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Anti Economic Growth, De-growth, Re-growth

Economics / Economic Theory May 14, 2013 - 05:01 PM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Anti-consumerism is steadily advancing and gaining political visibility in Europe, as a Lost Decade opens up for Europe's present 29 million unemployed persons. Europe's huge ranks of youth unemployed, sometimes over 50% of the 16-25 year age group in the worst affected countries, know they have No Future. In some countries like Greece, they have been simply and officially told by the government that their only chance is to get out of the country. In others like Spain, the depth of crisis has forced the state to seize some foreclosed properties, simply to prevent the country's ever growing number of homeless families becoming too socially explosive, but its youth has No Future.

Dumping millions of persons in the gutter, giving young persons the No Future of Mrs Thatcher - and casually calling this politically correct crisis management - creates an outlook that is revolutionary. Degrowth emerges as the right solution, and responds to the following facts:

       *Overproduction is bad for the economy
 *Overconsumption is bad for society

To be sure, supermarkets are stuffed with every conceivable consumer good imported from "over the horizon", like designer clothes with heavily-promoted "iconic" names made in Bangladesh by capitalism's throwaway slaves paid $10 a week. City streets and motorways are jammed with shiny cars, purchased using near-zero percent loans and often manufactured at a loss. Governments, although wildly in debt, hand out big cash subsidies to car buyers to keep the car industry alive, using various pretexts - like reducing CO2 emissions or the mirage of electric cars being 'the next big thing'. Car drivers and their passengers whisk past the jobless and the homeless, averting their gaze. The low cost airlines report excellent business, their planes are always at least 75% full. Tourist package holidays, especially the upmarket type with a cultural flavor are a major business, as long as no terror outrage hits the visiting Baby Boomer tourists, mostly white although Asians are now rapidly joining the party.

The globalized "middle class consumer" phenomenon is contagious, like SRAS or HIV and has gone viral. For growth fanatics, the growing middle class segment in societies across the world is the best hope for global economic recovery. Their "urge to acquire" or greed will pull us all up.

Degrowth specifically recognizes that globalization is a lose-lose strategy. Elite deciders in the Emerging economies, called the Asian Locomotive, are now watering-down their previous total commitment to breakneck growth and the cult of mindless consumption, both creating and needing the "global middle class" with its value system, as in the West, of overconsumption. Fueling the constant festival of waste is now becoming recognized as an open economic strain that is beginning to threaten social integrity in the Asian Locomotive economies, whose leaders see what the twin cults of overproduction and overconsumption have done in the West.

The hoped-for permanent economic boom in the West's so-called "postindustrial societies" was based on credit and by financialization of the economy, which ruined the economy and also ruined society. The result of the race for growth - the race to nowhere - is now very clear. It not only produces environment damage, resource shortage, malinvestment and the social damage grouped together as "diseconomies of growth", but also drives the debt crisis. When the runaway growth train is allowed to run its full course it smashes into the buffers of unpayable sovereign debt. This is where we are at.

Some degrowth advocates start by stating that consumerism is spiritual junk food, shrinking and corrupting the human spirit every day. It has a direct physical counterpart in junk food, that not only does not nourish but actively reduces human well-being. Junkfood corporations led by McDonalds and KFC exploit the economic rout and rising mass poverty by gouging extra sales and profit with ever-cheaper tricked-out Survival Food meals, wrapped in gaily printed "recyclable" packaging, but the food is nearly zero quality. Mindless consumers flock to gorge this junk food like robots, obeying the round-the-clock advertising campaigns banged into their heads with the single goal of making them greedy and keeping them mindless.

 Overconsumption and overproduction are junk values of fake progress, and are qualitatively and quantitatively different from the needed and coming positive re-growth and restructuring of both the society and the economy. De-growth is a process that only concerns the Old Economy, which as we know can at any time tilt into recession - that is degrowth. The new and coming social-economy will need re-growth, with what are not new values, but time-honored human values. The interval between when this revolution happens, and the last days of the old system, is what we are living now.

