albeit “green growth”, and as we know, this is problematic since the material and energy flows entailed are what got us into ecological overshoot in the first place.  A number of pieces from across the degrowth community have raised various questions about these Green Deals and we thought it would be worth putting together a collection of links (3).  If you spot others, do let us know and we’ll add them.

A Green New Deal for an ecological economy.  Leah Temper and Sam Bliss at degrowth.info  Explores what the discipline of ecological economics (degrowth’s academic cousin) can bring to the formulation and implementation of Green New Deals.

What Kind of a Green Deal? The implications of material and monetary flowsMark H Burton  at Steady State Manchester     alternative link

This piece covers much the same ground, delivered as a talk at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Future Economies launch, 12 September, 2019: Six problems for Green Deals, Mark H Burton.  Another short piece written for a permaculture audience: Should we be supporting a Green New Deal?

A Green New Deal Between Whom and For What? by Nicholas Beuret at Viewpoint Magazine.  More recent than most of these cited here, so it includes many of the points made in others while offering a very good overview of the concept and its problems.

Energy and the Green New Deal: The complex challenge of powering societies. by Tim Crownshaw at Uneven Earth.  A clearly written and well referenced reality check on the energy assumptions of the Green Deal narratives.

Green New Deals….yes….but what does that mean? Brian Davey at FEASTA

That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant Stan Cox at Green Social Thought

Climate breakdown is coming. The UK needs a Greener New Deal  Jason Hickel at The Guardian

The ‘green new deal’ supported by Ocasio-Cortez and Corbyn is just a new form of colonialism  Asad Rehman at The Independent

And in similar vein,
As the left wakes up to climate injustice, we must not fall into ‘green colonialism’ by Dalia Gebrial at The Guardian

A Green New Deal beyond growth. A concise summary of the central dilemma, by Riccardo Mastini at degrowth.info (the English language section of the German degrowth network site).

A Green New Deal beyond growth (II) – Some steps forward, by Elena Hofferberth. Also at degrowth.info. Following Mastini’s piece, this helpfully identifies both commonalities between GNDs and degrowth and looks at their different emphases.

Between the Devil and the Green New Deal – by Jasper Bernes.  From Commune magazine.  A forceful critique that pulls together a number of themes including the reliance of the GND on unprecedented and carbon-intensive mineral extraction and manufacture and its political and economic implausibility under capitalism.  This version lacks references unfortunately.

The Green New Deal: What’s Really Green and What’s Really New?  by Brian Czech at CASSE blog: focussing on the question of the scale of the material economy in the USA political context.

Degrowth vs. the Green New Deal.  A very helpful “compare and contrast” piece by Aaron Vansintjan on Briar Patch magazine.

Degrowth and the Green New Deal. Another article comparing and contrasting the two and distinguishing among variants of the Green New Deal, by Gareth Dale in The Ecologist.

John Bellamy Foster, while not specifically allying himself with the degrowth movement, makes a number of similar points to those in the more explicit degrowth pieces collected here.  In his Monthly Review piece, On Fire This Time, focussing on GND proposals in the USA, he distinguishes between the original Keynesian New Green Deal, and the more radical variants emerging from a variety of social movements.  It is capitalism itself that imposes the limits of possibility for the GND.

False hopes for a Green New Deal.  by Rufus Jordana on Open Democracy.  “If the ‘Green New Deal’ is our best answer to the climate crisis, then we have no answer to the climate crisis.”

The Green New Deal’s contradiction – new infrastructure and redistribution may boost carbon emissions.  A point made in more detail elsewhere but here succinctly and via historical comparison with the original New Deal’s boosting of emissions and urban sprawl.  By Matthew Paterson at The Conversation.  Michael Jacobs, who is not in general a supporter of degrowth, also makes this point, citing Paterson, in a helpful overview of the challenges facing a GND in the UK.

A Green No Deal? A Terrestrial examines a Modern document by Christine Dann on her website.  She also makes the point that the US Green New Deal proposals imply “green growth”.

