AuthorTopic: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)  (Read 8064 times)

JRM - James R. Martin

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Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« on: January 02, 2014, 12:07:16 PM »
In David Holmgren's excellent 2013 essay, Crash On Demand, the author makes a crucial observational statement and asks a fundamentally vital question.

The statement is:

“A contraction in the systems that supply wants are likely to see simultaneous problems in the provision of basic needs.”

The urgent related question is:

“Is the commitment to perpetual growth in wealth for the richest the only way that everyone else can hope to get their needs met?”

Keeping in mind that pretty much all of Earth's ecosystems are in decline, and that James Hansen as well as other top climate scientists are calling for a dramatic revision of the whole notion of a "climate budget" (IPCC) and a shift from a 2-degree C upper limit target on global warming to a 1-degree upper limit, Holmgren's statement and question are just about as salient and urgent as any statement and question could be.

Any economic growth which depends upon Business As Usual (BAU) with regards to the energy economy (fossil energy) can only be destructive of wealth, however understood (as well-being, as a cumulation of "goods" and "services") -- which must be put in scare quotes because it's not so clear that they are ether prior to a true cost accounting and an internalization of the "externalized".

Economics, of course, isn't really a science.  But if it were to qualify as a science it would have some serious explaining to do -- in light of the demonstrable factuality of what I have just said, above.  George Orwell said "We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."  I have merely stated the obvious above, not re-stated it. But the point is that were economics a science its paradigm is now utterly obsolete.

The word "wealth" is derived from an Old English word which means "well-being". Economics became a (pseudo-)science by redefining "wealth" as that which can be measured and quantified in the most reductive and abstract of ways.  This "solved" what may be called the "problem of commensurability" in economics -- a problem never explained or addressed by economics insiders. The "problem" is that true wealth can only be understood in terms of the well-being of both individuals and communities, with the ultimate scale of community being the biosphere and all of its living inhabitants (present or future).  By adopting economistic reductionism, the pseudo-science of economics was born. It's "solution" to the problem of commensurability was to sweep it under the rug. It would leave human health to the doctors (medical science), psychological health to the psychologists and psychiatrists, spiritual health to the clergy, ecological health to the ecologists, social health to.... And it would speak no more of well-being in the broad sense. Its problem became "How can we increase the pile of money?" And it pretended to itself that doing so would provide the "resources" whereby others (externals) could then address these other problems.

What do the kids call it these days? EPIC FAIL!

What I'm announcing here is a fact. Economics as we have known it is utterly, entirely, paradigmantically obsolete. Economists can salvage the situation only by taking the problem of commensurability back out from under the rug and out into the bright daylight of the living world.

It can begin to do so by answering to David Holmgren's above question -- and in the context he provides.

Call this the death and rebirth of economics.  It involves addressing the real situation we find ourselves in. A world calling for a pathway beyond growth and into health.








Offline Petty Tyrant

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2014, 01:54:10 PM »
Nice 1st post JRM, welcome to DD.
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Offline Eddie

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2014, 02:02:22 PM »
Yes, James. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Looking forward to more when you can.
What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.

Offline JRM

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2014, 02:55:51 PM »
Thanks guys.

I was just a kid, really, when I first read Schumacher's Small Is Beautiful - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_Is_Beautiful .  It was a strange thing for a 12 yr old to do -- voluntarily read a book about economics by an economist! But the book was beautiful, and did much to help me make sense of the mad world I was born into.

This book helped me to grasp that the economist's and politicians insistence on Growth as the Most Important Thing Ever was just madness and nonsense.  And in my naivete I thought the argument was so overwhelming and obvious that everyone would just Get It and we'd start to steer the world toward some sort of sanity. But it never happened. Shocking!

And it still hasn't happened. And this seems proof enough that -- collectively -- we are out of our freaking minds! Astonishingly delusional.