Degrowth advocates with colorful or cryptic names like Beyond Your Backyard and the Radical Ecological Democracy Movement say it is urgent to forge a new path of human wellbeing based on equity, without which the nice talk about ecology and sustainability is only talk. Alternatives already exist and are already practiced around the world, especially in the Emerging economies where only a tiny but very loud minority of the population has attained the "global middle class" status, with its mindless degenerate mantra of Greed Is Good and More is Better.

Emerging economy deciders are beginning to realize the glaring diseconomies of breakneck growth - and the distorting influence of a tiny but loud "global middle class" operating like a fifth column in their midst.

Degrowth practices include sustainable food production, equitable rural-urban development, sustainable cities no longer predating their hinterlands, real education helping young persons to identify and adopt lasting cultural values, society-wide conservation not only recycling tinfoil, plastic and glass but conserving all living things. All these are known goals. Everybody wants health security, job security and zero homelessness. These goals already feature, sometimes relatively high up on political party platforms, in some countries - but they are impossible to realise.

Degrowth advocates decentralized governance, like many political party platforms, but they go on to say what their decentralization needs, to be real. It needs economic democracy. This demand is much too dangerous for the society we have today, where who-gets-what is based on envy, competition, exclusion and greed. An economy based on overconsumption for the lucky forty-percent of the middle class, and too little for everybody else. Based on permanent social injustice which is called "the competitive economy and society", needing easily visible losers, in the gutter, to show its competitiveness. In any case, without the driver of injustice how can we have the great corporations of the Consumer World like Apple or Nike, Audi or Sony - bent only on producing more?

The degrowth movement says that only better is better. More is not better. More of everything can be commoditized by the growth machine, but better is hard to commoditize.

Producing luxury trinkets needing obsessional quantities of labour and pricey materials only works for the extreme high end market serving supposedly "iconic" Nice People, the ultimate in greed. The No Alternative mass market economy, below the iconic greed layer, depends on the anarchic financial machine working the gaming tables and one-armed bandits of the casino economy to create and channel funds to entrepreneurs who must always produce more. This system sets out to destroy everything which can't be commoditized -- friendship, family, community, the individual person -- and human liberty. It replaces these "outdated and unproductive" values with the primacy of greedy lust to produce more, acquire more, consume more, waste more. Its goals are totalitarian or fascist.

The late stage Baby Boomer middle class model is already aged, already fading, but still works its baleful influence - spreading the degenerate message of waste and injustice - to the wide world. But despite all the attempts at destroying alternatives, at pretending there is No Alternative, economic and sociocultural change has for decades tended towards value goals, rather than volume goals. These have emerged despite all attempts to destroy and denigrate them.

Consumer saturation is a key cause. After taking the keys of their third car and buying their fifth cellphone, the greedy middle class family switches goals and gets interested in education for the kids. Parents start to hanker after tourist trips to historic locations. They start to read books instead of despising the very idea of education and knowledge. Things like healthcare and recreation begin to interest and concern "the maturing consumer" much more than their former Life Quest -- own more and waste more, outpace the neighbours in greed, shop 'til you drop.

Overproduction by industry causing regular "crises of capitalism" is a well-known limiting factor in "economic cycles". Profits decline per unit of sales as markets saturate and new products become harder to invent and force down the throat of consumers, whose physical ability to consume more is declining - with their greed. Linked to  this, growth phases of industrial capitalism become shorter, more fragile and leave vast debts behind them, needing years of austerity and further social injustice to absorb. Since 2008 the western world has wallowed and floundered in the most recent, and vastest pool of debt left behind from a cycle of runaway growth.

Value goals constantly infiltrate political party platforms. Conspicuous consumption is limited by new laws, new customs. Pedestrian precincts shut out the shiny cars in cities where planting trees is more important than building car parks - and everbody likes it. Traveling by bus, bicycle or by walking is no longer the sign of being a Born Loser only good for the gutter. It is now socially approved to want and prefer biological and organic foods, to dig the garden. Not consuming is no longer shameful, although round-the-clock advertising tries to daub and decry it as eccentric and restore faith in Our Only Hope for the Future - individual greed and overconsumption.

