Taking the Imperative out of Growth

by Mark H Burton

This article presents the personal viewpoint of the author rather than the considered position of the SSM collective as a whole.

This article as a pdf.        Our much longer, fully referenced version (pdf).

The report, The Tragedy of Growth (ToG), from the British NGO Positive Money, argues that the pursuit of endless economic growth does not help the enhancement of life satisfaction, poverty alleviation and environmental protection, and more than that it has damaging impacts on all these areas. Rather than calling for better or greener growth, they call for its abandonment as policy goal.

Positive Money is to be commended for its efforts in helping to bring the deep and systemic problem of Economic Growth to the public eye. However, while agreeing with this broad orientation, it is worth taking a close look at the report’s policy proposals and at the economic theory behind them. Central to this is the question of what makes economic growth happen, and what makes it so difficult to construct an economy that does not have to keep expanding. These are the drivers of economic growth.

This article is complemented by a longer and fully referenced paper that expands on the arguments presented here.

Economic growth and material flows

First, let’s look at this concept of economic growth. The fundamental problem threatening human life on this planet is the ever increasing flow of materials, both renewable and non-renewable, via the activities of extraction, production, distribution and use, to eventual disposal or dispersal, into the “sinks” in the plant’s air, soil and water. These flows are linked to what is measured as economic activity, via measures such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). While, in principle, economic activity can diverge from material flows, in practice, such decoupling is at best only relative: the two things are linked and they mostly vary together. Therefore it is reasonable to use the term “economic growth” as a shorthand for the more fundamental problem of growth in material flows, and reasonable to try and tackle the drivers of economic growth as part of a wider strategy for protecting global ecosystems while providing for human well-being. Although “growth” is a system outcome, not a fundamental property of the system (the drivers of growth are more akin to those systemic origins of growth), it does have a material force in determining political and policy priorities.

Growth imperatives under capitalism

Positive Money sees the issuance of money through credit operations as the main growth imperative under capitalism.

We find that a monetary system based on interest-bearing debt is incompatible with a non-growing economy. This shows the need for transformative monetary and financial policies to escape the growth imperatives of capitalism.” (ToG, p. 20)

This causality is actually back to front: growth imperatives lie predominantly in the production system of what Marx, in Capital, called expanded reproduction.

To accumulate it is necessary to convert a portion of the surplus-product into capital. …. The more the capitalist accumulates, the more he is able to accumulate.

Like the exploitation of energy sources, credit facilitates this expansion but does not cause it.

ToG goes on to explore the phenomenon of financialisation. They argue firstly that banks have, since financial deregulation in the 1980s, massively increased their loans to the Finance, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sectors at the expense of industrial production.

This pattern of financialised bank lending generates a high burden of private debt, without fostering productive, income-generating economic activity that can service this debt. The high private debt burden amounts to a growth imperative starved of growth. (ToG, p. 21).

This, though, is only part of the picture. Firstly, the banks are only one element (maybe 10% of new capital formation): most of the investment in capitalist enterprise is not financed by bank loans but by the creation of equities by companies themselves. Secondly, production itself has shifted to the global South, and the relations between production there, and investment in the multi-layered financial systems of the core capitalist countries like the UK, is to say the least, obscure. To take one example, a large part of the value created in the factories of the global South is captured in the retail and FIRE sectors of the global North, such that John Smith, who has researched this in detail, concludes that the “D” in GDP is a lie.

Capitalism means growth, but why?

ToG argues that capitalism cannot continue without economic growth. I agree, but for a different reason: the true motor of expansion, the growth of capital via the production process, is as intrinsic to capitalism as it is as inimical to a steady state economy. ToG’s argument rests on the notion of “debt-based money”. Specifically, they argue that interest-bearing credit is a growth imperative. Their solution, central to Positive Money’s raison d’être, is a reform of money itself. Several studies, mostly based on simulation studies using post-Keyenesian theoretical models, including the one they cite, by Tim Jackson and Peter Victor, have researched whether interest-bearing credit necessarily makes economic growth inevitable. These studies broadly conclude that so long as the interest is not re-invested in production but is consumed, for example via higher worker wages, then interest payments need not conflict with a steady state economy. Interest rates should also not be “too high”.

This is not surprising from the Marxist perspective: it is the reinvestment of profit (as capital (i.e. into expanded means of production, or into additional labour, or the commodities from which other commodities are manufactured) that allows for expanded reproduction, i.e. the spiral of accumulation. That applies both to profits (the direct result of surplus value extraction) and interest (an indirect result). ToG makes two reasonable points about this work. Firstly, it is misleading to consider interest as independent from the propensity to save and accumulate. Secondly, they argue that historically, the emergence of banking credit (what they call “interest-bearing debt money”) was a distinct development in the “institutionalization” of capitalism and its multiple growth imperatives, so it is simplistic to isolate interest from the entire system of economic and financial relations under capitalism.

