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.
Republished pieces

The suburbs are the spiritual home of overconsumption. But they also hold the key to a better future

Repost from The Conversation
Community managed micro-allotments, Malmö (photo M Burton)
The typical suburban backyard of the future?
Retrosuburbia.com (with permission)

Samuel Alexander, University of Melbourne and Brendan Gleeson, University of Melbourne

Suburban affluence is the defining image of the good life under capitalism, commonly held up as a model to which all humanity should aspire.

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities. Yet with the global economy already in gross ecological overshoot, and a world population heading for more than 11 billion, this way of living is neither fair nor sustainable.

To live within our environmental means, the richest nations will need to embrace a planned process of economic “degrowth”. This is not an unplanned recession, but a deliberate downscaling of economic activity and the closely correlated consumption of fossil energy. We don’t argue this is likely, only that it is necessary.

You might naturally assume this will involve pain and sacrifice, but we argue that a “prosperous descent” is possible. Our new book, Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary, envisions how this might unfold in the suburban landscapes that are currently emblematic of overconsumption.




Read more:
The ‘simple life’ manifesto and how it could save us


The well-known documentary The End of Suburbia presented a coherent narrative of a post-petroleum future, but got at least one thing wrong. There is not a single end to suburbia; there are many ends of suburbia (as we know it).

Reimagining the suburbs beyond fossil fuels

Suburban catastrophists such as James Kunstler argue that fossil fuel depletion will turn our suburbs into urban wastelands. But we see the suburbs as an ideal place to begin retrofitting our cities.

This won’t involve tearing them down and starting again. Typically, Australia’s built environment is turned over at less than 5% per year. The challenge is to reinhabit, not rebuild, the suburban landscape. Here are some of the key features of this reinvigorated landscape:

  • Suburbanites can and should retrofit their homes and develop new energy practices to prepare for an energy descent future.
  • Households must be encouraged to downshift consumerism, swapping superfluous “stuff” for more free time and other sources of meaning and well-being. An economics of sufficiency involves borrowing and sharing rather than always buying and upscaling.
  • We should reclaim and reimagine areas of the built environment that are misused or underused. The vast areas dedicated to car parking are but one example.
  • Finally, and most importantly, we should realise that change must come via grassroots political organisation, rather than waiting for growth-fixated governments to lead the way. This is not to deny the need for “top-down” structural change. Our argument is simply that the necessary action from governments will not arrive until there is an active culture of sufficiency that demands it.
Sharehouse food production.
Retrosuburbia.com (with permission)

What social forces might produce this necessary but elusive urban transformation? We think it can be driven by two broad social groups: the disillusioned middle class and the exploited working class. These two groups, which already blur together along a spectrum, can potentially become a cohesive urban social movement of transformative economic and political significance.

The disillusioned middle class: radical downshifters

Our first groups consists of employed professionals, bureaucrats, and tradespeople who have secure housing, earn decent wages, and can direct significant portions of their income to discretionary spending. This sector of society participates, consciously or unconsciously, in what is often called “consumer culture”.

This consumerism often fails to fulfil its promise of a rich and meaningful life. The consumer class has been sold a lie, and many affluent consumers are now developing what social scientist Ronald Inglehart calls “post-materialist” goals and values. This emerging way of life involves seeking purpose and satisfaction in life through things other than material riches, including deeper community engagement, more time to pursue private passions, or even increased political action.

This is significant, for three reasons. First, history shows that social movements tend to be sparked by dissatisfaction with the status quo – otherwise, why would people resist or seek alternatives? The deep disillusionment with materialistic lifestyles provides an incentive to explore alternative, more satisfying ways to live and self-provide.

Second, by withdrawing their spending from the market economy, this emerging social movement can undermine that economy and fast-track its transformation.

Finally, a “radical downshifting” in consumption could allow people to free up their time by working less. This will provide people with more time to participate in building new forms of economy and engaging in collective action for change. The “voluntary simplicity movement” already numbers as many as 200 million people, although its potential depends on more organised and radical expressions.

The exploited working class: economic builders

Radical downshifters will never transform the economy on their own, and this is where our second group comes in. Working-class urbanites, while also drifting into superfluous consumption, are typically characterised as individuals and households who are “battling” to make ends meet.

