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By Michael R. Krätke
An economic statistic should, and by far, incorporate the environmental damages - that is, the real ecological and social costs - of our obsolete private-capitalist mode of production. And that means, neither more nor less, than saying goodbye to the ideology of growth.
Everyone swears by growth, everything trusts growth. Any small statistical increase in growth - 0.3%, or more, or less - is celebrated as a great triumph. China, India, the US are showing growth rates again for now, stocks are rising; only Europe lags behind. There is no government that can afford to give up promoting growth.
Under such circumstances, and unsurprisingly in the midst of a global economic crisis, the Copenhagen climate summit in late 2009 was a dismal failure. For the only straightforward consequence that could be drawn from that meeting was clear: to take seriously the immense and rapidly increasing costs of climate change and to pose without further delay the challenge posed by this simple question: who should bear the global burden of costs of a transition to another type of growth and development? The underdeveloped or developing countries presented their invoice to the rich North in Copenhagen. And he refused to pay it.
Enthroned substitute for religion
A UN study has just outlined that bill in greater detail: by industrial branches and differentiated sectors. It could also be done by countries and regions, with similar considerations in terms of global and regional measures, essential to stop climate change, maintain biological diversity and avoid the worst environmental damage. But these types of calculations do not take away from anything that is crucial in the situation we have reached: we have enthroned the fetishism of growth to a kind of substitute for religion, embedding it in our apparently objective computation of statistics rules and figures. public, by another name, national accounting (CN). The gross domestic product (GDP) of the official NC does not, however, offer more than a very diminished, and partly false, image of all the economic activities of a country. It serves a policy obsessed with growth, in pursuit, then, of a chimera closely related to the dominant style in economic thought.
It is not, and today less than ever, an academic question, since an economic statistic should, and by far, incorporate the environmental damage –that is, the real ecological and social costs– of our obsolete private-capitalist mode of production. . And that means, neither more nor less, than saying goodbye to the ideology of growth.
A capitalism without growth, stagnation and lasting depression, a permanently sustainable prosperity capitalism, is like squaring the circle. An exercise that only works at the cost of leaving the circle of unitarily integrated economic thought. Zero or even negative growth, a transition to stagnation or even decline, has long been advocated. Neither of these two variants is feasible without a radical restructuring of the economy, without the displacement and reconfiguration of entire branches, industries, regions and commercial networks. And here they coincide with the idea of a green capitalism, ecologically reformed, conjured up in the formula of sustainable growth. But the scheme of zero or even negative growth visibly goes beyond what currently makes up the green consensus. It leads right to the end of "development", and with that, to the core of the problem. The question is clear and simple: whether or not we can still afford capitalism in its current form (neoliberalism added to the received hyper-industrial ways of producing, based on fossil energy); if we can still afford all this wanton destruction of resources, all this terrible waste of labor power, this immense gap between private wealth and social misery. The question, needless to say, is posed to us in the global North in a different way than it is posed in the South. We can plausibly conceive of strictly regulated growth, regulated redistribution and reallocation of our resources. And that, even if an eco-social restructuring of the economy mounted as much as a revolution. But can the countries of the former "Third World" - pushed by the actors of the global North to a development according to the northern model, and thus, made dependent on the world market - resolutely say goodbye to growth?
The misery, social and environmental destruction in the rich industrial countries constitute a daily scandal that cries out to heaven. And yet it pales in comparison to the misery, environmental destruction, and annihilation of subsistence peasant economies in African and Asian countries. In the case of the branches and companies that are most harmful to the environment in the countries of the North, it is possible - political will through - to mitigate damages with sanctions and direct interventions. You can even bridle car and air traffic, if you like. The entire energy base of our economizing ways of living can be restructured in a few decades (even if radical intervention in private property affects not just some, but many).
But you cannot protect forests and maintain biodiversity without stopping "development" in underdeveloped and developing countries. This requires a further "green revolution" and a restructuring of agriculture. Instead of agro-export industries, instead of monocultures and large plantations, we should either maintain the subsistence economies of the affected states, or set ourselves up for a radical change in the international division of labor. This new division cannot take place according to the old model, with high-tech industries here and there, in the South, agriculture. The own demands of the developing countries have already broken with this model. To give just one example of the radical nature of the change required: if Europe wants to cooperate with the BRIC states (Brazil, Russia, India, China), it will have to say goodbye to the ailing free trade miracle dogma, along with the rest of the articles of faith of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Michael R. Krätke, a member of the Editorial Board of SINPERMISO, is a professor of economic policy and tax law at the University of Amsterdam, a researcher associated with the International Institute of Social History of the same city and a professor of political economy and director of the Institute of Higher Studies at the University of Lancaster in the UK Translation for www.sinpermiso.info: Amaranta Süss - Freitag, 5 March 2010