The Victorian "social exclusion paradigm" and gutter morality of Mrs Thatcher's neofascism, already 30 years back in time, incited mass popular celebration on the occasion of Thatcher's funeral. It was good to see the back of her evil nonsense!  In most European countries today, the entire political ruling class - the servants of crony capitalistm - is under vigilant surveillance by public opinion. Their corrupt antics no longer escape public sanction and some of these criminals go straight to jail after being thrown out of power. No Alternative politics - always promising more consumption in return for more greed, called "hard work" and "the respect of middle class values" - has peaked and is now in retreat.

It is now permitted to say out loud that GDP does not measure human welfare. It measures greed and waste. On a national scale, degrowth activists say, the cancerous chaotic growth measured by GDP must be replaced with a national gauge of gross domestic happiness and National Human Welfare. Building a new economy and setting new goals for society will build on decades of increasing environment, energy and resource conserving consciousness. Waste not, want not.

Real human welfare is not measured by the number of kilowatthours of energy or kilograms of metals and materials that are "throughput" by the consumer, from the supermarket to the city trash dump, but resource limits are finally little to do with the Degrowth quest. The movement is value based. It is based on social pyschological, cultural and value goals. To be sure, recognizing that resources are not infinite is useful, to start the process of self-analysis and the analysis of society, to ask why and how we got to this no-win state, but the Degrowth quest pursues basic, universal and unchanging human goals for the needed redevelopment of society and the economy.

Even if fossil fuels and renewable energy were entirely free, infinite and so low-cost there were no energy limits, this has little or nothing to do with who produces and consumes what. It has no direct relation to the predatory handicap built into present society and the growth economy, where depleting fisheries, fauna, plant life, soil and fresh water are real limits. Plundering the planet's seas is a sombre example and is totally unsustainable - but without it, how can the middle classes twitter and gurgle in their chic upmarket sushi restaurants?

Much more than unsustainability due to resource depletion, the growth model of society is finished because of financialization, crony capitalism, the bubble economy and rabid competition for phantom collateral - which as its name says, is virtual. Exactly like the financialized economy, diminishing returns on consumption growth are shown by the fast-growing need for real investment in clean air and water, public transport, affordable housing, education, and jobs for all. Ignored goals and values, light years away from those of the throwaway society and growth economy.
Rule of law will be needed to break the growth economy and society. Public infrastructure investment is critically needed, in the same way as education and access to knowledge are critical needs. The growth machine, always flat out, cannot permit this and will only drive consumption of all resources, whether physical or human, natural or technical to a point where social, spiritual and psychological dysfunction results. The race to overconsume ends in social chaos, not human wellbeing.
The Degrowth movement explicitly rejects the cult of progress, perverted to only mean consumption growth. This perverse religion has attained the pitch of a Cargo Cult, with its own sub-cults such as Deficit Keynesianism, pursuing the notion that growth is so critical, so essential that the exponential growth of debt is needed and justified to overcome the starkly diminishing returns of growth.
Deficit Keynesianism has itself hit a wall of debt and dysfunctionality, but all tricks for stoking growth, all the facets of the religion of growth, are only superficial masks on the Value Void below the pavements of the world's finance districts and corporate boardrooms. Real values are far away across the ideological railway tracks, in the countries and realms of the freethinkers and freeminded. Real values belong to the vast majority of humanity.
Degrowth means using things until they cannot be repaired. Don't ditch the dress or digital device until it can no longer repaired. Produce your own when you can. Buy local rather than than global. Control and limit the primitive greed instinct. Need less and want less. Resist the 24/7 brainwashing called advertising and marketing. Believe in society and help move its culture to inclusion - not exclusion - of those who are not greedy. Learn your personal identity and forget what you consumed.

Degrowth is coming!

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2013 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisor.

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