The problems of eco-capitalism. By Calvin Jones at Undod: Radical Independence for Wales.  Calvin problematises the GND a modified form of capitalism which is supposed to rescue us from the destruction brought by capitalism’s endless accumulation.  He also brings in a radical localist, Welsh, dimension.

In some versions of the New Green Deal, the growing GDP is rather hidden but it is, nevertheless there (as Burton discusses).  However, one of the pioneers of the approach, Robert Pollin, celebrates the role of “green growth” contrasting it with the degrowth approach in a highly critical article in New Left Review.  Responses have been made to this piece by Giorgos Kallis at TruthOut and by  Mark Burton and Peter Somerville in New Left Review (2) {Version in Spanish, Aqui}.

Also see this by Jason Hickel and Giorgos Kallis: “Is Green Growth Possible?” In the journal New Political Economy.

For a collection of well argued critical material on Green Growth, there is this excellent book:
Dale, G., Mathai, M. V., & Puppim de Oliveira, J. A. (Eds.). (2016). Green growth: Ideology, political economy and the alternatives. London: Zed Books.

None of us are saying that the degrowth alternative is an easy option.  It is just that the biophysical realities mean that the New Green Deal could inadvertently make the situation worse by continuing to destroy the physical and biological systems on which life depends.

What we need to work on is an ecologically and economically literate Green Deal.  The expertise is there in the degrowth movement, so what’s stopping us? Perhaps the arguments are getting through: the Green Deal for Europe consultation paper, released September, 2019, includes this intriguing passage.

“In addition to phasing out Europe’s existing carbon-intensive energy systems and infrastructure, aggregate energy demand must also be reduced by scaling down material production and throughput. The [Green Public Works] supports this transition by shifting income and welfare creation from industrial production to social and environmental reproduction: maintenance, recycling, repair, and restoration of environmental and infrastructural resources, as well as education, culture and care — for both people and planet.”

post updated 18 May, 2020

Notes

  1.  The quotation is from Brian Davey’s piece, quoted above.
  2.  The NLR articles are behind a paywall.  If you can’t access them, then contact us and we can help.
  3. Thanks to Riccardo Mastini for spotting some of these and sharing them on twitter.
News

The International Degrowth Conference 2020 will be in Manchester

Update:  for more details click HERE.

The next (7th) International Degrowth Conference will be in Manchester, 1st to 5th September 2020. 

The theme will be “Building Alternative Livelihoods in times of ecological and political crisis”.

Key Principles will be:

High social impact and low environmental damage
Participation
Constructive dialogue
Equality, diversity and presence

More information to follow in the coming months, but make a note of the date!

Links to some previous International Degrowth Conferences:

Malmö 2018

Budapest 2016

Leipzig 2014

Barcelona 2012

 

Republished pieces

Of Markets and Militaries: When will the industries of war fall silent?

by Kevin Albertson

Originally published 9 Nov, 2018 on the Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) website, also 10 Nov, on the RSA site.  Here we reproduce the hyperlinked MMU version.

Professor Kevin Albertson explains how World War I has shaped economic warfare in the modern world.

#Armistice100: When will the industries of war fall silent?

Professor Kevin Albertson explains how World War I has shaped economic warfare in the modern world

Global warfare is now fought in the economic sphere
Global warfare is now fought in the economic sphere.

It is difficult to credit, one hundred years after the armistice which brought an end to the so-called “Great War” that advanced – supposedly – civilised nations had ever thought well of industrialised warfare. However, in the run up to the war, it was widely held that war was a force for good in the world, promoting evolution by rewarding the strong and brave.

Others in the establishment, for example H.G. Wells, thought war served as a useful corrective to working class aspirations for greater agency – in time of war, so it was felt, the social hierarchy would be validated. And indeed, the English aristocracy, by and large, did lead from the front, and suffered a disproportionally greater loss of life than other social classes as a result.