That is hardly controversial and is consistent with the more rigorous analysis of money in Marx’s work. However, unlike Marx, this account falls into the trap of characterising money under capitalism as “debt-based money”. This is a huge oversimplification. The money system is not so much debt-based as permeated by credit relations, but it also retains its pre-capitalist aspects, i.e. of a measure of value (the universal commodity), a medium of circulation and an object of hoarding, and during periods of crisis there is typically a rush back to cash, as equities (fictitious capital – whose valuation is based on their potential sale) are converted into cash, or its electronic equivalent).

Money is not reducible to credit (or debt) and contrary to Positive Money’s view that money itself should be reformed, taking credit relations out of money is infeasible. They conclude,

“As a key pillar of the capitalist system, interest-bearing debt is deeply linked to the system’s multiple growth imperatives, and we find no convincing evidence that it could comfortably co-exist with a non-growing economy.” (ToG, p. 25).

But this is to airily wave away at least five studies, and detailed theoretical analyses, that have come to the opposite conclusion. It is unlikely that any of the authors would think that their conclusions should be taken in isolation from a full analysis of the political economy of growth (Jackson and Victor, for example have each written whole books that analyse the whole system, as has Lange who reaches a similar but more clearly anti-capitalist conclusion). The point is important because misdiagnosing the source of growth imperatives (in the subsidiary issue of interest-bearing credit) would mean drawing the wrong conclusions for institutional and political change.

The following table summarises ToG’s problem diagnoses and our evaluation of them.

Diagnosis

Key idea

Evaluation

Growth imperatives

These lie in the nature of money and the credit system, particularly the banks.

Causality is back to front: growth imperatives lie in the production system of expanded reproduction. Credit facilitates this. Banking is only one source of credit for capitalist expansion.

Growth imperatives apply when the system stalls.

Growth imperatives are always there.

Financialisation

Financialisation is a key problem, changing the nature of capitalism. But removing it could mean that GDP growth is re-stimulated.

Financialisation is a phase in the long-term endemic crisis of capitalism. The problem is the capitalist mode of production.

Nature of capitalism

Separation of owners and workers. Workers produce and owners profit. Profit realised in market transactions.

Correct so far as it goes but misses the critical role of expanded reproduction: part of surplus product converted to capital which is re-invested.

Interest bearing credit and a steady state economy.

Unlikely to be possible because credit is intimately bound up with capitalism.

Would be possible if the state of simple reproduction were adhered to, i.e. interest not re-invested (but shared or spent on consumption, or better, social welfare and ecological restoration. However it is questionable that this is capitalism (i.e. system where capital is self-expanding).

Money

Debt-based money is problematic and reform is needed to end it.

Credit is one dimension of money which combines a number of functions, pre-capitalist (universal commodity, means of exchange, store of value) with the credit relations that emerged under mercantilism and matured under capitalism.

Taking credit relations out of money is infeasible.

A further consideration in assessing reform proposals is the geography of production and the role of credit. It has been argued here that credit plays a supportive rather than determinative role in the expansion of production, and hence material flows, under capitalism. Much production takes place beyond the shores of the UK, and this is so for all the countries of the global North. Controlling the expansion of finance capital (a broader category then banking credit) could only affect that outsourced production insofar as the investment is in those industries. So, for example, the measures suggested will have little impact on the capitalisation of Chinese industry, where much of the credit is generated within China. The situation with, say, Brazilian agribusiness is likely to be different, with a greater penetration of UK and other Northern finance capital, but again, credit from bank loans is not a major element. The point is that the specifics are important.

Then all that outsourced production (of food, consumer goods, electronic gadgetry, hydrocarbon fuels, etc., etc.) has to find a market. One large sector is household expenditure. Much of that has been supported by mushrooming consumer credit, and also, especially in the UK, by equity release from housing price inflation. It does make sense to restrict both consumer credit and property price inflation. However, that probably would be best done by specific policy instruments (tightening of the rules for extending credit and property and land taxation) rather than by grand changes to the organisation of the money system.

Policy shopping lists

So far the discussion has been rather abstract. ToG does make a number of concrete policy proposals in the report. Some of these follow from their analysis of interest bearing credit as a growth imperative while others would seem to stem from a variety of influences such as left social democracy and ecological economics. The new proposals fall under three categories: (i) access to public means of payment; (ii) access to credit; and (iii) immediate redistribution of power. They also acknowledge the role of other policy proposals that don’t directly address money and credit relations.

Our longer article evaluates the proposals. While we agree with some of them, we do not see them as adding up to an effective programme for the removal of growth-imperatives. The ToG proposals and our assessment is summarised in the following table.

Proposals

Key idea

Evaluation

1a. Central Bank Money.

Digital accounts for citizens held at the Bank of England

Unclear why this is a counter-growth strategy.

Substitutes a State entity for a private one: that could be two-edged.

1b. Universal Basic Income paid via Central Bank citizen accounts.

Non-discretionary payments to all citizens.

Worth considering to mitigate severe economic shocks (e.g. pandemic impacts). Possibly a counter-growth initiative, if accompanied by highly progressive taxation on income to control consumer spending.

2. Complementary currencies.

Strengthen local economies by raising consciousness of the local economy and “plugging the leaks”.