Again, a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo provides the incentive to seek and participate in fundamental change. We are often told that Australia’s economy has grown uninterrupted for a quarter-century, yet many people feel their personal circumstances have stagnated.

There has indeed been growth, yet almost all the benefits have been siphoned away by the wealthy. Why would the working class owe any allegiance to a system that only benefits the rich? As the battlers realise they are being oppressed and duped by an unjust system, they threaten to become a dynamite class of explosive potential.

As economic crises threaten to intensify in coming years – including the challenge of automation – we maintain that the exploited working class may be driven to explore alternative ways to self-provide. As incomes become more meagre and jobs less secure, more people will need to seek alternative ways of meeting economic needs “beyond the market”.

A suburban home complete with mini market garden means fewer trips to the shops (for your neighbours too).
Retrosuburbia.com (with permission)

Whether through necessity or choice, we foresee a growing number of people beginning to participate in informal, non-monetary, and local economies, including the sharing economy. Just as radical middle-class downshifters will help stifle economic growth by withdrawing their discretionary spending, those who are less affluent could begin to lay alternative economic foundations, and provide a post-capitalist social safety net.

Working together

We contend that these two social groups – the disillusioned middle class and the exploited working class – can conceivably form a cohesive movement with similar goals. The capitalist system isn’t working for many people, even those who are “winning” the rat race. Furthermore, historic growth trajectories seem to be coming to an end, due to both financial and ecological constraints.




Read more:
Life in a ‘degrowth’ economy, and why you might actually enjoy it


Already, a diverse range of movements are working towards a new urbanity. These include local farmers’ markets and community and home gardens, urban agriculture projects, freecycling groups, sharing communities, and repair cafes. It also includes the growing pool of climate activists, divestment organisers, permaculture groups, transitions towns, and progressive unions.

There is the small but vocal “save our suburbs” network, in which we see the seeds of something more progressive. And it includes the energy frugal households quietly moving towards solar, batteries and increased energy self-suffiency. One by one, these households are undermining the fossil fuel industry and subtly disrupting the status quo.

As financial and ecological crises deepen in coming years, the social consciousness needed to develop new systems of production and cultures of consumption will become compelling. Together these social groups (and others not yet imagined) could form an urban social movement that withdraws support for the existing system and begins building new economies on our suburban streets.The Conversation

Samuel Alexander, Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne and Brendan Gleeson, Director, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 

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.

******************************************************************************
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
______________________________________________________________

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.

Republished pieces

Degrowth is the radical post-Brexit future the UK needs

Picture of forest
Does a greener future lie ahead?
Joe Herbert, Author provided

Joe Herbert, Newcastle University

As the Brexit negotiations wrap up and Theresa May’s deal is lambasted by Remainers and Leavers alike, it’s still far from clear what the future holds for the United Kingdom. On March 29 2019, it is due to leave the European Union.

Brexit is the first time a member state has voted to withdraw from the EU and it has caused a geopolitical earthquake, unleashing uncertainty in the UK and abroad. We don’t know what the impact on the UK will be when (and if) it actually leaves the EU. If it does so on poor terms, or via the still possible “no deal” eventuality, there are a wealth of devastating projections which may materialise.

The only thing that we can be sure of is that Brexit represents a moment of huge social, political and economic rupture. However, history tells us that such moments are also moments of opportunity for radical departure from the status quo.

Rupture as opportunity

Let’s be frank, Brexit is not a progressive endeavour. It threatens social and economic turmoil in which the most vulnerable in society will – as always – be the hardest hit. Leaving the EU could jeopardise benefits to UK citizens in the form of workers’ rights, environmental protections and food standards. The political climate outside of the EU also offers an increasingly undesirable community of potential allies and traders, dominated by the rise of the far-right in North and South America.

On the other hand, uncritical adoration of the EU overlooks the reality of what the Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis has described as “a regressive set of vile institutions”. It cannot be denied: the EU is a large and brutal force for neoliberalism.

From this critical stance on the EU, I still voted Remain in the referendum. I believed then – and still believe now – that regressive forces will profit from the UK’s exit and that the vulnerable will suffer. So, as we approach the March deadline, if the UK does indeed crash out of the EU, the left needs to be prepared with visions of alternative futures, and be ready to fight for them.

