Demolishing the Myth of Perpetual Growth

Life After Growth: Economics for Everyone

Leah Temper and Claudia Medina (2010)

Film Review

The purpose of Life After Growth is to challenge the perpetual growth paradigm in an era in which markets have taken the place of religion in determining major social values.

At present media pundits and policy makers champion continual economic growth as an unquestioned fact of life. In reality, it’s a fairly new phenomenon. Prior to the 19th century and the industrial revolution, all human civilization was characterized by a steady state economy in which both population and productive capacity grew very slowly.

The documentary argues that the urgent crises of poverty, inequality, shortages of water and energy and ecological destruction mean the time has come to explore better ways to design the economy other than infinite growth – especially as the latter is impossible on a finite planet.

At present a “healthy” economy is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3% a year. At that rate, the size of the economy doubles every 23 years, as do carbon emissions and resource depletion.

Filmmakers also explore what the transition from a growth economy back to a steady state economy might look like. They do so by profiling a number of “DeGrowth” groups that have opted out of “corporate” society:

• The voluntary simplicity (aka voluntary simplicity) movement launched by Vicki Robin’s 1992 book Your Money or Your Life – where members vastly improve their quality of life by working 1-2 days a week, living more simply and consuming less.
• The Transition Towns movement – involving communities throughout the industrialized world collectively organizing to downsize their lifestyle and reduce their carbon footprint.
• The Catalan Integral Collective in Spain – funded by the civil disobedience of Enric Duran, in which he used credit cards to “borrow” 492,000 euros from 39 banks, an amount he couldn’t possibly repay. (See Spain’s Modern Day Robin Hood )
• Ecuador’s Keep the Oil in the Soil campaign – in which the president of Ecuador pledges to not to mine Yasuni National Park (one of the most biodiverse places on earth) for oil provided developing countries commit to replace Ecuador’s lost income.
• Bhutan’s decision to measure their country’s success through Gross Happiness Index (GHI) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
• The Church of England’s God is Green program dedicated to reducing Britain’s carbon footprint.

Relocalization: “Reshoring” the US Garment Industry

Seattle Madephoto credit: seattlemade.org

The creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 would lead hundreds of US corporations to shut down their American factories and “offshore” them to third world countries with lower wages and fewer environmental regulations. This trend was most pronounced in the textile and clothing industry. Between 1900 and 2011, US employment in apparel manufacturing dropped by over 80% from 900,000 to 150,000 jobs.

Thanks to the largely grassroots relocalization movement, this trend seems to be reversing. According to economist and author Michael Shuman, rebuilding local economies devastated by trade deregulation is one of the most effective tools for dismantling corporate rule. For every dollar spent in a local business, 45 cents remains in the local economy – in contrast to 10 cents for every dollar spent in a corporate retail chain. (See 2010 Harvard Business Review)

America’s Burgeoning Sewn Goods Industry

While most local economy activism has focused on food production and banking, the last decade has also witnessed numerous attempts across the US to “reshore” sewn goods production. Efforts in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Portland have been the most successful. Consumer research suggests the most important driver behind this movement has been growing consumer demand for corporate transparency and accountability. A  2014 Nielson Survey reveals that 42% of consumers are “willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies committed to positive social and environmental impacts.”

Consumers are also increasingly concerned about the environmental profile of the textile and clothing industry, the world’s second most polluting industry (behind oil). Third world dying mills, which use 200 tons of water for one ton of fabric, cause serious contamination when they return the water to local rivers untreated.

They’re also really wary of a particularly environmentally destructive trend known as “fast fashion”. The latter produces cheap, poorly constructed clothing to be worn once or twice and discarded.

Seattle’s Experiment with Sewn Goods Manufacture

Seattle is the latest city to attempt to foster the development of a local sewn goods industry. In 2015, the Seattle Good Business Network (SGBN)* received a Duwamish River Opportunity Grant to investigate opportunities for expansion of sewn goods manufacture in Seattle.