Worth considering on the grounds indicated (middle column) but evidence for their efficacy is limited. Likely to be of greater relevance as national economies fragment and as part of a system of alternative financial institutions.

Possibly a counter-growth strategy.

3. Direct clearing facility.

Business to business exchange and credit system.

Could become integrated with the dominant systems of finance capital – design and governance would be critical.

Unclear whether it is a counter-growth initiative, though could promote localism.

4. Public banking

New, community-based, citizen-owned and largely not-for-profit financial infrastructure.

Could encourage clean, local, social investments so well worth having.

Could be counter-growth depending on context, design, and governance.

5. Modern debt jubilees

Debt cancellation or provision of money by the State to repay debts.

To be welcomed as a measure to take highly indebted households out of poverty. Would reduce profiteering from personal hardship.

Applied more widely it would be unlikely to be counter-growth in effect.

6. Monetary financing

The State (government / Central Bank) conjures money into existence to fund green and public works.

Given the elasticity between money and the generation of value it is feasible as a temporary expedient but carries macro-economic risks.

Unlikely to be counter-growth in nature since it would stimulate consumption and hence material flows.

7. Tax reform

Increase taxes on high incomes. Wealth, financial transactions and property and land taxes.

Essential measures to shift the economy towards greater economic justice and greener activity.

Done in the right way it could be a serious counter-growth strategy.

In our longer article, we outline an alternative package of measures. These draw upon work by thinkers in the degrowth movement, but they have been considerably amended, adapted and expanded. We present the headlines here: a fuller explanation can be found in our longer piece. Numbers 4, 6 and 13 overlap with certain ToG proposals, while number 5 requires a different approach to credit from that in ToG, i.e. Firstly, impose regulation over bank lending for tight but cheap credit. Secondly, make it a requirement that share offers are for clean production and do not lead to the replacement of labour with technology.

1. Stop subsidizing and investing in activities that are highly polluting.

2. Work-and resource sharing.

3. Minimum and maximum income.

4. Tax reform.

5. Controls on credit.

6. Citizen debt audit and cancellation

7. Support the alternative, solidarity society

8. Optimise the use of buildings.

9. Reduce advertising and marketing.

10. Establish environmental limits.

11. Make international trade agreements conform with frameworks on climate change and consumption of nature.

12. Implement ecological footprint product, repairability and service labelling

13. Abolish or augment and qualify the misleading GDP indicator.

Conclusion: the political economy of economic growth

Positive Money is to be commended for its efforts in helping to bring the deep and systemic problem of Economic Growth to the public eye. Their report contains some worthwhile policy ideas but its overall diagnosis of the growth imperative, and hence how to neutralise it, is misguided, relying on a fetishisation of the money system at the expense of the deep structures of capitalist accumulation.

As they stand, both ToG and our own proposals lack a necessary emphasis on the power interests at play, particularly on the part of incumbent firms and corporations. This will require a critical understanding of the role of the State as a guarantor and facilitator of capitalist social and economic relations, not just the money system but the entire set of property relations and the laws that codify and enforce them. This is increasingly so in this neoliberal phase of capitalism but the problem goes beyond neoliberalism as such. Where are the contradictions of the system that can be used by an organised political movement to exert leverage and force system change? A political strategy is needed, linked up with other political and social movements that are engaged in the contested terrain of the State and the other societal institutions, but that will inevitably mean debate and transformation of the policy platform on which to organise. This critique could be seen as part of that debate.

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Open letter to Manchester City Council about pop-up cycle lanes

UPDATED, 29 June.

The pop-up lane installed by XR-Manchester, shaming the city council's inaction.

  1. On Wednesday24 June, Extinction Rebellion Manchester erected a pop-up lane with signage and cones on the A56 Chester Rd. It bridges the 300m gap between the Trafford border, where the neighbouring council’s pop-up lane from Sale ends, and Deansgate.  This is an excellent action which shames the city council and its complacent executive.   Read article on The Meteor.
  2. The Meteor article also has details of a protest action planned for Saturday in Levenshulme.

The following letter was sent to Manchester Evening News.  Disappointingly, they did not print it. It was published on 29 June.  If you want your name added to it, please email contact[AT]climateemergencymanchester.net (they will not add your name to any database, nor release your email address)

We call on Manchester City Council to act boldly and collaboratively to create pop-up cycle lanes for people to commute to work, and also travel within the city. Cycling is a social justice issue – a third of the city’s households do not have cars and people will be forced back onto public transport if the Council refuses to see sense.
In replies to citizens calling for better thinking, the Council has merely given the following vague assurance – “where neighbouring local authorities are planning to create temporary pop-up cycle lanes which approach Manchester, we will work with partners in each case, to ensure that safety for all road users is prioritised.”
We call upon the Executive Member for Environment, Planning and Transport, Angeliki Stogia, to announce an urgent programme to first complete all the protected routes into the city centre that originate in other council areas and then to add emergency protected provision on all other main roads.
The Council has said it has bid for £600k worth of measures but the details have not yet been shared with residents – we suggest creation of a web page, updated weekly, on the City Council’s website that sets out this programme and the progress made.
This action will help restore the Council’s tattered credibility. Without greatly increased trust in Council decision-making and transparency, real action on the climate emergency, air pollution and safe mobility will be virtually impossible.
This is a moment to lead, not to hide.