With hindsight, all participants agreed the war was a needless tragedy; it is not as if warnings were lacking. In 1909, Sir Norman Angell had published ‘Europe’s Optical Illusion’ – and in 1910’s The Great Illusion – in which he argued that the economic case for war had ceased to apply. In short, Angell argued that war on an industrial scale was both socially and economically irrational. He therefore expected that war between the European powers would be unlikely to begin, and would be of short duration if it did begin. Sadly, however, humanity seems to prefer to learn from experience rather than logic.

Economic theory indicates wars are likely if only one side feels they have more to gain than lose from conflict

It takes two to make a quarrel, so it is said, but economic theory indicates wars are likely if only one side feels they have more to gain than lose from conflict. Ultimately it took World War I, the war to end all wars and World War II, which we can only hope was the nuclear war to end all nuclear wars, to demonstrate to advanced nations that even the victors of such conflict gain more from peace.

There are, regrettably, wars around the world still, but slowly peace seems to be, as it were, winning out globally. The scale of this turnaround in public perception cannot be overemphasised.

The art of economic warfare

However, human greed does not sleep. The battles – or rather competitions – to take control of other nation’s resources are now fought largely in the economic sphere. The instrument of choice is the capital account deficit.

If a nation maintains such a deficit, it means that capital is flowing out of the country; somewhere in the world, domestic capitalists are acquiring foreign assets, or driving others into debt. A capital account deficit must be matched by a current account surplus, meaning that the rest of the world is, in aggregate, consuming more of the goods produced by that nation than its own citizens.

It follows citizens of the net exporting nation are, on average, enjoying a lower standard of living than they otherwise would. Their economic sacrifices (often unacknowledged) are what allows the current account surplus to continue. Economic warfare is costly, even to the victors!

Of course, pursuit of power through the market is by no means a new phenomenon. Britain, so it was once said, gained its empire in a fit of absence of mind, or rather, through capitalism and market forces, though the British were prepared to fight, if necessary to keep markets, sometimes drug markets, open. The recognition of the imperial aspects of trade is what motivated nationalists from, for example, the American revolutionaries to Ghandi to boycott British goods as part of their independence struggle.*

Is economic peace possible?

As with the recourse to the use of military force, it has long been held, and still is by some, that market forces promote morality and progress. Others argue, it is the other way about; that markets depend on, but undermine, moral constructs. Economics (and experience) indicates that unscrupulous firms are likely to be more competitive – if this were not the case, we would require no regulation or laws.

However, it is not the question of whether economic warfare promotes or impedes ethics which ought to be our concern today, but rather whether the cost of economic warfare progress, now outweighs the benefits. Beyond a certain point, further economic growth does not add to national wellbeing. Indeed, the inequality which has increased in the UK (and many other nations) alongside the four-decades long emphasis on free-markets, rather undermines wellbeing.

The benefits of further market-oriented growth appear scant; the costs, however, are increasing. From climate change, to growing evidence of the negative impact of single-use plastics, the loss of biodiversity, and the impending extinction of many species. Globally, we consume more than a sustainable world can deliver.

A world beyond “growth”

Despite many warnings the nations of the world refused to accept a little over a century ago that military forces, while useful, had reached the point where they impeded rather than facilitated progress, even viewed from a nationalist level. Today we similarly refuse to accept that market forces must also be brought to heel to serve, not destroy, our societies, nations and environment.

Perhaps a world in which the planet is not degraded in the pointless pursuit of GDP growth seems as unlikely to us today as a world without the “progress” facilitated by war seemed to our forebears. However, it is a world we can no longer afford to do without.

On Remembrance Day this year, we must aspire also to economic peace. It has been said “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.” Let us hope it does not take this long.

*Such global mastery does not last forever, whether founded on military or market forces. the Britain of today has relatively deindustrialised and increasingly come under foreign ownership through the same means by which capitalist imperium was gained, in a fit of absence of mind, i.e., through market forces.

Read more #Armistice100 stories and expert analysis from MMU academics

 

books, Republished pieces

An economy that does not grow?

An economy that does not grow?