Sewn Goods Case Studies by Rachel Beck and Molly Parkhan, the report of this investigation, is a fascinating read. I was particularly intrigued by their detailed descriptions of the origins thriving sewn goods industries in New York, Los Angeles, Detroit and Portland. The report finishes with some optimistic predictions and solid recommendations for the successful expansion of Seattle’s local sewn goods industry.


*Founded in 2010, SGBN is a “network of residents, local businesses and non profit and municipal organizations dedicated to building a vibrant and sustainable local economy based on shared environmental and community values.”

A Film About Dismantling Corporate Rule

Owned and Operated

Relic (2012)

Film Review

Owned and Operated is a documentary about dismantling corporate rule. This non-ideological film features dissidents across the political spectrum, among them John Oliver, George Carlin, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Rifkin, Rob Hopkins, Ron Paul, Ray McGovern, James Corbett, Alex Jones and Brian Wilson. In addition to the film’s touchy-feely ending, I was also disappointed in the filmmakers heavy promotion of technology as the solution to the world’s urgent political and ecological crises.

In my view, the best part of the film is Part 1, The Freak Show. This is a humorous but surprisingly accurate depiction of modern corporate culture and the dangerous and bizarre effect of systematic corporate indoctrination on human behavior.

Part 2, Class War and Organized Greed, concerns the obscene greed of the 1% and their systematic takeover of our supposedly democratic political systems.

Part 3, Freedom vs Security concerns the systematic loss of civil liberties that has accompanied the War on Terror.

Part 4, The Awakening, concerns recent mass movements triggered by the 2008 global economic meltdown, including Occupy, the Arab Spring, Anonymous and the Zeitgeist, Transition and Open Source Ecology movements.

Part 5, the Future, heavily promotes Jeremy Rifkin’s views on the role of the Internet and mass connectivity in solving mankind’s most pressing problems. I tend to agree with Ronald Wright’s analysis (in A Short History of Progress) that humanity’s eagerness to rush into new technologies has tended to create more problems than it solves.

That being said the film ends on an extremely positive note by scrolling the web addresses of scores of social change movements for viewers to explore.

Opting Out of Corporate Rule

Paths Through Utopias

Isabelle Fremeaux and John Jordan (2011)

Film Review

Paths through Utopias is a video diary of a French couple’s tour through European collectives in which citizens are resisting corporate rule and reclaiming control over their own lives. The collectives visited include

• The Climate Action Camp (2007-2010) which blocked the construction of a third runway at Heathrow Airport (see Battle of Heathrow Climate Victory)
• Jugoremedija, the chemical factory in Belgrade workers occupied to block its closure and subsequently transformed into a workers cooperative.
• Two self-governing collectives in Catalan (Spain) in which workers reclaimed vacant housing to produce their own food, created their own local currencies and started a citizen-run radio station.
• A self-governing off-the-grid collective in Britain.
• Zegg, an intentional community and eco-village in Germany where members are experimenting with alternatives to monogamy.

https://vimeo.com/21689832

Improving Food Production by Subtracting Oil

The following video is the keynote address by Indian activist Vendana Shiva at the 2015 Soil Not Oil conference in Richmond California. Her primary theme is the destructive effect of industrial agriculture on soil, human health, water balance, climate, ecological diversity, economic inequality and world peace (as the driver of continual resource wars).

She maintains industrial agriculture is an extremely inefficient method of food production – requiring ten calories of oil for every calorie of food produced. Factory farming is only economically viable because of heavy government subsidies of oil production and the synthetic nitrogen fertilizer manufactured from natural gas. If Food Inc were required to pay the full cost of industrial farming (including the toxic effects of the chemicals they use), it would be many times more expensive than organic farming.

She maintains real purpose of industrial farming is to increase GDP by producing more commodities, when it should be to maintain soil and human health.

Prior to the industrial age, farming was as much about soil regeneration as food production. The talk particularly emphasizes the importance of “carbonizing” soil with organic matter. It cites studies showing that a two ton per hectare increase in organic matter removes ten gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere. This also makes the soil drought resistant by improving its capacity to store water.

