An ecosocialist critique of proposals for steady-state capitalism begins a debate on key issues facing the left greens today
There’s widespread agreement among left-leaning greens that this society’s drive for economic growth is a key driving force of the global environmental crisis. Many, most notably environmental economist Herman Daly, have made proposals for a “steady-state economy”that allows market forces to operate without growth. That idea is the subject of an important debate in Real World Economics Review, an online journal that often publishes valuable critiquesx of mainstream economic thought.
In issue #53, Richard Smith provides a powerful ecosocialist critique of Daly’s theories, arguing that “the idea of a steady-state capitalism is based on untenable assumptions, starting with the assumption that growth is optional rather than built into capitalism.”
“since capitalist growth cannot be stopped, or even slowed, and since the market-driven growth is driving us toward collapse, ecological economists should abandon the fantasy of a steady-state capitalism and get on with the project figuring out what a post–capitalist economic democracy could look like.”
And he concludes: “Either we save capitalism or we save ourselves. We can’t save both.”
In a brief reply in issue #54, Herman Daly declares that he has never used the term steady-state capitalism, instead “always speaking of a steady state economy, which in my view is something different from both capitalism and socialism.” Smith, he says, opposes “my preference for the market over centralized planning as a tool for dealing with the single problem of allocative efficiency,” but doesn’t offer “anything specific or helpful about moving to a steady state economy, whether capitalist or socialist or neither.”
In issue #55, and in the journal’s blog, Smith responds that while Daly has not described his proposal as capitalist, neither has he said what it actually is.
“If there is nothing particularly ‘socialist’ about Daly’s SSE model and he insists that the means of production must be privately owned and that markets ‘determine the allocation of resources,’ then what else can he talking about but capitalism?”
Recommended reading for anyone interested in alternatives to this ecocidal system.