Mark H Burton

                                                                                                            pdf version

cover of S Lange, Macroeconomcs Without Growth - click for the publisher link

Reposted from Steady State Manchester

There is now plenty of evidence that economic growth is highly problematic for human welfare and survival. The evidence comes from three domains. 1) The ecological: continual growth uses up the resources that supply and the sinks that take the waste from human activity globally. 2) The social: economic growth does not correlate well with human welfare and its supposed benefits, rather than being shared, become ever more concentrated at the top of the wealth and income pyramid. 3) The economic: economic systems that rely on perpetual growth are inherently unstable, and meet internal and external constraints (or contradictions) that undermine them.

While it may be clear that the wager on endless growth is a bad one, a more difficult question arises: “what would be the characteristics of an economy that does not grow?”.

In his book “Macroeconomics Without Growth1” Steffen Lange attempts to construct a framework for answering this question, rooted in the three main approaches to theorising the economy, hence the subtitle: “Sustainable Economies in Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian Theories”. The book is a valuable contribution to the theory and practice of degrowth and provides a solid grounding for interventions in the policy arena, including those by political parties that seek to construct a coherent alternative, rather than a mishmash wish list of proposals. A strength of the book is its rigorous, formal analysis of the main theoretical approaches and what they say about the preconditions for growth, and the possibilities of zero growth.

As such the book extends to 583 pages, and the detail, with recourse to mathematical formulae to capture the various models and sub-models, will mean that many will not read it. The aim of this essay review, then, is to summarise the book, emphasising the synthesis reached by Lange, and suggesting a few issues that arise.

In search of the macroeconomics of post-growth.

Lange sets out to answer a specific research question, “which macroeconomic conditions lead to sustainable economies without growth?”, where “sustainable”, refers to environmental sustainability, social welfare and economic stability.

The problem

First, some clarification about the term “economic growth”. In everyday speech, and that includes that of politicians, journalists and other commentators, “economic growth” is typically used without definition. It can generally be assumed to mean growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at national level (and for groupings of countries when added together), or Gross Value added (GVA) when used for sub-national economies. It will generally be corrected for changes in prices over time, and for country to country comparisons, corrections are made for population and for some purposes, for local prices: there are methodological choices made ,and controversies about, such corrections. However, “economic growth” might also refer to growth in incomes, or to growth in the material aspects of the economy, that is to say, the volume of products made or consumed. These distinctions are important since the discussion to follow does concern the relations between GDP growth and change in the volume of materials and energy that flows through the economy, and the extent to which it comes out at the other end as pollution. However, for most purposes, it can be assumed that in most non-technical discussions, it is GDP or GVA that is meant by “economic growth”. GDP does, however, correlate well with the material flows of an economy (as evidenced, for example in carbon emissions). In scholarly work, the terms are more usually defined when used.

Lange begins his book with an overview of the key issues for the macroeconomic dynamics of growth. Central to this is the debate over decoupling of GDP growth from environmental impacts (on resources and sinks). The growth advocates suggest that because GDP measures aggregate value rather than material flows, change in one need not follow the other. Moreover, it is often argued that growth is needed to fund the investments needed to reduce emissions and to substitute for unsustainable resources. The growth critics argue that such decoupling between GDP growth and material flows is unlikely to be achieved at the levels needed to mitigate the damage.

Lange explores these issues in detail, bringing in the relevant economic concepts. He then identifies the existing alternative approaches, broadly Daly and collaborators’ Steady State Economy, the European continental Degrowth literature, Prosperity and Managing Without Growth in the work of Victor and Jackson, and from the German language literature, Postwachstum. While these approaches do use concepts from ecological, Keynesian, and Marxian economics, Lange notes that they are not generally based within a macroeconomic framework, one that seeks to understand how the economy as a whole behaves. They also do not draw on the dominant neoclassical approaches. The result is the “research gap” that he identifies:

… a lack of research on conditions for economies without growth based on well-established, comprehensive, macroeconomic frameworks” (pp. 29-30).

Three theoretical approaches

The heart of the book is a detailed exploration of neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxist economics, asking how they understand economic growth and its drivers, whether a non-expanding economy can be envisaged within each framework. In doing this there is a particular focus on the interplay between technological change, money, investment, profit, expenditures by different sectors, consumption and labour productivity.