Support Grows for Unconditional Basic Income

Money for Free

VPRO Backlight (2015)

Film Review

Money for Free is about Unconditional Basic Income (aka Universal Basic Income), a form of social security system in which all residents of a country, city or region receive an unconditional sum of money in addition to any other income they receive.

The documentary profiles Michael Bohmeyer, a German web developer who crowd funded a UBI (German residents can apply for it through his website), New York venture capitalist Albert Wenger (who helped fund Bohmeyer’s UBI),  and British economist Guy Standing. Standing has conducted UBI experiments in India and Namibia.

All three see a strong need for UBI in a globally economy that is rapidly shedding jobs and leaving millions of young people permanently unemployed.

At present Bohmeyer has raised 12,000 euros, which means eight people (chosen by lottery) receive his UBI.

Most opponents of UBI claim it will destroy people’s motivation to work. Standing’s experiments in India and Namibia show just the opposite. People who received a UBI in his pilot program increased their economic activity and eared income (as a result of improved nutrition and health).

The filmmakers also interview Alaska residents who receive a guaranteed income from a resource tax on the state’s oil industry.

France, Netherlands and Finland all have basic income pilot schemes in the pipeline. Switzerland will hold a referendum on UBI later this year.

They will also hold a referendum on whether to prohibit private banks from creating money

Savings Pools: Opting Out of the Banskters’ Money System

banksters

One way I’m opting out out of the debt-based Wall Street banking system, is by joining a local interest-free savings pool. A group of neighbors is investing their savings in a savings pool – rather than a bank – and to use the savings pool to loan money to one another. We’re using a model designed by the (New Zealand-based) Living Economies Trust. The model is based on the Swedish JAK members’ Bank, founded in 1965. The Jord Arbete Kapital (Land Labor Capital) Bank doesn’t charge or pay interest on its loans. With its loans financed solely by members’ savings, it operates outside of the Wall Street capital market.

As of November 2011, the JAK Bank had a membership of 38,000 and accumulated savings of 131 million euros. Of this 98% had been loaned out to members.

How Savings Pools Differ from JAK Bank

Savings pools maintain the JAK Bank’s tradition of interest-free transactions but differ from the Bank’s model in several respects:
• Savings pools are private arrangements between members with regular personal contact.
• Executive decisions are made by pool members themselves rather than a paid management team.
• Pool costs and charges are virtually zero.
• Each member’s savings are held in trust for that member – they don’t become joint property and can only be spent if the member agrees.

Our local savings pool meets monthly, and all savings pool decisions are consensus-based. Individual members may abstain on special loan proposal they disagree with by declaring their own balance unavailable for that specific purpose.

Tracking Savings as Dollar-Months

Savings are tracked as dollar-months rather than balances. In other words, pool statements reflect both the amount a member has contributed and the length of time they have made the funds available.

A member wishing to borrow other members’ money proposes a payment schedule and offers something of value as security to make sure the debt is covered. If the group agrees, the pool transfers to the borrower the loan amount and any balance the borrower may have saved. One month later, the borrower begins a series of installment payments, with half going to repay the loan and half going to reciprocate the pool’s contribution

When borrowers ask the pool to accept interest-free installment payments, it’s not enough to merely repay the loan. They must also make their own savings available for long enough to match the consideration other members have accorded them. This is called reciprocity.

The Advantage of Reciprocity Over Interest

Despite this reciprocity contribution, the amount repaid to a savings pool is always far less than the compound interest charged on a bank loan. With a mortgage, for example, the interest paid is usually more than the original loan. Although the borrower ends up with a house, they have nothing to show for all their interest payments.

In contrast, a savings pool borrower ends up with the purchased asset and savings, which may be withdrawn as soon as the loan agreement is complete.

Supported borrowing is also encouraged. Pool members may gift their reciprocity points to ease a borrowers reciprocity contribution

People wanting more details on the mechanics of savings pools can consult two excellent articles by The New Economics Party and Project Wairarapa

photo credit: occupy_Citibank_24_4_13_DSC_0121 via photopin (license)