Apr 8, 2011

Alternatives to economic growth: re-use, recycle and focus on communities

A very interesting review article by Barry Smart "Another ‘Great Transformation’ or Common Ruin?" in Theory, Culture & Society, 2011, vol. 28, pp. 131-151. The article considers critical responses to economic growth and examines three alternatives to the model of capitalist economic growth: de-growth, regeneration of "the communist hypothesis", and transition to a sustainable economy. They are very similar and basically have literal meanings, i.e., not focusing on growth, re-thinking communism in positive terms, and work on sustainability. Still, a few details below:

De-growth (Latouche) is a response to evidence on the negative consequences of capitalist economic growth and the detrimental impact of increasing rates of production and consumption. The idea that everything (jobs, pensions, public spending) should depend on economic growth is incompatible with the finite world.

De-growth is based on eight processes: re-evaluation, reconceptualization, restructuring, redistribution, re-localization, reduction, re-use and recycling. First three question the values of constant growth and wealth accumulation. Redistribution calls for a reduction in disparity of wealth and income. Re-localization refers to organization of local production and distribution. Reduction - lower consumption of goods, resources, and services (e.g., tourism). All this would reduce labor time and free people's time for self-development and other forms of activities, such as micro-social activities and civic labor.

Since global capitalism is based on consumerism and is ridden with crises, attempts to repair it with state interventions or environmental ideas won't work. Zizek proposed another alternative - to re-think communism, i.e., to disconnect it from pathologies and perversions of the 20th century and imagine it in a context where the working class can be divided into intellectual workers, manual laborers and unemployed ‘outcasts’, each with their own way of life and conceptions of the others.

There is a lot that can be thought or said about this, but unfortunately, the article doesn't do that. Wouldn't the distinctions between intellectual and labor workers lead to the same wealth and income disparities that exist in capitalist societies now? How can social and financial hierarchies be reconciled with ideas of equality, shared benefits, and sustainability? For somebody who shares ideas of sustainability and de-growth (to some extent), arguments in the article make perfect sense. But can skeptics and non-believers be somehow convinced that this is what should be done? Where is the minimal common ground that can serve as a starting point of a conversation about change and transformation? Haven't seen it so far...