Signed
Rose Arnold
Andy Barclay
Lucy Burke
Mark H Burton
Roger Bysouth
Ian Cookson
Mike Duddy
Neil Edwards
Judith Emanuel
Nick Hubble
Marc Hudson
Sarah Irving
Carolyn Kagan
Pooja Kishinani
Harriet Larrington-Spencer
Chloe Jeffries
Hannah Malcolm
Calum McFarlane
Bri McIntosh
Margaret Morris
Martin Nash
Northern Quarter Forum
Chris Paul
Adam Peirce
Ruth Rosselson
Greg Sammons
Owen Sedgwick-Jell
DL Sheridan
Richard Shirres
Marion Smith
Pete Somerville
Samuel Thomas
WalkRide PiccNQ
James Ward
Jane Ward
Dave Warnock
Adam Williams

Posted in community, Manchester City Council, transport | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

From Counter Coin to Counter Community

SSM collective member Mike Riddell has been involved for some time in a grassroots project seeking to implement transformative change in Staffordshire, which ties to Steady State Manchester’s vision for a more viable economy. He and his colleague Brian Leyland are excited to share the latest developments.

We are pleased to announce that we have changed our name from CounterCoin to Counter Community. This new name better reflects what we do: operating in local communities to help stakeholders (from voluntary organisations and the public sector to businesses, social enterprises, and individuals) , measure, record, reward and celebrate everything they do to improve their community’s wellbeing. The reward element, which was represented by the Coin is still a major pillar in our work, but sits alongside and complements our other activities. As part of our work, we are developing a digital platform that will enable us to build a network of stakeholders who wish to come together to improve the wellbeing of communities. Our conclusion from this was that a new name was necessary and that is how ‘Counter Community’ was born, which is who we are today!

In the remainder of this blog, we offer a bit more detail about Counter Community, point to several trends driving our work, and set out our main objectives as an organisation in response to those trends.

What is Counter Community and how does it operate?

Counter Community is a rapidly expanding membership network & digital platform that enables voluntary organisations, charities, social enterprises, local businesses, and individuals to work together to create positive social, environmental and economic change and thereby boost both the local community and economy. It is currently funded by The National Lottery.

It is our belief that the real positive change referred to in the last paragraph is a prerequisite if our communities are to survive and indeed thrive. As an example, many community groups and social enterprises need to diversify their income streams to become less reliant on the state. They need to look, for example, at the possibility of developing closer links with the private sector, which could provide support not only by way of knowledge sharing or but also by direct funding linked to pre agreed reporting of outcomes which result directly from this funding. Businesses on the other hand need to recognise that social enterprises and voluntary organisations play a crucial role in the welfare of the community as a whole and that a thriving and successful community is integral to their own objectives of generating long term sustainable profit. There are three trends that support this shift in focus.

Trends driving Counter Community

The first is a culture shift away from individualism to collectivism. Already faced with widening inequality, climate change and a post industrial world in which they feel they have no part to play, for many there is now the spectre of mass-unemployment as a result of COVID-19. As a consequence people of all ages are beginning to re-imagine what we want the future of our society to be. Each of us as individuals will have a role to play, but it all starts with a willingness to share and contribute to the collective good – a shared experience of collective action.

The second trend is that there is an increasing recognition that the term social value is ill defined and also means different things to different people. What is required is the re-imagining and re-defining of social value in a manner which does not come top-down from the Government, but comes from the communities that understand their social needs and are capable of delivering real social value regardless of whether it fits within the Government’s narrow and rigid boundaries.

And the third and final trend is that the funding model for the delivery of essential local services needs to change. There is general acceptance that the current process is long winded and cumbersome, benefiting the larger organisations at the expense of the smaller ones, which are very often those which are playing a critical role in community cohesion and growth. The introduction of Social Impact Bonds, whereby the return to the investor is measured not in financial terms but by reference to pre agreed criteria linked to social needs was a welcome move in the right direction but these have not taken off as anticipated. What is needed is a streamlined, more efficient funding model along these lines that brings together businesses and voluntary organisations in a manner that is more suited to the objects and operating model of each of them.

Counter Community’s Objectives

Counter Community’s aspiration is to be the leading provider of digital tools and member services that enable organisations and individuals to connect, contribute and measure the impact they make helping improve society and protect the planet.

At the heart of the new business model is the collection of data and the development of a methodology which enables it to be used as a golden thread to pull together three primary objectives in response to the trends noted above.

These are:

  • to support the rebuild of community.

  • to define clearly not only what social value is, but also how it is measured and reported.

  • And finally to support new models of frontline funding.

We are aiming to share more details about Counter Community in the coming weeks, including a blog that will explore each of the trends mentioned above in a little more detail and another that will present an overview of the digital solution we are developing.

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Could the Covid-19 pandemic be a portal to a Viable Society and Economy?

