17 Aug 2010

'What you call love,' says Draper, 'was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.'

This was an interesting project, I was approached by the Sustainable Development Commission to write a 'thinkpiece' on a post-capitalist economy, the first draft was returned with the suggestion that it wasn't radical enough, Professor Tim Jackson who is great borrowed the first bit of my title for his book....but not the second.

I think people are mystified by my economics, they may still be after reading this, Karl Marx and Elinor Ostrom taught me so much and what's great is that Marx was well Marx and Elinor in contrast came from the school of Hayek and Buchanan before embracing the commons. Incidentally Marx focussed on power, produced dense philosophy and made stunning use of contradiction (his favourite book as a young man was Tristram Shandy), while Elinor is totally modest and uses quite careful case study work and certainly avoids big claims, although her work shows that there is an alternative to both the market and the state which is a pretty radical point when you think about it.

Sadly the neo-liberal government are closing down the Sustainable Development Commission....to save cash

I have nothing to do with hamster video but hey its on growth so there you go.


'What you call love,' says Draper, 'was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.'
(Heidkamp 2008)

I should elaborate a bit on what Social Banking actually is. Essentially sites like Zopa in the UK and
Prosper in America allow users to borrow and lend money, effectively cutting out the middleman. The
central premise is straightforward – there’s a network of lenders and borrowers and, as Zopa concisely
put it, the “people who have spare money lend it directly to people who want to borrow. There are no
banks in the middle, no huge overheads, and no unethical investments.” It’s a neat idea that’s likely to
appeal to the anti-capitalist in all of us. What’s more, a quick comparison of the interest rates indicated
on Zopa show that social borrowing can be extremely competitive, especially considering the big
lenders wariness in the post credit crunch market


This paper argues that 1) economic growth is unsustainable ecologically and perhaps economically,
even if environmental questions are set aside. In turn, economic growth does not correlate well with
rising welfare in mature economies. 2) However, a capitalist economy needs to grow for structural
reasons. Alternative economic structures that provide for sustainable increases in welfare, increased
social justice and increased participation, are necessary. 3) Social sharing/ commons, a concept
described most fully by Benkler, provides a way of raising standards of living, in an economy marked by
static or negative growth in GDP. Free and open source software are perhaps the best known examples
of social sharing.


While there is no formal growth target in the UK, non-inflationary continuous expansion (NICE!) is the
goal of economic policy. Indeed most policy is measured in terms of its potential contribution to higher
economic growth. Increased economic growth is understood to raise standards of economic well being
by most economists and policymakers. However, critics argue that rising economic growth may not be
environmentally sustainable. It has proved difficult to achieve rising economic growth without rising
levels of CO2, while British CO2 output is falling slightly, this fails to take into account the carbon
footprint of goods manufactured abroad but consumed in the UK or of airline emissions. The approach
of theorists such as Hawken (1999) et al who advocate a form of ‘Natural Capitalism’ where energy and
resource use does not grow with output, has failed to materialise to date.

Other critics, most notably Kenny and Kenny (2006) have marshalled impressive empirical evidence that
after relatively low levels of per capita GDP are achieved the correlation between rising welfare and
growth is often poor. Some of the studies suggest that rising GDP may correlate with declining levels of
mental health and happiness.

However, criticism of economic growth predates mature capitalism. In 1819 the political economist
Sismondi observed, ‘I have seen production increasing, whilst enjoyments were diminishing. The mass
of the nation here, no less than philosophers, seems to forget that the increase of wealth is not the end
in political economy, but its instrument in procuring the happiness of all. I sought for this happiness in
every class and I could nowhere find it. […] Has not England, by forgetting men for things, sacrificed
the end to the means’. (quoted in Luxemburg 1971: 175-177). Radical environmentalists have argued
that economic growth is environmentally unsustainable for several decades, yet growth has continued,
without apparent catastrophe. Lomborg (2001) has argued that economic growth correlates strongly
with greater efficiency in resource use and that empirical evidence suggests the environment is
becoming cleaner with such growth.

Yet from climate change to the threat to commercial fish stocks to the challenge of rubbish disposal,
economic growth forever looks unrealistic. While environmental problems predate industrialization, just
a few decades of capitalist development in part of the globe, have created obvious strain. If all human
beings on the planet consumed at the same level as US citizens, it has been suggested we would need
several planet Earths (Wilson 2002). Continued economic growth into to the distant future looks
somewhat optimistic on a planetary scale . Putting the case in bleak terms Professor Joel Kovel notes:

If the world were a living organism, then any sensible observer would conclude that this ‘growth’ is a
cancer that, if not somehow treated, means the destruction of human society, and even raises the
question of the extinction of our species. The details are important and interesting, but less so that the
chief conclusion – that irresistible growth, and the evident fact that this growth destabilizes and breaks
down the natural ground necessary for human existence, means, in the plainest terms, that we are
doomed under the present social order, and that we had better change it as soon as possible (Kovel
2002: 5).



Ayşem Mert said...

Hi Derek,
I thought this could be of interest:
If you would be interested a study on the links between biological metaphors (e.g. development) and economic policies, I could send you an article I have been working on.
By the way, our interview with you has been finally published in the new issue of Uc Ekoloji.
Best wishes,
Aysem Mert

Derek Wall said...

Hi Aysem,

thanks for the link and I would be interested in your article,

not sure if you have a link for my interview but let me know,

all the best,


Daniel Lemberger Cooper said...

Hello Derek
Good piece. Particularly interested in the work of Benkler, will certainly have to take a look. Extricating economic(and philosophic) thought from the binary and dogmatic invisible handers and Marxists, I believe, is important. And this takes a step in that direct. Don't get me wrong, the body of thought by and around Marx offers a hell of a lot: i'm very fond of Bellamy Foster's work. But I'm getting fed up with Trotskyist organisations and its tierd economics - i'd border it on the redundant, at times. I'm in the middle of Braudel's fascinating study of capitalism, would recommend that, as well as Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism - both superb pieces work.

By the way, best of luck for your deputy leadership campaign. If I can help in any way, do let me know.

Daniel Lemberger Cooper.

Derek Wall said...

I think you are right about the tired nature of many 'Marxist' organisations, not all though.

However Marx was the hombre and Elinor Ostrom to my mind provides a very effective complement.

Its coming up with property rights that promote prosperity and ecology and its about fighting to put them in place.

thanks for your kind wishes for dep leader contest, but there is a bigger contest for the planet we need to not get distracted from.

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