Sunday, August 28, 2016

Degrowth towards a steady-state economy

The flood in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, It has been described as either a 500 year or a 1,000-year weather event, leaving at least 13 people dead and close to 60,000 homes ruined. According to meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson, August has been the wettest month in Baton Rouge in 174 years, when records were first kept.  The thousands of Baton Rouge area residents affected by this historic flooding will face the same struggle to return home that Katrina survivors experienced. Many of these survivors were already living in poverty before the floods hit. Of the 20 parishes that President Obama declared “a major disaster,” 17 had populations above the14.8% national poverty rate, and half of the disaster-declared parishes had more people living in poverty than the state poverty average of 19.8%. Two affected parishes, St. Landry and Washington, had poverty rates near 30%.

The planetary ecological crisis is escalating. Socialists point out capitalism's need for growth at all costs is the road to ruin. “Accumulate, accumulate, Moses and the prophets!” Capitalism can exist with permanent poverty, persistent hunger, and perpetual war but it cannot exist without constant capital expansion. There is little optimism for future because humanity’s extinction is the concomitant of capital's destructive course of development. From what we know global warming will cause a collapse in food supplies, water shortages, desertification or flooding of arable lands and the inundation coastal cities and deltas. This is likely to produce mass starvation, mass migration and wars. The Socialist Party case is that we need to build a higher form of social organisation before the present system destroys us all. We may well not be in a position to say “we told you so” as the world crumbles around us. Mitigating climate change requires a rapid and sustained economic contraction. If capitalism seriously embarked upon policies that cut GDPs they would dwarf the current austerity programmes that have provoked misery, strikes and occupations around the world.

Socialism will be a system of freely associated producers producing for human need, must develop out of capitalism. It is a global system without classes where human labour power no longer takes the form of value and the products of this labour are use values not commodities. Only the working class is in the position to create such a new society since we are an exploited class on whom the system is totally dependent and a class who can only free ourselves by overturning the whole system. Socialist wealth production will be made to serve human needs rather than profit and accumulation of capital. The present system is aimed at expanding capital, leaving human needs to be satisfied only incidentally. The present system entails massive waste production – one only has to think of the armaments and finance industries as examples. Socialist society will not be subject to the need to accumulate capital and will be able to move to a steady-state, non-expanding system; one which can be in balance with the ecosystem.

Another point to note is that new technology has enabled massive increases in the productivity of human labour to be achieved. This is one of the developments which will enable the construction of socialism by dramatically reducing working time and allowing more time for all to participate in the management and social organisation of society. It will also allow time and opportunity for individual potential to be fully developed, potential which is presently squandered by capitalism.

We admit that the planet’s resources are not inexhaustible, nevertheless these resources could provide for humanity’s needs, but only if they are used in a reasonable and rational way, i.e., in a manner directly opposed to capitalist logic, which is itself is the source of imbalance. For sure, the Western ruling classes are increasingly taking the route of new technologies, developing renewable energies, and promoting recycling and "clean" production, among other things. As a result, technological innovations are implemented, mainly in the developed countries, to prevent greenhouse gases from increasing "too much." But it is important to see that this route brings no solutions. Apart from the likelihood the corrective measures being taken will remain insufficient to reduce humanity’s ecological footprint, any pollution reduced in developed nations, is simply transferred to the Global South where has been less progress. Capitalism is fundamentally an unequal society. Its internal logic compels it suicidally forward caused by the appropriation of wealth by a minority and the need for unlimited consumption. To remedy the current destruction of the planet, we'll need much more than the technological revolution imagined by those who call for "sustainable” capitalist development. To challenge the mainspring of the capitalist system—the necessity of expansion - amounts to calling capitalism itself into question. To avoid the destruction of the planet, there are only two possible choices. Either to prevent the countries of the Global South from catching up with the "standard of living" of the Global North or to reconsider completely the economic model in both the North and the South. The latter option, the socialist choice, require that the purpose of production: is organized only to satisfy the needs of humanity; that the best possible use of technological innovations and the practice of recycling and the production of practical goods, not designed to break down after a few years is applied to eliminate most of the pollution and environmental harm. What is necessary is to discard what is superfluous to the future economic system.

Our objective is not an impoverishment of humanity, but its enrichment. Socialism must ultimately integrate the ecological question and create balance between the capacities to produce, the needs of populations, and the limits of the biosphere.