Could the Covid-19 pandemic be a portal to a Viable Society and Economy?

Mark H Burton 1

Download it as a pdf file instead.

Much has already been written about the prospects for the future of economic, social and ecological justice as a result of the experience of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. There is a danger in launching forth with analysis, scenarios and proposals when there are still many uncertainties and the full picture is still unfolding. However, given that the reality that we have to understand if we want a better world has shifted in some ways, then it is necessary to take up the challenge of making sense of things and suggesting some ways forward2.

To suggest a way forward we need to understand the short and long term dynamics.

The pandemic is a catalyst, or accelerator for systemic processes already under way. A capitalist system requires continued expansive accumulation for its survival3. This system is challenged by its internal contradictions, a key one of which is the long term fall in the average rate of profit, and by external constraints, a key one being the rising cost of energy and materials extraction. But capitalism is highly adaptive, it’s a survivor, and it resolves these problem by continuing to expand ruthlessly, opening up new markets, and new sources of resources, and by reducing the cost of labour by exploiting new labour markets and increasing productivity through technological innovation. It also puts in place a series of countervailing measures, or “fixes” such as the renewed cycle of financialisation, privatisation of common goods and assaults on labour, of the neoliberal period.

The treadmill of expansion destroys more and more of the ecosystem and commodifies more and more of life.  The fixes lead to economic instability and toxic inequality. Together, these external limits and internal contradictions mean that it is a system whose days are numbered. We don’t know what will come next and it will be a big struggle to prevent its collapse causing untold harm and misery, and even the collapse of our societies. But that struggle is also worth being part of because there could, just maybe, be a different kind of ending, one that, despite everything mean a better way of life: a prosperous descent to a simpler way4.

The new recession

The pandemic, itself a result of the interaction of previously separated species and ecosystems5, has led to a sudden drop in consumption and the material flows, from extraction to pollution, associated with it. This is a global phenomenon, not just a national one.

Recovery from that shock will be slow: even mainstream analysts such as the US Federal Reserve, Goldman Sachs and the World Trade Organisation6 point to an L-shaped recovery taking years. Even before the pandemic, economic activity in much of the world was slowing down7. The impact of measures to limit the impact of the pandemic (lockdowns and other restriction) mean a slowing of production globally with many firms, often indebted already, likely to go out of business.

The impact on city regions

All the sources of income for city economies are threatened. Cities like Manchester have relied on capturing income from sectors like (mostly speculative) construction, aviation, retail and logistics, and private motoring.

A range of other businesses, cafés, restaurants, leisure resources, car parks…., depend on the expenditure made possible by those sectors.

We have already seen vast cuts in central government funding to local government and its substitution by retained business rates (scheduled to increase from 50% to 75% with a parallel cut in government grant)8 So councils themselves, increasingly yoked to the business sector, will be highly threatened by this new recession. Given the enormous financial injections from central government to mitigate the economic impacts, it seems likely that there will, despite protestations to the contrary, be a new hurricane of austerity in an attempt to reduce the government debt.

Pensions are largely paid by stock market dividends, now propped up by massive QE yet in some cases cut (Shell, the biggest investment of the Greater Manchester Pension Fund) or even withdrawn (Lloyds Bank group). For local government this could also mean a problem to come since for the large local government pension funds, it is the councils that would have to make up any shortfall.

All this casts into jeopardy the model of inward investment to generate economic activity (despite the return to the investor of profits and rents), some of it to be captured locally and some (if we are lucky or believe the rhetoric) to trickle-down. New investment injections and the volume of transactions in the economy will both be hit hard so there will be little to capture and recirculate.

So what now? Bootstrapping the Viable Society

The opportunity, the exit, is to use the relatively resilient sectors, elements of the Foundational Economy (FE)9, supported by key place-based organisations and basic population provisioning, as the key to transform the city-region and make it less vulnerable to the ecosystem shock events that are likely to hit us with increasing frequency, particularly if the present system continues. This approach builds on the Community Wealth Building Approach (CWB)10 which is gaining ground in the UK and beyond.

Key elements will be,

  • A polycentric spatial model, where most resources and facilities people need are available within easy reach (cf. the 20 minute neighbourhood model)11. A move in this direction, hesitatingly emerging into the mainstream12, seems almost inevitable anyway given the constraints on workplace, leisure resource and public transport occupancy due to the need to maintain physical distance between people to reduce viral transmission13. The increase in home working in many neighbourhoods during the crisis is likely to continue in some form, exposing the need for home-working business, support and networking spaces. There is likely to be an appetite for this given the experience of reduced car usage and increased active travel, including record bicycle sales during crisis.

  • Prioritisation of the sectors responsible for most emissions – via a set of sector-specific “green deals” (covering, for example, domestic warmth; logistics of provisioning, focussing first on final mile deliveries; consumer durables and repair; food; community energy – See Appendix). This must be offered in ways that show it to be both realistic and fair for people working in those sectors.