Each of the three paradigms, neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxist, is itself diverse and Lange, even in such a long text, is necessarily selective. This is particularly the case with the Marxist contributions where he only focuses on Marx’s classical account and the monopoly capitalism revision associated with Baran and Sweezy and authors associated with Monthly Review (and the Marxist ecological economics also associated with this current)2. Nevertheless, there is sufficient material for him to extract key ideas from the three paradigms and it is these that inform his conclusions, the focus of the next section. The surprising finding is that from each of the three paradigms (and their variants), the preconditions of an economy without growth can be extracted.

A model of sustainable economies without growth.

Where the book is particularly helpful is in the closing chapters. Here, on the basis of his investigation, Lange synthesises an overall macroeconomic model of an economy without growth. Because that is likely to be of most interest to a majority of readers, I’ll set this out here. Inevitably, this misses out many subtleties and steps in the argument. As you will see, the implications of Lange’s review are not a matter of minor tinkering but indicate the need for a major overhaul of the economic system.

Overall description

Design features

An economy that does not grow has the following overall characteristics.

  • Firms are collectively owned: collective ownership discourages large retained revenues which would drive capital accumulation and marketing.

  • Increases in revenues and in labour productivity maintain high wages, and/or improve working conditions and reduce working hours.

  • These firms sell their products within a market that is subject to the following rules and regulations.

    • There are strong environmental policies such as strict limits on the exploitation of natural resources and strong environmental taxes.

    • The government acts to reduce the non-wage costs of employment while increasing the cost of energy, natural resources and physical capital (buildings, production plant etc.).

    • Policies prevent economies of scale and favour diseconomies of scale – for example by increasing transport costs, favouring small firms and local infrastructures.

    • The sales function is strictly regulated, including strict regulation of advertising and built in obsolescence and new features.

    • Policies such as incentives and regulations support the reduction in working hours.

On the supply side of the economy, production levels are constant, gross investments only occur at the level of capital depreciation, technological change is re-directed to clean production, and working hours reduce. Note that firms have no incentives to invest above the rate of capital depreciation because of the pressures to stay small and local (diseconomies of scale). Firms are incentivised to improve resource efficiency. Increases in labour productivity are modest, because energy and other resources are expensive. Any increases in productivity go towards the reduction of working hours: collective ownership militates against dismissals while people prefer increasing leisure rather than increasing income.

On the demand side, private consumption and government expenditure stays at a constant level and shifts from dirty (i.e. environmentally damaging) to clean products. Personal and household consumption stays static because incomes are not increasing and “the sales effort has been largely repealed”. Government spending stays static since it is not needed to expand employment. Private and State consumption shifts towards cleaner products because the ensemble of production factors in this economy makes them relatively cheaper. Moreover, political attitudes favour cleaner products.

With regard to money, there are no savings and no continuous expansion of accumulated assets by any sector or grouping. This is the result of zero net investments. Without growth, asset accumulation by one group would require the accumulation of debt by another. The lack of accumulation is achieved through low economic inequality, redistributive government policies and banking system regulation.

Outcomes

These conditions lead to the following outcomes for the economy as a whole.

  1. Because aggregate demand and supply stay constant over time, there is zero growth.

  2. Pollution (i.e. including emissions) decreases because production stops growing and technological innovation is directed towards emission reductions and due to shifts from low labour, high emission (i.e. dirty) products to low emission, high labour (i.e. cleaner) ones.

  3. Wealth inequality is low because the ownership of firms is distributed, shared, across the population.

  4. Income inequality is low since wages are the only source of income (i.e. there is no accumulation of assets that then generate income as interest, dividends or rent).

  5. The economy overall is stable because employment levels are kept high and there is no instability arising from the money system.

Limitations

Lange is clear that there are limitations to his work. Firstly, the analysis is for closed economies. We know that the current circuits of extraction-production-distribution-consumption-pollution are global in nature. They involve massive power and wealth imbalances – Western economies have rested for at least 200 years on the exploitation of resources, labour and markets in poorer countries. Moreover, a country attempting to move to a no-growth model would have to deal with the instabilities and pressures arising from the tendency of other economies to grow and the interdependence of national economies in global markets.