What's weirder still is that the same message has been said hundreds, thousands of times by writers and thinkers as good or better than Schumacher.  So it seems to be that it's not a message that can carry in the media / education environment in which we live.  However obvious it is that infinite exponential growth cannot be sustained on (in) a finite system / planet, politicians and "educators" ... and the subservient "news media" ... cannot get it. Nor say it.

But we must nevertheless speak and live the truth.

And we MUST create pathways toward meeting our real needs without burning up every hunk of coal and barrel of oil....

There are those who say it cannot be done. But I know that we have the technical know-how to do it.

The greater challenge is What are we do do about the money/currency/credit conundrum? The one where the machinery of finance and money demands growth because it will collapse upon meeting with the limits of its growth.  Because the money is debt-based and demands to make interest / profit.... Or it collapses.

Alternative and local currencies may help here. And there's an interesting argument using an ecological analogy here.: Industrial agriculture's monocropping as analogous to national fiat currencies. Both are functionally irresilient for similar reasons. Any ol' blight can come along, as the Irish discovered with their potato crops -- and wipe it out. So you don't want to depend overly much on any single crop, much less ten thousand acres planted in it. Without diversity.

So if we're going to have functionally useful currency maybe we should have many of them rather than just one?! If one or two turn to mush, well, everybody can just go on living.
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline monsta666

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2014, 04:47:34 PM »
The issue I find with currency systems is, on a general basis, they operate in a condition of surplus. The reason being money is used as a facilitator for trade and since trade is only really conducted if there is a profit to be had it follows that money will largely cease to exist without profit or surplus in the overall system. So to me it seems quite difficult to imagine a monetary system that can function in a economic state where there is absolute scarcity. For the most part this environment has not occurred for mankind and it has certainly not extended over large geographical regions. The scenarios we face are certainly unprecedented and any future currency must operate under conditions that have not existed in the past. I personally think they will not be fit for purpose but if they do succeed they must find a workaround this fundamental problem that stems from resource scarcity.

At the end of the day it is important to remember that money is really only a claim on the underlying wealth of the planet and if that wealth is diminished then the value of money must decline also. It is perhaps difficult to envision but a society that is less dependent on money is the way forward. This should not be taken as an argument for a money-free society; I simply state that most economic transaction should take place in the absence of money and a greater chuck of the economy must be gift-based. In other words things like childcare, education and other activities must increasingly come from the extended family and not professionals. At the end of the day I feel a society that can function on a much lower income is going to prove more resilient than a society that can only remain functional when peoples' incomes are high. As I stated earlier since money is a rough proxy to wealth and more important energy and resources then a high income society is closely connected to high energy/resource consumptive lifestyle. Since we must avoid consumptive lifestyles we must lower incomes. It is really quite simple but simple does not mean easy and it is certainly easier said than done!

Offline RE

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2014, 04:57:01 PM »
I hate the term "Degrowth".  It's too Orwellian Newspeak for me.

Can't we just call it "Contraction" or "Shrinkage"?

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Offline Snowleopard

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2014, 05:31:30 PM »
Greetings JRM

Small IS beautiful and economics is not a science.  I'd posit that the basic function of an economist is to distract the 99% while the .01% pick their pockets, with a secondary function being to direct the government in execution of similiar rackets.

Growth is not delusional on the part of politicians and economists.  It is a function of their employment by the .01%, who in order to continue sucking the lifeblood of the economy need to be paid interest on the debt.  Since the "money" that exists IS that debt, new debt money must be created to pay them interest.  Creating that debt money without collapsing the economy requires growth.  Thus they serve their masters until the racket fails and the people refuse its replacement, or replacement is not possible.

I agree with your other points except one and i like how you connect them.

Where we disagree:

When it comes to "global warming" i would suggest that this interglacial is long in the tooth.  The climate controling Northern Hemisphere insolation has been below the median for ~3000 years and we are about due for an ice age.  Some NH glaciers may be retreating but most of them did not exist 4000 years ago.  These climate cycles (ice age + interglacial) have been getting longer so it's hard to tell if current high CO2 is delaying this abit, but imo there is no way it can stop the cycle, (absent help from an unknown factor) no matter how many government control freaks say so.  So i'm not worried about runaway warming. 