  • Establishment of transformational partnerships with industry and public – quasi public actors – e.g. 1) A warmth offer (see appendix) combining housing insulation, boiler replacement, sale of a temperature guarantee rather than energy alone, would link councils, social housing providers, energy companies, builders and insulation specialists.  Or 2) Local manufacture of PPE and other health equipment, which would link NHS and social care providers, local firms already producing such materials, and other firms that could re-purpose their plant for such products.

  • Creation of alternative community-based economic development and nurturance initiatives, for both organisations and citizens. An example could be linking small local traders to neighbourhood residents’ groups in a variant of the circles of support idea. They would work together on survival plans for valued local businesses that face financial difficulties, identifying shared priorities and business strategies and potentially helping with capital in return for a shift to a co-ownership or mutual model14.

  • Community / regional / green / mutual financial institutions. This is a well developed idea but so far with little development so far in this part of the country despite the local legacy of the co-operative movement and the existence of adoptable models, already implemented elsewhere in the country15. A wider institutional network16 could also evolve, particularly in response to future economic and financial shocks.

  • Blended formal / informal and cooperative social care17 – e.g. alternatives building on established alternative models like Local Area Coordination18, Circles of Support19 and Housing First20. Local mutual aid groups have burgeoned during the crisis21, filling the gaps and supplementing what civil society, the public sector and local authorities were able to do. In may places these groups will have strengthened people’s sense of belonging and community spirit, opening the way for greater participation across the board.

These options begin to restructure the economy away from rent-seeking footloose capital, favouring instead right-sized profits, commitment to place and non-capitalist entrepreneurial forms22.

None of this will happen without concerted citizen action. There are three spheres for this. 1) The sphere of UK national politics is likely to be rather infertile ground for the next 4-5 years given the Tory landslide. However, there will be a need for a largely defensive politics of resistance since the ruling class is highly likely to use the crisis as an opportunity to entrench its power to exploit and dominate23. 2) At a regional level and council level, there are more opportunities to open up new approaches. The new metropolitan mayors and their administrations have shown some appetite for the refocussing and strengthening, while greening, regional economies. This has been thoroughly compromised, however, by the persistent adherence to orthodox boosterism and agglomeration economics (where bigger is better), predicated on economic growth24. The task here is to encourage the more localist, ecological and people-focussed tendency and to campaign against continuing business as usual. This applies to local councils as well as the regional level. 3) There is, however, a real danger in over-emphasising the formal structures of political representation. Yet most of the economy and social life exists and is governed outside of the formal political system. That is also a clue to where the levers for transformation are. Citizens, working collectively, can create new economic vehicles and forms, constructing in their patches, the foundations for the Viable Economy and Society25. We can use their collective power as consumers to force shifts in the economic structures, essentially withdrawing our consent to the destructive forms and structures, the something like the “crash on demand” suggested by the permacultural thinker, David Holmgren26.

Ultimately this steers us towards a resilient model of stewardship and sufficiency – living better with less – and a relative de-linking from the globalised capitalist economic system, its circuits of accumulation, its vulnerable supply chains and its ecological depredation. A Viable Economy … and Society27.

Appendix: Sectoral Green Deals

Sectoral Green Deals would aim to do three things:

1) Significantly reduce material and energy use while maintaining provisioning of human needs and reasonable wants.

2) Ensure28 the livelihoods of a significant number of local people and their families.

3) Largely use locally available capital and revenue while increasing the potential for citizen participation, mutuality and democratic governance.

Together such deals could help transform the relationship between economic activity, society and the ecosystem.

Possible examples:

1) A warmth offer.

This could be done very pragmatically but adequate to the scale of the challenge, through the establishment of a partnership between one or more energy utility companies, housing providers, councils, specialist heating firms, insulation retrofit providers and experts on domestic heat conservation and emission reduction.  The partnership would establish a domestic “heat and light offer”.  Contracts would be to maintain space heating in a finite number of rooms at the level of say 18.5 deg C, for X hours in the winter months.  This would be done a) in the conventional way, by supply of energy, and b) by supply of firstly insulation refits, going for the low hanging fruit first. That would mean the energy company supplied less energy, so saving on its wholesale costs and ultimately releasing money back into the carbon reduction scheme.  c) with this, there needs to be a rolling programme of boiler replacement – starting with the most inefficient and going straight to non-gas alternatives (air source heat pumps and electric heating).  The scheme would need investment, and a clear financial model/vehicle probably in the form of a rotating loan fund, recharged by a share of energy savings and possibly a levy on asset price increases. It could be multiply primed by say energy company investments, grant funding and local investment, particularly from the Pension Fund.

2) Restructuring final mile deliveries

This would involve investment in cargo bikes / cargo e-bikes and more local storage. Delivery runs would be combined, reducing costs for distributors and reducing traffic in neighbourhoods. It could be developed by bringing together currently precariously employed “gig” delivery workers, local shops, already used by the big firms for “click and collect” and safe-place arrangements, milk delivery firms which already have fleets of low emission delivery vehicles and which have been expanding their operations due to concerns over disposable packaging, supermarket domination, and so on. The result would be a super-local distribution service the first choice of households and distributors. Were there moves to de-privatise mail deliveries, this could be a suitable …. vehicle.

