Transform the Left Between-growth and Degrowth

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Transcript of Transform the Left Between-growth and Degrowth

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    european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogue

    transform!

    Eng

    lish

    The Left Between

    Growth andDe-GrowthDiscussion Papers

    Edited and introduced

    by Teppo Eskelinen

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    The journal

    transform! european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogueis published twice a year.

    transform! european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogue

    c/o VSA-Verlag

    St. Georgs Kirchhof 6

    D 20099 Hamburge-mail: [email protected]

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    The Left Between

    Growth andDe-GrowthDiscussion Papers

    Edited and introduced

    by Teppo Eskelinen

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    Imprint:transform! european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogueEdited by transform! Europe, BrusselsEditor: Walter Baier (V.i.S.d.P.)

    transform! 11 Rue Michel-Ange, 1000 Brussels, Belgium

    Layout: typothese.atPrinting: Resch KEG, 1150 Vienna, Austria

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    List of contents

    Preface: Growth an Indicator of the Past 6

    Teppo Eskelinen political philosopher, Left Forum (Finland)

    A Note on Economic Growth

    Seen Through the Prism of the Crisis 14Elena Papadopoulou economist, Nicos Poulantzas Institute (Greece)

    Lets Talk About Money, Value and Wealth 21

    Jean-Marie Harribey, economist, former co-president Attac (France)

    In Search of a (New) Compass

    How to Measure Social Progress, Wealth and Sustainability? 31

    Josef Baum economist and geographer, transform.at (Austria)

    Economic Indicators are Really About Power. Political

    Dimensions of Object and Method in Debates on Growth 44

    Lutz Brangsch economist, Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (Germany)

    The Link Between Growth and Jobs: Myth or Reality? 58

    Chantal Delmas Espaces Marx (France)

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    Critical discussion on economic growth has gained standing in recent times,mainly because o environmental concerns. But the recent inancial crisisas a general crisis o the contemporary growth model has deinitely broughtmore uel to the ire. As the inancial sector in the US and Europe has reducedits lending to the productive sector, growth has been slowed down, whichcauses politicians o every orientation desperately to seek strategies or return-ing the growth track. Yet simultaneously, there is growing acknowledgementthat the prevailing inance-led growth strategy is unstable and prone to crises,

    along with being highly unjust in terms o distribution o money and assets. Itwas recently estimated that regulatory and taxation measures, which wouldcurb speculation and stop overt risk-taking by banks, would slow down growthby 1 per cent annually. While this was intended to be an argument against thesemeasures, many people will eel that this slowdown o growth is in itsel desir-able. In addition, the general orecast o jobless growth or most countries inEurope spurs the realisation that, in inancial capitalism, even employment isnot necessarily very closely correlated with growth. Simultaneously, the envi-ronmental concerns are ever more pressing, and the argument that everlastinggrowth is simply absurd has become impossible to dismiss.

    he inconsistency o growth as a normative goal has several acets. First, eco-nomic output is no indicator o well-being or any other utopian goal o humanand political lie. Second, economic output as such says nothing about its dis-tribution, let alone relative power positions within a society. hird, economicgrowth is potentially dangerous. Examples o this include production o dan-gerous goods such as weapons, excessive commodiication o culture, destruc-tion o orms o subsistence in the global South, privatisation o public services,which counts as growth, and so orth. O course, the increased production ogenuinely desired goods also registers as growth. But what is essential here is

    that growth is a broad etishisation category, and as a broad category it wouldbe absurd to evaluate it categorically, whether negatively or positively. Rather,the popularity o both viewpoints, especially the position o regarding growthas categorically positive, ought to attract our interest: how can this viewpoint be

    Preface: Growth

    an Indicator of the PastTeppo Eskelinen

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    so popular? Why do societies seek growth, not as merely one thing among oth-ers but as a priority? Are there any reasons or this beyond a prisoners dilemma

    situation: things would be even worse without it?

    A challenge for the left

    Looking at the centrality o growth in political discourse, growth can beseen as one o the cores o the development model which has prevailed in theWest. hus the debate on how to think about growth may well necessitate abroader discussion o the very model o development and what is understoodas progress. he belie has been that the growth o production will result in

    enhanced general well-being, with a trickle-down mechanism liting the poorup rom poverty. aking these shaky presumptions or granted has led to anexcessive appreciation, a etishisation, o production and its increase, which haslead to a very energy-intensive orm o society.

    Yet the environmental crisis and the inherent inequalities and unsustainabilityo the system provide ever more empirical evidence to counter this paradigmaticidea. his has lead to a number o very dierent kinds o responses. he politi-cal mainstream, while tacitly agreeing that everlasting growth is a rather unlikelyprospect, sticks to growth as it eels that alternatives do not exist. Granted, growth

    has not created employment or all, and quite likely never will, but withoutgrowth societies would ace even more catastrophic scenarios, they argue. Inother words, the political mainstream admits that it bases the bulk o its politicson a oundation it knows to be absurd, since it eels that alternatives do not exist.On the radical agenda, on the other hand, the de-growth movement has quite

    vocally called or a reorientation regarding growth. According to the ideologueso this movement, environmental imperatives ought to be taken as a serious sign,whose only logical consequence is to aim at steadily decreasing GDP.

    Neither o these responses can be satisactory or the political let. First, letpolitics cannot merely take or granted such imposed necessities, such as the needto promote growth in the absence o alternatives. Admittedly, parts o the trade-union movement have been sympathetic to the argument or everlasting growthprecisely because at present there seem to be ew alternatives to it in creating

    jobs. Yet this cannot be taken as a general let position, even though some Greensare eager to see it that way. Second, the problem with the de-growth movementis that is operates with the vocabulary o growth, taking a normative u-turn butleaving the discourse untouched. A more analytical position is needed. Growth asa concept is more ambiguous than the de-growth discourse would allow.

    Naturally, the importance and urgency o the concerns o the de-growth

    movement, namely the ecological predicament, cannot be overstated. Econom-ic activity is closely linked to the levels o consumption o material resourcesand emissions o greenhouse gases. It is arguable, and indeed oten argued,that environmental externalities be decoupled rom the value o economic

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    output, but at least so ar all orms o capitalist economy known to us havecreated environmental destruction quite correlated to the level o economic

    output. Humanity now inds itsel in a completely novel situation, as it is acinga clear, ecologically dictated deadline in the orm o climate change. Emissionsneed to be cut, immediately and considerably, and there is no excuse or notdoing so. As or the decoupling problem, this can be said: most likely the newmainstream technology and market solutions can, i correctly designed, play arole in tackling climate change, but such measures will be insuicient. Indeed,in the long term societal models not based on accumulation will be needed, andthus it will also be necessary to think in non-growth terms.

    So the matter is not, whether or not to grow, but how to cease thinking in

    terms o growth, whatever normative value it is given. hinking, o course,must also mean political practice. he current model o capitalist growth haslead to a dead end in terms o ecology, social justice and even economic stabil-ity. It simply is no longer credible that human well-being, basic needs, environ-mental sustainability and the like could be addressed with the paradigm o theresource-intensive, accumulation-based economic model. Even less justiied istying the ate o all these to the success o the speculative inancial markets. Weare not merely in