Growth with economic and political equality
Love this, thanks Branko!
By the way- since you mention the arguments against degrowthers (which I think are valid) in the above, and you've also spoken before about their reliance on magical thinking, I was wondering what your thoughts were on what I would consider their opposite, 'green growthers'?
By this I mean those who believe in the possibility of having continued growth without any of the ecological consequences that normally come with economic expansion.
From my perspective it seems like they are as equally guilty of magical thinking as the degrowthers, because while relative decoupling is definitely feasible, absolute decoupling just is not- to invoke a cliche, there is no such thing as a free lunch, so if the economy grows, it has to be costing something in resource terms. It seems like a case of 'jokers to the left and jokers to the right'!
Thanks again! I am just about to start my phd studies and hopefully my journey as an academic- if I can one day write a book half as good as capitalism alone I will count myself very happy!
Very important question posed. It is much more complex than it seems.
But the short answer is that this "paleo-left" is utopian. I'll use philosopher István Mészáros' "Beyond Leviathan" (a book I highly recommend everybody here to read) to explain why this is, scientifically and logically, the case.
The main problem with this paleo-left is what I like to call "middle class fallacy", which exists since Aristotle and reached its most mature form in Rousseau.
The "middle class fallacy" arises from the presupposition that every political system is just and stable if the vast majority (or, in the limit, all of them) of its citizens have equal share of power and wealth (therefore, property). This is a fallacy because, as in Nature, form also follows function in Society.
Let me simplify the problem with some illustrative examples: take a middle class family from the apex of capitalism, that is, somewhere in a First World country during the post-war miracle (1945-1975). Take all of the concrete emblems of the middle class: you have a plethora of durable goods, foods and services and must be in place all the time in order for this middle class family to exist.
It is evident, in this case, that the sum of all of these goods and services must all fall into this family's budget (i.e. wage), and that, therefore, this budget must be greater, on average, than the wages of the ones who give those goods and services. For example, in order to be middle class, you have to be able to go to the supermarket frequently; this supermarket will have to have a cashier and someone who cleans the floor of said supermarket. This personnel, in order to constantly serve the middle class, must not be middle class, but instead be part of an inferior class, which receives lower wages (thus giving goods that fit on the middle class member's budget).
Sure, there are some service providers who are middle class themselves and serve middle class members who receive less than them, but they must be, on a social scale, the minority, since their wages are greater than the wages of their clients; it becomes patent that a middle class member can only serve clients of lesser wage if he has many of them, therefore the middle class must always exist in a class society (pyramidal scheme).
With the development of the middle class, a middle class culture automatically arises. With this culture, many habits and economic infrastructure which are associated with middle class culture are established - that some disappear and some ossify is immaterial to this question, as it is the social reproduction of the class that is essential. Such social structure implies the existence of inferior and more numerous classes.
Progressive taxation doesn't change this one inch; the very definition of progressive taxation already presupposes the preexistence of an unequal and socially necessary relation of production, i.e. economic system. The most it can do is to alleviate the tensions of class struggle, but never to eliminate it. Taxation is the privilege that emanates from the monopoly of violence (imperium) of the State; it can never alter the mode of production, although it can bend and/or destroy culture; in such case, the State could destroy a middle class culture, but never the concept of middle class culture.
A given middle class presupposes a middle class culture, which presupposes an economy that perpetuates this middle class culture, which is, as we have seen, necessarily unequal and unjust. The fallacy of the paleo-left is that the lifestyle of the middle class is universal, but it is not and must be not, and will never be universal. The very act of driving to a department store in order to by a washing machine already presupposes a class society, therefore structural inequality. The middle class lifestyle is not universal, therefore is historically specific, therefore it is economically unsustainable.
Just make an exercise if you're middle class: imagine if you had to pay for your needs a price that would make every one of your servants equal to you, i.e. middle class (e.g. you have to pay your plumber, delivery man, cashier, janitor, waiter, trash collector, etc. etc. a middle class price). Imagine how much the price would rise. Now imagine the indignation that would take over you, as you protest your government for "higher prices" or "lower purchase power". In order for a middle class person to enjoy a middle class lifestyle, therefore have a middle class identity, he or she has to have a mass of people from a lower class to serve him or her constantly and perpetually.