3) Consumer durables

This could involve the establishment of a chain of repair shops, backed by technical and engineering expertise, 3D printing and the use of procurement power to increase the availability of repairable items, for example those like the modular fairphone. Local government involvement would be via its responsibilities for domestic waste collection, being incentivised to reduce waste, including difficult to recycle electronic waste, and able to vary the contract with its contractors beyond recycling and incineration to include salvage, repurposing and repair. It would be essential to work with the growing number of repair cafés, men-in-sheds and similar ventures with a view to upskilling citizens in basic and intermediate repair and repurposing, which would be a strategy for both waste-reduction and economic resilience.

4) Food

A green deal on food would establish a network of urban market gardens and orchards, using untilled domestic and public land. Some could be on a temporary basis, and other plots made available by the public sector on a long lease basis. Mowing would be reduced. The emphasis would be on high value vegetable and salad crops with some fruit but with the option of rapidly increasing the production of staples, for example if food supply chains were threatened. There could be links to retailers with a buy local preference or section and this could be fostered with a “buy local” campaign. There would be multiple benefits in terms of health, resilience, emissions and waste reduction, and livelihoods.

5) Local food waste and biomass management

Not all food waste would be eliminated. At present, where it is collected it goes to large composting sites. This material, together with selected biomass (e.g. lawn and hedge clippings, weeds) could be managed locally on a block or street basis via small scale biogas digesters. A by-product is nutrient rich fertilising sludge for gardens. Since such biogas is almost carbon-neutral, it could be used as a supplementary fuel, for example for selected vehicles or domestic cooking. This would reduce the load on the electricity grid as steps are taken to replace the use of natural gas. It would also reduce the need for heavy lorries to collect materials from suburban neighbourhoods.

All these examples would need detailed appraisal and business cases constructed before they could be implemented. They would require investment in the building of delivery organisations, whether cooperatives, collectives or firms with the ability to bring together the multiple stakeholders involved. They are offered here to indicate what sector-specific green deals could look like. Readers are sure to have other, and no doubt better ideas.

Endnote

Some rights reserved. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1
For rights notice see Endnote.

2 This piece has been developed from remarks made in the debate organised by the Manchester alternative media outlet, The Meteor, on 14 May ,2020. I am grateful to The Meteor and Conrad Bower for the invitation to take part, and to the other participants, particularly for their insights. You can watch a recording of the event at https://www.themeteor.org/2020/05/16/the-covid-19-crisis-offers-opportunities-to-create-a-better-world-can-we-seize-them/

3 I explore this in relation to the money system and the limits to growth here: https://steadystatemanchester.net/2018/02/23/we-need-to-end-growth-dependency-but-how/ Marx laid down the foundations for this understanding, which was extended globally by thinkers including Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Samir Amin and Enrique Dussel, among others.

4 Odum, H. T. O. and E. C., & Odum, E. C. (2001). A prosperous way down: Principles and policies. Univ. Press of Colorado.
Trainer, T., & Alexander, S. (2019). The simpler way: Envisioning a sustainable society in an age of limits. Real World Economic Review, 87, 247–260.

10 https://cles.org.uk/what-is-community-wealth-building/
Both the Foundational Economy group and CLES, promoters of the FE and CWB respectively, have become significantly greener in orientation since we initially reviewed their work in search for an alternative portfolio of policy ideas. https://steadystatemanchester.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/so-what-would-you-do-v2-0.pdf

12 See the draft local plan objectives here, although they are negated by other priorities in the document, including the airport as “growth hub”: https://web.archive.org/web/20200517171622/https://manchester-consult.objective.co.uk/events/35233/5581804_accessible.pdf

13 More radical variants are also possible, and arguably, highly relevant to the high risk of societal collapse. For example, see Samuel Alexander’s work, e.g. https://theconversation.com/the-suburbs-are-the-spiritual-home-of-overconsumption-but-they-also-hold-the-key-to-a-better-future-108496

14 I am grateful to Carolyn Kagan, Chair of Chorlton Voice and a Steady State Manchester collective member for this idea.

15 For example, the Bank in Box model http://www.bankinthebox.co.uk/

16 Likely to be critical to the success of separate financial and quasi-financial innovations: https://steadystatemanchester.net/2018/05/01/the-viable-economy-and-viable-finance/

17 Coote, A. (2014). People, planet, power: Towards a new social settlement. New Economics Foundation. http://b.3cdn.net/nefoundation/eafb0135c69d8a9152_yum6bt9zh.pdf

22 On this concept see Robin Blackburn (1991) Fin de Siècle: Socialism after the Crash. New Left Review I/185 Jan/Feb 1991

23 A point made strongly by both Christine Berry and Neil McInroy in their contributions to the Meteor debate.

24 The same observations apply to the devolved national administrations in Scotland and Wales, and in some ways to Northern Ireland.

