6/26 Open Thread: Time for Degrowth
We use these names for months derived from Roman and Teutonic Gods and goddesses and suchwhat, and, really? How about 6, spelled SIX, for the sixth month, it's at least not magical. And on this day, 6/26, we lost Clifford Brown and Nora Ephron, but also Strom Thurmond, so there's that. According to FamousBirthdays.com, a lot of "famous" people were born on 6/26 (https://www.famousbirthdays.com/june26.html); do yourself a favor and don't look.
I keep trying to get it together to write my great Just Shut it Down Now! column, but I'm either miles off in some other direction or tiptoeing around the edges. So here I am again skirting the issue again, but at least pointing in the right direction. I got the word "degrowth" from an article in Vice called The Radical Plan to Save the Planet by Working Less. It is worth reading in its entirety and not easily subjected to fair use abstraction, so here's a link: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bj9yjq/the-radical-plan-to-save-the-p... . The article calls degrowth a new idea, but it is really just a new word. Many have been dancing around it for a loooong time now, and it is implicit in one of the environmentalists mantras, which I hope to get to in a bit.
What it is:
he article cited above says that Degrowth "calls for a dramatic reduction in energy and material use, which would inevitably shrink GDP."
We are further told that the degrowth "movement" requires a complete change in our economy, our goals, and our social norms
by designing a social upheaval that disentangles the idea of progress and economic growth once and for all. This new accounting of economic success would instead focus on access to public services, a shorter work week, and an increase in leisure time. Their approach, they say, will not only combat climate change, but free us from a workaholic culture in which so many struggle to make ends meet.
It further advises that this will require income and wealth re-distribution.
So, basic name dropping calls forth Edward Louis Bernays, and The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard, not to mention Ike. Ike and his advisers were aware of and open about the fact that a continuation of post-war prosperity would require the populace to continuously consume, and to consume ever more and more in order to keep the US industrial machine running at or near capacity. It took almost no time at all for the US citizenry and other US residents to become almost universally referred to as consumers. The US consumers lived up to that name constantly consuming ever more and more in a death spiral of national over consumption and overproduction that is killing the planet. Not by ourselves, mind you, the rest of the world is helping out, but we have long been the driving wheel. Arguably, degrowth should start here, backing off of the over consumption and overproduction throttle and raining in the runaway "growth" that is, to a shocking extent, largely if not mostly waste.
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and, for good measure, throw in Refurbish and Repurpose. That, all things being equal, is a cry for degrowth just as sure as you're born. From the simplistic point of view, it isn't hard either. The US consumer's activity cycle is to get up, go to work or start work at home, intermingling some consumption with one's work, if only in the form of meals, then knock off and go home to consume advertising, PR and propaganda, openly presented as the "price we pay" for yet more advertising, PR and propaganda disguised as "entertainment", and for the lucky and/or discerning, consume in a little real "entertainment" in the process somewhere. Then there comes the shopping, in person, online, over the phone and by mail. Not merely food, though we do massively over consume that too, throwing mountains of it away in the process, but everything else under the sun. Very little of it is really based on any real need for the items to be consumed either, as opposed to a perceived need or simple desire. We buy stuff on a whim that sits around unused, replace stuff long before it is worn out, or even well worn, and indirectly buy and consume the prodigious amounts of fuel that it takes to ship all of this crap to us from all over the world. Wanna know what else we massively over consume? The packaging that all that comes in, mountains of it, and the energy and labor to haul it off and get rid of it. Should I mention the fact that "our", cough, cough, government consumes untold amounts of resources on killing people and toppling governments that are insufficiently enthusiastic about doing "our" bidding and being "our" lackeys and consuming "our" products and way of life? Probably best not, not yet.
Clearly we could cut back on a lot of that if we simply gave a little thought to our activities, habits, and way of live, but there is a huge industry devoted to trying to make sure that we never do any such thing. Of course, it isn't the 50s anymore, we don't need to keep that industrial machine humming because it is mostly gone, we manufacture very little any more, but we still produce and consume like there is no tomorrow and a world of support industries have grown up to replace manufacture. The problem with degrowth as a solution, cutting consumption to the bone, is that those already struggling to keep afloat will be hardest hit. "If you slow down the economy, even a little, we'll lose jobs and people will starve and die". That line, in some form, has been with us since Ike, and may have been more truthful when we had mucho manufacturing and industry, but it is also significantly true today. Wealth and government largesse, Reagan, Chicago School economics and modern propaganda to the contrary, never trickles down, but grief and woe invariably do so.
So what do we do? This is truly an existential crisis for us all, but it is one that cannot be solved by our war machine, or can it? The frauds that serve as our politicians, information sources, and opinion makers have been trying to fabricate existential crises for us to be fearful of for ages now. Russia, russia, cuba, nam, russia, civil rights marchers, panama (really?), russia, russia, iraq (again, really), afghanistan, "the left", russia-russia, russia, BLM, Syria, iran, russia, russia, china, mexico (oh jeebus that's laughable), china, russia, russia, badger, badger, badger, badger, snaaake, snaaake (oops, sorry, carried away). The commonality there is the "need" for military intervention. The lack of such a need for the climate emergency is why we have denial, censorship, and inactivity. As ever, WE must be the solution. We have a true dilemma that, as far as I can tell, is not susceptible to capitalist, incrementalist, market based or governmental solutions. To quote the immortal Jerry Garcia: "Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us."