That said, i see no point in "Drill baby drill." or any of the other means of depleting the earth to prolong the rule of the vampires a bit longer. 

"A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest." -  Simon and Garfunkel

Offline JRM

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2014, 05:37:28 PM »
monsta666,

I tend to agree with you regards the importance of a gift economy in the future -- and in the world we are making as we walk.


Quote
“Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road-- Only wakes upon the sea.

Caminante, son tus huellas el camino, y nada más; caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar. Al andar se hace camino, y al volver la vista atrás se ve la senda que nunca se ha de volver a pisar. Caminante, no hay camino, sino estelas en la mar.”

Antonio Machado

Have you read "Sacred Economics" by Charles Eisenstein? This book has much to say about the gift. And the gift economy.


...


RE:

"I hate the term "Degrowth".  It's too Orwellian Newspeak for me.

Can't we just call it "Contraction" or "Shrinkage"?


Sure. And we can call it "steady state economics," and many other things besides.

No one will like all of the names we provide for it.  "Degrowth" is an English translation for a term some French people thunk up for it. It's become popular. Even though it may be an ugly word.
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline JRM

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #8 on: January 02, 2014, 05:50:15 PM »
Hello Snowleopard -

Quote
When it comes to "global warming" i would suggest that this interglacial is long in the tooth.  The climate controling Northern Hemisphere insolation has been below the median for ~3000 years and we are about due for an ice age.  Some NH glaciers may be retreating but most of them did not exist 4000 years ago.  These climate cycles (ice age + interglacial) have been getting longer so it's hard to tell if current high CO2 is delaying this abit, but imo there is no way it can stop the cycle, (absent help from an unknown factor) no matter how many government control freaks say so.  So i'm not worried about runaway warming. 

Interestingly, I had thought the same thing about the "long in the tooth" nature of the present interglacial -- and our probable near-future glacial phase. And I would not dismiss the thought. Trouble is, the next glacial period might not initiate at the moment you and I would most hope it would: about now. It might not happen for a hundred, five hundred... years or more. In which case Hansen's call for a 1-degree C upper limit target on global warming takes on quite another significance. The risk of ecosystemic / biospheric collapse is my worry. Not so much sea level rise. Or civilization. I just want us to have a diverse living planet in the future instead of a dead zone.
My "avatar" graphic is Japanese calligraphy (shodō) forming the word shoshin, meaning "beginner's mind". --  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shoshin -- It is with shoshin that I am now and always "meeting my breath" for the first time. Try it!

Offline Snowleopard

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #9 on: January 02, 2014, 07:07:59 PM »
Hello Snowleopard -

Quote
When it comes to "global warming" i would suggest that this interglacial is long in the tooth.  The climate controling Northern Hemisphere insolation has been below the median for ~3000 years and we are about due for an ice age.  Some NH glaciers may be retreating but most of them did not exist 4000 years ago.  These climate cycles (ice age + interglacial) have been getting longer so it's hard to tell if current high CO2 is delaying this abit, but imo there is no way it can stop the cycle, (absent help from an unknown factor) no matter how many government control freaks say so.  So i'm not worried about runaway warming. 

Interestingly, I had thought the same thing about the "long in the tooth" nature of the present interglacial -- and our probable near-future glacial phase. And I would not dismiss the thought. Trouble is, the next glacial period might not initiate at the moment you and I would most hope it would: about now. It might not happen for a hundred, five hundred... years or more. In which case Hansen's call for a 1-degree C upper limit target on global warming takes on quite another significance. The risk of ecosystemic / biospheric collapse is my worry. Not so much sea level rise. Or civilization. I just want us to have a diverse living planet in the future instead of a dead zone.