The growth question

The realities of a post-Brexit UK appear bleak, certainly in the short term. But separation opens the door for alternatives to the dominance of free-market fundamentalism. We could move from a society centred around financialised capital and the City of London, to one that promotes social and environmental justice in the UK and internationally.

Reports claim that Brexit will mean lower levels of economic growth for the UK. For politicians this is a horrifying prospect. But falling growth need not be feared, if it is integrated within a broader transformation of society.

The degrowth movement emerging amongst academics and activists argues that the logic of infinite growth is driving ecosystem collapse and climate breakdown. As stated in the latest IPCC report, we now have only 12 years to radically restructure society to cap global temperature at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. If we fail, we will face catastrophic climate impacts.

Degrowth as a radical alternative

Degrowth argues that the wealthy and heavily polluting countries of the global north – such as the UK – must undergo a phase of managed and socially equitable economic contraction. This is necessary to downscale rich economies to within safe ecological limits.

The need for endless economic growth pushes us to produce more, consume more and make more profit. It has left our society overworked, over-stressed and plagued by extreme levels of inequality.

These dire social conditions have been blamed for the Brexit vote itself and unlimited growth also fuels climate breakdown, with the UK as a big contributor to global carbon emissions.

Simply, our slavish devotion to growth is making us miserable and destroying the planet. Degrowth could liberate us by arguing that more growth is not the solution, but the problem. We can and must live better with less, shared more fairly.

From growth to wellbeing

Degrowth would rid our society of pointless production and consumption. We could say goodbye to “bullshit jobs” – the pointless make-work that keeps workers stressed without any obvious value to society beyond enriching corporate elites. Production and consumption could be organised in service of social and environmental well-being rather than profit.

This degrowth transition could be pursued through ideas which confront the relentless treadmill of work, such as a four-day week. Poverty and inequality could be tackled by implementing a universal basic income and a maximum income. A fundamental decentralisation of the UK’s political and economic landscape could end London’s dominance by distributing more democratic autonomy to the regions.

Degrowth thus acknowledges that liberating society from the growth imperative is not only an ecological necessity, but also loosens the grip of the capitalist wage-labour market. This frees people to dedicate more of their lives to the things that really matter to them.

Is degrowth a likely future for the UK after Brexit? Certainly not in the short term. But, as Brexit and climate breakdown destabilise our politics, nothing much is certain. Only that we must be prepared with visions of a better future, and be ready to fight for them.The Conversation

Joe Herbert, PhD Researcher in Human Geography, Newcastle University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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!

Uncategorized

Summary of responses to the degrowthUK survey

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to the survey. The thoughts that we gathered here will be extremely helpful as a base from which to decide about the future directions of our emerging network! I wanted to take a moment to summarise some of the main responses to the survey, so that we can continue to collectively decide on next steps. So here we go…

  •  31 people responded to the survey. We had a fantastic geographical spread of respondents. Manchester was home to the most, with 5 respondents.
  • Most respondents work in academia at this point, though not all. PhD students were the most common, which reflects nicely the emerging interest in degrowth amongst a generation of young researchers 
  • Almost all respondents indicated their desire for face-to-face degrowthUK events, in addition to online networking and disseminating of information. This suggests we should make organising some face to face events one of our next priorities as a network
  • The overwhelming majority were happy with the email list as a method of communication. This now has 70 subscribers, which is great. Most people are already following the twitter account (@degrowthUK) and we now have a basic website installed (degrowthuk.org). Tech-savvy volunteers who can jazz up the website a bit are encouraged to step forward! There wasn’t a huge or clear appetite for any further channels of communication on top of these.
  • Thank you to about a third of you who expressed interest in hosting a face-to-face event. We will get in touch with those specific people as we look to move these plans forward. Hopefully regions are organising their own more localised activities, but it seems there is appetite for a larger national get-together. The US degrowth network has just had their first gathering, and it would be nice if we could plan something similar!

If anyone wants to follow any of this up, or has further ideas for organising a get-together, feel free to get in touch.

Convivial regards,

Joe