Solving this will require cooperation and determination. For many it will require behavioral change, and all of us need to indulge in serious analysis of all of the factors involved to try to find solutions.
Part A: Simplistically, a solution presented in the article is Degrowth followed by wealth and income redistribution. Arguably, the order isn't particularly relevant, but that second step will be very difficult to accomplish, so we need to keep analyzing and think it through before just saying, "well, that's the solution and it isn't doable", because the problem must be solved. So, degrowth by cutting consumption, fine. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Repurpose, Repair, consciously and continuously with repair, reuse and repurpose as a first reaction to damage and true obsolescence, the new and improved paradigm and behavior mode. Ignore ads and fads enjoy and make do with what you have, try to remember how people amused and entertained themselves before jet skis and the like. Hang on to your old stuff and consciously dismiss all commentary about stuff being old, unfashionable, out-of-style and not-up-to-date as shallow and silly. Reconsider being a collector of any tangible assets some sort of antique. A small start, but one that most of us can start doing right away.
Part B: It seems as if it would be an established truism that a single finite planet could not support an infinite population. Nonetheless, the populace as a whole seems impervious to the obvious corollaries. We must reduce the pace of human procreation. We do not with to even consider getting government remotely involved in such a thing because of the horrible risks, nor do we wish to make this an involuntary thing no matter how determined. Thus, as with reining in consumption, we must ourselves voluntarily rein in procreation. Yet, within the past two years I have heard of more than one nation with a declining birth rate because its politicians, economists and suchwhat were bemoaning said declining birthrate and casting about for "solutions" to said "problem". I'm not going to belabor any of this or point to the various
Part C: I asserted that this crises is not amenable to a military solution, which is not strictly true. It is not amenable to a Traditional military solution, bombing, killing and all that, but the military could play a big role. So, 700 billion, 750 billion, whatever. Russia, russia, russia, russia is around 60, partly in response to the constant threats from US/NATO, China around 250, that's both Eurasia and Eastasia, my fellow Oceanians. And that's less than 1/2. So what if we hacked the defense budget in half and closed all or nearly all of our foreign bases, brought the troops home and stopped our overt and clandestine military operations abroad. Take most of the money out of weapons and armament procurement. There is a significant degrowth right there. Better yet, it is stuff that is unnecessary, wasted useless crap. There is also a boatload of money made available for some form of "redistribution" to lessen the deleterious effects of degrowth on those least able to withstand its rigors. Lessee, some sort of minimum base income? Inexpensive housing (real housing, not tenements)? Setting up community gardens? Who knows, I'm not proposing hard and fast remedies, simply some possibilities that we really need to explore because we absolutely must do something, and we must stat now.
Part D: About that redistribution, it is locked in anyway, and only a question of how soon, unless the oligarchs start resorting to mass killings (wars do, historically, serve this purpose if none other). In the last decade many who study and ponder such matters have noted that we have the technology and know how to produce all that we need with relatively minimal employment relative to the total population. Solutions to the coming "unemployment crisis", often in the form of seriously reduced work weeks and split shifts have been proposed. Of course said crisis has been forestalled by the creation of ever more an more artificial perceived needs and the continued growth of the service economy. Nonetheless, if we hammer down all of the fake demand starting with the least utilitarian/useful junk, we'll reach a point where the service economy won't be sustainable either. The elites can only use so many serfs per capita, and the rest of us can hardly get by reciprocally serving each other burgers and tort claims. Capitalism depends not only on escalating consumption, but also on steadily concentrating all assets and revenues into fewer and fewer hands. That is simply an impossible combination, and if you begin, as we must, to degrow consumption, the concentration must also fall off.
The Need for Narrative Control: We got in this mess because the public narrative was controlled by those with agendas and goals that were/are inimical or the public good and our long-term survival, slowly but surely revealed as a flock of sociopaths. It has become steadily worse as more and more unsustainable mishegosss got established as a base set of assumptions, expectations and behaviors upon which ever more and more outlandish bullshit was built. We need to take control of the principal narratives and to do so rapidly. We cannot replace TV and radio ads, billboards, and the like with appropriate, better messaging, except to a limited extent. We certainly cannot eliminate the government, MIC, war=machine propaganda an its mass media support, overt and covert. What we must do is develop (or redevelop) our own sources to provide a constant drumbeat of information, inspiration and exhortation on the need to stop unnecessary consumption, just stop it, on alternative public, private and college radio and tv, bloggers, video bloggers, freeway bloggers, signs and posters, leaflets, broadsheets weeklies and the like with a three part message.
Stop unnecessary personal consumption
Severely cut military spending, especially weapons development and procurement
Use the money from the military budget to fund essential public and social services
There will be a ton of pushback, especially from "our" government. We even have allegedly liberal political candidate wannabees out in front of any attempts to correct things, calling for revitalization and/or enhancement of our so-called intelligence agencies and then using them to established an approved narrative and to shut down competing narratives.
A very tall order, I know, but we have to do it, and do it in the face of what will be well organized and well funded opposition, and that starts with individual action and to trying to figure out workable solutions and then putting them out there.
Image is public domain.
Its an open thread so have at it. The floor is yours