9 Responses

  1. Jeff_White April 19, 2012 at 4:03 am |

    I believe the reader who commented at GLW meant that the politicians see economic growth as a way of combating the natural tendency of capitalism to cause increased unemployment. I think empirical evidence supports the proposition that capitalist politicians in the liberal democracies do think that way. They get nervous when large numbers of voters lose their jobs. Their “solution” is to promote growth in economic activity, rather than to reduce working hours for the same wages. The latter would be unacceptable to their capitalist masters, since it would result in allowing the workers to share in the benefits of increased productivity.

    Undeniably, increased technical change leads to increased productivity and thus a decrease in the amount of socially-necessary labour time required to produce commodities. This is the phenomenon known as the increasing organic composition of capital, and it is a tendency that accompanies capitalist economic growth and results in unemployment. As Ian correctly points out, therefore, promoting economic growth under capitalism does not solve the problem of unemployment.

  2. Ian Angus April 18, 2012 at 8:55 am |

    Do politicians support constant growth just as a way of fighting unemployment?

    This article was also published in the excellent Australian newspaper Green Left Weekly. A GLW reader posted this comment:

    “Your article has failed to include the most important reason that all political leaders are keen on growth. Technological change means that each year we can produce the same number of goods and services with about 2% less people, and so no growth means increased unemployment. To maintain employment, the rate of growth needs to at equal the rate of technical change.”

    This is a common misunderstanding of the connection between productivity, growth, unemployment and government policy. I replied:

    “Three reasons why your argument doesn’t hold water:

    “1. Our rulers may SAY they want to maintain a steady rate of employment, but in practice they do no such thing. In the U.S. today, official unemployment is about 9% and real unemployment is estimated at double that. In most of the world the figure is higher. If maintaining employment is “the most important reason” for supporting growth, it is definitely not working.

    “2. If, as you claim, productivity actually increases every year, then a much simpler and far less destructive way of maintaining employment at the current level would be to reduce working hours by the same amount. A larger reduction in working hours could eliminate unemployment completely. Since our leaders don’t choose that option, they must have some other motivation for promoting growth.

    “3. Most important, the kind of productivity increases you describe aren’t some automatic process that just happens. They are a direct result of capitalism’s inexorable drive to produce more at lower cost. In other words, it is a critical part of the destructive capitalist growth process I described in the article.”

    More comments on this?

  3. Ian Angus April 16, 2012 at 6:06 pm |

    Less — I think you are asking the wrong question. Capitalism won’t just die. Unless we stop it, the system will survive shortages, depletion, peak oil, debt and more. GDP may contract — as it has in the recent recession — but the fight to accumulate capital won’t stop.

    Capitalism only exists in the form of competing “capitals” — industries, corporations, countries. They normally compete with each other for access to resources and markets, and they will use what ever means necessary to achieve their goals, to capture as much as they can of what remains, even if their actions accelerate the destruction.

    The continuing middle east wars illustrate the willingness of capitalist powers to resort to force to ensure access to the resources they deem essential. 

    At the same time, capital will do its utmost to offload the cost of capital accumulation onto working people, the poor, indigenous societies, etc. 

    The real question is not how long capital will survive, but how long the world can survive with capitalism as the dominant socio-economic system.

  4. Amanullah Jiffrey Kariapper April 16, 2012 at 8:36 am |

    Hi,

    I am new to these debates so I have a vary basic question: If the Marxist perspective was so clear about the destructive effect of alienated surplus value, why did the Soviets and the PRC go for high-growth five-year economic development plans? Was this also an expedient measure to be able to fend off attacks by imperial powers or do we see the insidious influence of the growth paradigm even among the vanguard of Marxism?

    Aman

    1. ConsumerTrap April 17, 2012 at 2:01 pm |

      State Marxism 1.0 was wildly mistaken on numerous key questions.  Lenin thought soviets should use Taylorism, and, of course, neither soviets nor workers ever ran much of anything even when Lenin was still alive.

      I’m all in favor of state Marxism 2.0, but I would hardly look back to the 1.x efforts as any kind of vanguard.  Indeed, the concept of “vanguard” strikes me as damned dangerous.

      As for ecology, Marx certainly started to catch the scent of the problem, but nobody, socialists included, took it anywhere near seriously enough until these past couple of decades.

  5. Ian Angus April 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm |

    Less-is-more — for obvious reasons i can’t give you Gareth’s email address, but you raise an important question that he or others may wish to discuss here.

  6. Less-is-More April 15, 2012 at 4:40 pm |

    I’d like to comment on Gareth’s essay (e.g. wondering why Richard Heinberg’s book “The End of Growth” is not in his bibliography) but no opportunity to do so on the website where it’s posted. And I cannot find an email address or twitter account for him – perhaps you can help Ian?
    The question I’d like to see discussed, and perhaps it is beyond the scope of Gareth’s critique, is how long capitalism can survive without growth. And more analysis, a la Heinberg, of how the depletion of natural resources – peak oil etc. – combined with “peak debt”, create the buffers which prevent growth. i.e. Details of what you claim Ian is “massive evidence that constant expansion of production and extraction of resources is killing us”

    Writer and BBC-TV broadcaster @paulmasonnews or BBC radio researcher @SpiHamer might be open-minded enough to engage with these entirely logical, but apparently subversive arguments…

    1. Ian Angus April 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm |

      I suggest that you are asking the wrong question. Capitalism won’t just die. Unless we stop it, the system will survive shortages, depletion, peak oil, debt and more. GDP may contract — as it has in the recent recession — but the fight to accumulate capital won’t stop.

      Capitalism only exists in the form of competing “capitals” — industries, corporations, countries. They normally compete with each other for access to resources and markets, and they will use what ever means necessary to achieve their goals, to capture as much as they can of what remains, even if their actions accelerate the destruction.

      The continuing middle east wars illustrate the willingness of capitalist powers to resort to force to ensure access to the resources they deem essential. 

      At the same time, capital will do its utmost to offload the cost of capital accumulation onto working people, the poor, indigenous societies, etc. 

      The real question is not how long capital will survive, but how long the world can survive with capitalism as the dominant socio-economic system.

  7. ConsumerTrap April 13, 2012 at 2:31 pm |

    This problem is rampant among greens.  The ruling ideology has penetrated very deeply in this area.

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