This leads onto the second shortcoming: there is, as Lange points out, only sporadic treatment of political economy, the interrelation between power, as politics and economics. The dominant system of power actively maintains the present capitalist growth economy and, as he acknowledges, it has to be confronted and itself transformed if there is to be any real change.

Many of these policies stand in conflict with the interests of strong social groups. In particular, the interests of the capitalist class … or oligarchy.. These groups would lose major parts of economic wealth and income and the ability to accumulate capital…. Strong social movements and alliances between different (in particular the labour, environmental and feminist) movements are the most plausible manner to implement these conditions anyhow.” (p. 537).

Thirdly, and related to the previous point, the policy dimensions are presented in relatively abstract terms rather than as “oven ready policies” that a government might be able to implement. As a macroeconomic account, the book does not concern itself with the vital question of who implements the implied changes to the system: what is the balance between top-down and poplar, bottom-up system reform, for example?

A fourth shortcoming is the limited consideration of land as a unique and finite resource. Countries are, by definition, defined by a delimited geographical area, which is differentially valued and valuable based on relative location (i.e. land in the City of London versus land in rural Yorkshire have different relative values). Indeed, the extent to which the economics of land as a unique factor of production, or as a “fictitious commodity” is lacking in most macroeconomic theories3.

However, these shortcomings do not detract from the achievement of the book which is to produce a coherent and theoretically pluralistic macroeconomic account of the preconditions for an economy that does not (have to) grow.  It puts more flesh on the bones of the steady-state / post growth economy (something we try to explore and promote at the regional scale), showing that it is a feasible option, although it will be very different in almost every respect, from the economic system we know today.  It will be a valuable tool for those working out the detail of the necessary transition to a post-growth society, and economy and for those, in multiple sectors, struggling to bring it about.

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I am grateful to James Vandeventer for comments and suggestions on a draft of this review.

This article is now also available at Resilience.org

pdf version
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1 Lange, S. (2018). Macroeconomics without growth: sustainable economies in neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian theories. Marburg: Metropolis-Verlag. See http://www.metropolis-verlag.de/Macroeconomics-Without-Growth/1298/book.do;jsessionid=D57C51C17FAA0E4D72B788EB9B71301C

2 Baran, P. A., & Sweezy, P. M. (1966). Monopoly capital : an essay on the American economic and social order. New York: Monthly Review.
Bellamy Foster, J., Clark, B., & York, R. (2011). The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: New York University Press / Monthly Review Press.

3 To introduce this issue does not mean we are saying that all value stems from land.

News

Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 – architecture of degrowth

Maria Smith writes:

I’m one of the curators of the Oslo Architecture Triennale 2019 and our theme is the architecture of Degrowth. I’m writing today to invite you to contribute to this architecture festival!

We have this week published an open call: http://oslotriennale.no/en/news/oat-2019-open-call-for-projects for contributors to an architecture library of the near-future which you or people you know may be interested in submitting projects for. Please do circulate this! Thank you!

We are also looking for researchers conversant in Degrowth matters to collaborate with architects, artists and designers to create objects and experiences for this architecture library.

If responding to the open call makes sense to you then please go ahead and do that through the lovely online form in the link above. However, if you’re interested in contributing but aren’t too sure how your research relates to architecture, then just email me on maria.smith[AT]interrobang.london (replace the [AT] with the usual symbol) and please include:

  • “OAT Degrowth Research” in the subject line
  • c. 200 words on your Degrowth-related research
  • c. 200 word bio of yourself generally including which institutions you’re affiliated with, if any
  • Where you are based (so that if there are architects geographically near you we can take this into account when pairing people up, though this will of course only be one factor)

Please contact us before 19th November after which we will be doing a big pairing up exercise connection researchers with architects.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Best wishes,

Maria

p.s. Another strand of the Triennale is a book of short stories. If you or anyone you know are writing fiction about degrowth, please get in touch!