25 What we call “prefigurative action”.

27 See Steady State Manchester (2020) The Viable Economy … and Society https://steadystatemanchester.net/2020/02/14/the-viable-economy-and-society/

28 Or at least contribute to them.

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Our response to Manchester’s Local Plan consultation

Here is our detailed response to Manchester’s Local Plan consultation.

Click here to read the detailed response from Steady State Manchester.

Update: 1 May Click here for the supplementary addendum to our response – We’d previously commented on the Core Strategy objectives, missing the proposed local plan objectives.  We’ve also added some commentary on the consultation process (our mistake being in part due to the confusing way the materials are presented).

As noted in the post below, this is not in any sense a “local plan”, any more than the council’s use of the term “neighbourhood” to refer to the large districts of the city, corresponds to the usual use of the term.  However, Local Plan is what the National Planning Policy Framework calls it.  This is a response to the high level issues paper, the first stage in rewriting the plan.  We find a lot wrong with it (and some good things too) and make a lot of suggestions for the planners in our 25 page response which benefited from the earlier skeleton response we produced with three other campaign groups.  Note: April 30th.   Please note – regarding Qs 4 and 6, we responded to the Core Strategy objectives and not the update of these for the local plan. To the extent that the newer set responds to our concerns, we welcome this.  However, many of our points remain valid.

You can make your own response by 5pm 1 May, to the planners, most easily by sending an email to them, endorsing our response.  Or, use the consultation site to make your own response.

Click here to read the detailed response from Steady State Manchester.

And meanwhile….

Readers will also be interested to read the Open Letter we signed with 8 other community and campaigning groups, led by Greater Manchester Housing Action, urging the council to restore the minimally democratic Planning Committee, suspended under Covid19 quarantine arrangements.  As the letter explains, this reduction to an Executive group of three is unnecessary (other councils are using a variety of virtual methods for their committees).  It can only fuel suspicions that decisions are going to be made with insufficient scrutiny.

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A week left to comment on Manchester’s local plan. How to.

Here is the link to a Skeleton response to Manchester Local Plan Issues Consultation 2020
It has been produced by members of Climate Emergency Manchester, Rising Up! Manchester Families, Greater Manchester Housing Action and Steady State Manchester. It does not necessarily reflect the view of all those organisations.
It is offered to local campaigners as a basis for their own response.
We suggest two ways of using it. Quick and slow!
1) You could simply endorse it and include the link in an email to the council’s consultation site.
Or, better, you could
2) Make your own response, drawing on our skeleton. While it’s called a skeleton, it is pretty comprehensive but you will likely have additional things to add and you might not agree with everything there. So please feel free to use it as you see best.
The document has full details of how to respond and a link to the council’s consultation document.
Here’s that link again: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aJudjCnSvkrYrg0DSDfls5LxrJuZCwRGe3LRXw_oHwE/edit?usp=sharing
The (extended) deadline for responses is ….. 17.00 on Friday 1st May.
Good luck!
Please also share this with your contacts.

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In conversation

Our good friends at Manchester Green New Deal interviewed SSM collective member, Mark Burton for their podcast series.Mcr Green New Deal Podcast logo

It is a lengthy discussion exploring the Limits to Growth and the Degrowth movement as well as reflections on the relationships between Degrowth, Steady State Economics, capitalism and socialism.  Avid readers will know that we have some serious reservations about the Green New Deals and these are explored, together with the problems of “Green Growth” and “Sustainable Development”.

It is a great credit to the Manchester GND people that they are very open to these challenging ideas.  That attitude can only help us all arrive at an ecologically, economically and socially feasible variant of the Green New Deal as a credible response to the deep crises that humanity is in.

To hear it, go to this link on the Manchester Green New Deal podcast site.  You’ll also find  some suggestions for further reading.

 

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A Message about Coronavirus

Dear Supporters,

Amidst the countless articles, blogs, and tweets about the coronavirus, we want to convey a short message from the Steady State Manchester collective to our members and wider readership.

The spread of this pernicious coronavirus and the associated COVID-19 disease means that, in the very near future, Greater Manchester, England and the UK will face, in all likelihood, a protracted period of severely limited movement, a crippling health crisis of our NHS, and a deep recession. As this profoundly uncertain and unsettling future approaches, we at Steady State Manchester stand in solidarity with those across the country – and around the world – who will be affected by this pandemic. Our sympathy is with those who have been – and will be – affected, particularly in places beyond the media’s city-centric and Western-centric gaze.

At present, members of our collective are now largely confined to our homes, and we held our last meeting via videoconference. We also plan to hold our AGM via videoconference, so please keep an eye out for an email announcement with further information in the coming weeks.

As more information emerges – often reluctantly – from the government, the sheer scale of disruption to our everyday life is beginning to come into view. Let us be clear: this is not what we at Steady State Manchester advocate for when we call for changes like degrowth, postgrowth or a steady state economy. Such socio-ecological transformations should be a collective choice, not driven by necessity. Still, what this coronavirus means for a more viable economy and society are only beginning to come into view. In the near future, we plan to address some of these impacts, implications and possible ways forward in our discussions, communications and advocacy. Stay tuned.

In Solidarity,

the Steady State Manchester Collective

 

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