Now, imagine all of those lower working classes jobs are automated, so nobody has to do such jobs. In that case, there would be no middle class, which annihilates the problem. There would be no "approximate political equality", because there would not be any gradation of class. There would be thus no paleo-left because the end of middle class culture implies in the end of the middle class. That's why you cannot have, logically, equality and any lower inequality at the same time, which makes the proposition that "incomes of the lower groups should rise, in percentage terms, at least as much as incomes of the richer groups" a logical fallacy in this context.
Why the “paleo” prefix?
This is all bourgeois social democratic claptrap. It's the same absolute hogwash the reformist, pro-capitalist, anti-revolutionary, conservative Left has been peddling for two centuries now.
Higher incomes? We are all in favor of preserving the market economy now?
Let us observe what Marx thinks will happen and take our cues from that. From Marx's German Ideology:
"This “alienation” (to use a term which will be comprehensible to the philosophers) can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. *For it to become an “intolerable” power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity “propertyless,” and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development.* And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the “propertyless” mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones. Without this, (1) communism could only exist as a local event; (2) the forces of intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, hence intolerable powers: they would have remained home-bred conditions surrounded by superstition; and (3) each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism. Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers – the utterly precarious position of labour – power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life – presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a “world-historical” existence. World-historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history."
- The German Ideology
Does this not sound familiar? Rather like - the so-called Great Reset of the World Economic Forum? Own nothing, be happy? This is exactly what Marx says will produce the "propertyless mass".
The bourgeoisie, to make up for the tendency of the rate of profit to decline as a consequence of universal competition, must strip the quality of life from the proletariat. They gussy this up in pseudo-socialist lingo while retaining the essentials of capitalist production: wage labor, production for exchange, &etc.
They strip the working class of their property. They in the end are stripped of theirs, as the alternative is mass extinction. This compels worldwide communist revolution. There is no alternative.
At first sight, it looks impossible paleo left to exists because:
1) the situation in Ukraine made it clear that Western society unanimously considers pacifist as traitors;
2) the owners of the electricity companies (capital funds or venture capitalists) own many other businesses e.g. district heat etc. They will use their multy layer market possition to punish the customers with high prices in different sectors for letting their governments tax the enormous profits from electricity. This is some sort of Liberal Autocracy and it is not influencing the politicians directly though corruption or party financing. People alone are influencing their politicians. And the rich capital funds are directly influencing the workers by paying them too little or too much or just using price controls on them.
There is only one way to destroy the Liberal Autocracy. We must break the narcissism of the weakest - the youngest, the poorest, the bottom executives, state administrators and the unemployed. We can do that when we speak to them about their own future. Instead of speaking to them about the excitement around the paleo left we must focus on the things that will frighten them and that are realistic.
E.g. "they might be kicked out of their houses because of the mistakes of the social democrats" instead of "housing will be easier to afford for their kids because of the paleo left". At the moment, we have the perfect condition people to believe in the paleo left and to go against the social democrats. I don't see any violence - mostly imprisonments of those officials who failed to follow the law while in duty.
We have quite some way to go. Only extended economic crisis can wake up the interest in politics of the weakest and unemployment may be is right way to make some people read more and stay informed.
for decades and perhaps even more than a century, the idea that a growing pie will lift all forks has been pressed and somehow i doubt it. you may claim that it is simply because the Owning class has taken nearly all of the gains of growth, but considering the now "necessity" of everyone having a cell phone, a computer, and nearly everyone having a car (sorry, US centric), these are the kinds of things that "growth" will be spent upon. oh, and raping the environment even more. plus growth encourages the idea that children will have it better, and how much better can you get before the environment collapses?
we should be aiming for smart degrowth. most especially including enlightened childlessness.
This missed the C. Wright Mills old New Left circa 1960: In the US power has shifted from local elites to an internationalizing national "Power Elite" based in the Military, military contractors and other corporate elites. In short, Mills identified the growing domestic base of an empire bigger than either Rome or Britain. This is the elephant in the
There are no real "institutions inclusive for all peoples". First, your do the same "people=state" trick you called the old communists for. Second, UN is a club of self-appointed great powers = UNSC permanent members. Other, more, inclusive institutions, are powerless globaly. The nearest thing for real equalty of nations is the EU, and there should be no geographical limits for its expansion.