I think you misunderstand my concern.  I'm not hoping for a new glacial phase.  Glacial phases are quite deadly;  for a sample one can check out the plagues, famines and wars associated with the "little ice age".  A new glacial phase would be much worse.

As for the precise timing of a glaciation, it is indeed not known;  but, considering the past and changes in motion, we can be almost certian it will happen.  OTOH a runaway warming has never happened yet.  So IMO, Hansen & Co. is saying we should array what forces we have against a theoretical enemy whilst turning our backs to the known one.  Not only that, but the working folks get to pay for it.

"Ecosystemic / biosphere collapse" seems to be in progress already.  Ocean poisoning, deforestation, species dieoff, topsoil depletion, pesticide use, GMO weeds, and increased radiation are just some indicators we can agree on.

BTW, on a personal note:  As i write this it is -7 deg F here, and my "winter" started over six weeks early.  My firewood use to date is at a new record.  Tomorrow's low is forecast @ -16F and, if it is off the same way and amount as today's forecast, i'll see -25F tomorrow.   These are temps not seen here in January in at least fifteen years.  What is already happening may prompt me to move south.
"A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest." -  Simon and Garfunkel

Offline steve from virginia

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #10 on: January 02, 2014, 07:38:59 PM »

Growth is necessary so that more tycoons can become richer.

Without growth it is the deterministic, zero-sum struggle of tycoon vs. tycoon. We can't have that at all; no indeed!

In reality, growth is a fake, it is only the increase in notational unsecured debt. When economists like Roubini, Krugman, Soros, Bernanke, etc. cry for growth they are simply asking for more inflation. It makes me laugh. There hasn't been any real growth for a long time.

In the real world, where the expansionist dynamic is reversed; our capital is extinguished an inch at a time, we experience shrinkth instead of growth.

Offline RE

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2014, 09:08:27 PM »
"Degrowth" is an English translation for a term some French people thunk up for it. It's become popular. Even though it may be an ugly word.

It's from French?  No wonder it sucks.  LOL.

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Online Surly1

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #12 on: January 02, 2014, 11:08:56 PM »
"Degrowth" is an English translation for a term some French people thunk up for it. It's become popular. Even though it may be an ugly word.

It's from French?  No wonder it sucks.  LOL.

RE

Really, RE?

What next, "Freedom fries?"

“The old world is dying, and the New World struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

Online Surly1

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #13 on: January 02, 2014, 11:19:13 PM »

Growth is necessary so that more tycoons can become richer.

Without growth it is the deterministic, zero-sum struggle of tycoon vs. tycoon. We can't have that at all; no indeed!

In reality, growth is a fake, it is only the increase in notational unsecured debt. When economists like Roubini, Krugman, Soros, Bernanke, etc. cry for growth they are simply asking for more inflation. It makes me laugh. There hasn't been any real growth for a long time.

In the real world, where the expansionist dynamic is reversed; our capital is extinguished an inch at a time, we experience shrinkth instead of growth.

"Shrinkth." Brilliant.

Certainly in my end of the business world, entire sales strategies are built on the assumption that "growth" will come from share of market, meaning poaching the other guy's business. No "real growth" (whatever that is) seems possible where the government reports inflation under two per cent, which would be fine except for those pesky prices (http://www.shadowstats.com/alternate_data/inflation-charts)

Every shuttered storefront, every failed mom-n-pop, every diner closing illustrates the "extinguishing of capital an inch at a time."
“The old world is dying, and the New World struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.”

Offline RE

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Re: Degrowth? (post growth, end of growth... economics)
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2014, 11:26:32 PM »
"Degrowth" is an English translation for a term some French people thunk up for it. It's become popular. Even though it may be an ugly word.

It's from French?  No wonder it sucks.  LOL.

RE

Really, RE?

What next, "Freedom fries?"

In the French Tradition, "Freedom is Surrender"  :icon_mrgreen:


RE
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