Acknowleging the need for growth is vital for half The Global Race, that still lives in relative poverty. But private enterprise has consistently proven to be the best engine for growth, so it must not be thrown out with the neoliberal bathwater. What is needed is a way of managing capitalism so that the benefits of growth are shared more equitably - " a Global Race in which we can all be winners! ". Key policy steps can help achieve this end:
1) A national Basic Income in each country to shift the balance of power between employers and workers
2) A small Tobin tax on all international payments with the funds invested by UN in Worlds poorest countries
3) Global Partnership between the Worlds biggest economies to encourage free and fair trade, and prevent Global corporations from exploiting their power, eg. Globally agreed minimum tax rates to prevent them from evading national taxation.
In time, a spirit of Global Economic Partnersip between nations could achieve much more (as it has done in the EU since 1945) but the starting point must be to recognise, as Gorbachev stated in his 1988 speech yo the UN "In the light of present realities, genuine progress by infringing upon the rights and liberties of (other) peoples, or at the expense of nature, is impossible."
I'd argue we do need a liberal world order. If I agree with everything up to that point (and I do), I have to be willing to fight for these values in the face of gross human rights violations. If a dictator like Kim Jong-un makes it impossible for the people to rise against him, force might be the only way to help them.
This is why rule of law is a liberal principle. Force must be monopolized by the State, otherwise bullies win.
"The paleo-left is against the constant denigration of growth because it recognizes that for an ordinary person improved material conditions of living open the 'realm of freedom'"
I don't need a car if I have public transportation. If I'm living alone don't have need a bigger apartment every few years. The only growth I need is experiential, and most people don't even want that. Most people want comfort and complacency. They don't want freedom, whatever that means, they want food, shelter, and friendship, to pass the time. They want community and continuity. But intellectuals want dissensus, disruption, and "communities of choice". And they always have plans. They're desperate for a telos.
"It must be pro-poor which means that incomes of the lower groups should rise, in percentage terms, at least as much as incomes of the richer groups."
I don't care much if the income of the richer groups goes down. But they're you audience so I can see why you do.
"The paleo-left should, in my view, eschew such terms that the neoliberal discourse has captured and made meaningless, like democracy."
'The paleo-left accepts that different countries and cultures may have different ways in which they choose their governments or in which they define political legitimacy. The paleo-left is not ideologically hegemonic."
"There are many other issues that cannot be directly covered by these simple rules. They concern migration, gender and racial equality, relations between the church and the state etc. but they can be, I believe, relatively easily deduced from these four general principles."
At first I just mocked that with no detail. Everything on that list comes down to economics. Religion isn't an issue until members of a community see themselves as under attack.
And the argument that you've faced immigration in your little broadside is laughable.
Anton Jäger made me laugh with this one.
"Very weird when EU analysts continue to describe Brexit as this insular, endogenously ‘British’ event when clearly it was the 2011 ECB rate hike that turned Britain into an employer of last resort for a eurozone pushed into recession and handed Leave one of its key weapons."
I'd said revise and resubmit, but no. Start over from scratch.
I kinda feel like this platform needs some elaboration of principles regarding the means of pursuing these objectives, in particular, the principles regarding the scope of state action, as well as its level and trend in terms of effectiveness and goodness in undertaking those actions. Also, how centralized or far away from the individuals whose well-being is being pursued can state actors be, before we have to begin to alter our assumptions regarding the effectiveness and goodness of state action? To clarify, I think I could endorse most if not all of these principles, if I were thinking of a nation the size of a largish Florida county (say, Hillsborough or Orange counties, w approx 1.3M inhabitants). When I think of larger polities, my support for the principles diminishes because of what I know about the predictable nature of dysfunctions of state institutions as well as their recurring dynamic patterns (where the state institutions furthest away from the people deteriorate at a more rapid rate than those closer to people). In any event, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on how these phenomena/patterns interact with your endorsement of each of the principles you've outlined.
I wholeheartedly agree with this, especially the emphasis on equality. However, one thing I've realized working in the nonprofit sector (much to my dismay), is the grip it has on shaping American political language. People like to denigrate the woke or PC or whatever language of the Twitterati as being totally absent from the lives of so called ordinary Americans. That's just no true. Nonprofits are the third largest sector of the US economy and in many places have essentially replaced civil society. They are a funnel for stilted academic speech and ideas into the broader world. They determine what words are used. In this realm, equality means two things. The argument is that political equality merely maintains white power over minority groups- frankly a reasonable critique in the absence of economic equality. Unfortunately, they think economic equality means equality of opportunity under the current system, rather than real economic equality. Thus we get phrases like "access to healthcare."