The Viable Economy serialised – the first two sections

We will be serialising our intervention, The Viable Economy here.  But you can download the whole pamphlet as a pdf file, here.
If you like it, why not make a donation towards our work. Our costs are modest, but we are unfunded.

Here are the first two sections which explain what the Viable Economy is, and why we need it.

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1) Introduction: Why the Viable Economy?

We want to live in a world that is viable, rather than one that risks tipping into decline or crisis: that means an economy that is resilient and dynamic, providing enough for all, while supporting social well-being. And it must be ecologically viable, not causing further damage to the earth’s fragile systems without which life is not possible.

We are using this title, Viable Economy, to both give a positive message (rather than the negative, but necessary steady-state one) and to emphasise the need to align the economic, the social and
the ecological. No economy can survive that is not viable in all three domains.

As we will see, the economy we have is not viable in any sense, and so we set out the principles for a viable local and regional economy and suggest some positive policies that could be implemented to take us in the right direction.

In what follows our focus moves from level to level, from the local tothe global. This is inevitable given the issues we are discussing, that have local manifestations and global interconnections and causes. However, we have written from the perspective of the Greater Manchester region – often described as a City Region. The economy, society, and indeed ecology of this region is, as elsewhere, a historical product of human activity. It has changed over the years from a largely rural one, to an industrial urban one, to a de-industrialised and still urban one. And just as our city and region has changed over the years, it needs to change again to secure a viable economy, society and ecology. And again it can change as a result of human activity, consciously directed to ecological, social and economic well-being, not just for our people, but for the whole planet.

Finally, it should be clear that unlike standard approaches that emphasise competition in the global economy, we are not pursuing regional self interest, forgetting people in other regions and lands.

All regions need to adopt a relatively more self reliant approach, collaborating with each other to achieve that, to reduce the unhealthy type of interdependence that comes with globalisation.

This pamphlet is not the end of the story. Steady State Manchester will be working on the implications of the model we present for various sectors of our society and economy, collaborating with others in that ambitious task.

The mess we’re in

We really are in an economic, social and ecological mess. Some aspects of this are particularly bad in our city and in the UK, but many of the dimensions are found worldwide, a result of the domination – the colonisation – of people and planet by the capitalist system.

The economic mess

We have an economy that is subject to the shocks that arise from its dependence on endless growth, its continual accumulation. Thatmakes it unsustainable, in its own economic terms: a system whose ‘design’ is to continually increase capital meets contradictions that are then addressed by a series of ‘fixes’ (of which both Keynesian demand-management and the neoliberal curtailment of hard won social dividends1 are examples) that only postpone further contradictions leading to further crashes. Indeed, stagnation has haunted the economy since the 1970s. However the belief that growth is essential makes it difficult for us to imagine that we can live well without it. Economic justice (let alone economic democracy2)  is forever postponed, marginalised or reduced in the futile attempt to stoke up the accumulative process as we can see
with current austerity policies. In the period from 1945 until the
1970’s, a State-moderated capitalism succeeded in raising the
standard of living of a relatively large proportion of people,
especially in Western countries. But real incomes have declined in
the West since then, and while many in the majority world have
escaped poverty, others have become increasingly poor. However
promoters of economic growth continue to believe that where there
is growth, prosperity will trickle down, as crumbs from the table of
the advantaged. The consequences include increasing inequality,
instability and repeated crises, the increasing difficulty of controlling
corporate actions, and while the division of labour accelerates,
there is with no benefit in terms of reduced working hours. And just
as Margaret Thatcher advocated, the ‘economic’ comes to dominate
social thinking and decision-making, with politics, and even culture,
reduced to economic activity, with the emphasis on profit and the
free market.

The social mess
The social mess stems from the economic mess. Some of Its
signature characteristics include social exclusion, both of social
groups and whole geographical areas3
, the dissatisfaction with
everyday life (that according to some studies ceased improving in
the richer countries in the mid 1960s4
, and is higher in the UK than
in places with far lower material prosperity), the disengagement of
people from the political process, and the shift over the last few
decades from identities that were more collective, interconnected
and co-operative to ones that are more individual, fragmented and
apolitical. This is manifest apparent in both personal and collective
‘ill-being’, with widespread feelings of pointlessness and insecurity,
and high levels of stress, anxiety disorders, depression and
addictions. Rising inequality in turn creates rising levels of
insecurity and most worrying, a lack of social solidarity – the very
basis for our shared life. Indeed it is perhaps no surprise that words
such as ‘conviviality’, ‘solidarity’ or ‘stewardship’ can sound quaint,
of another time and place.

The ecological mess

Finally, but ultimately even more distressing, is the state of extreme ecological malaise. By ‘ecological’ we mean not just the living systems of the earth but also its geophysical dimensions of water, atmosphere and minerals and the systems that connect them to one another with the mediation of the earth’s life-forms (hence carbon, water, phosphorous and other cycles). It is all these systems that are being progressively destroyed, as a direct consequence of human ‘economic’ activity, whereby our ecological footprint by far exceeds the available carrying capacity of the planet: that’s the real deficit. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) most recent report has shown, it is ‘good old’ economic growth that is responsible for the most immediately threatening increases in greenhouse gas emissions that threaten runaway global warming5. And climate change is just one of the ‘planetary boundaries’ that humanity is crossing, or approaching6.

That then is the nature of the problem. Our conception of the viable economy is not something we have just dreamed up, but a way of bringing together a number of streams of thinking7 and practice into a coherent framework.

2) What is the Viable Economy?

While our title is The Viable Economy, we are just as concerned with the cultural and political sphere. Indeed we promote not just an alternative economics but a critique of ‘economic rationality’ 8, the dominance of the economy and of the domination of economic criteria in determining government policy and law, as well as the practices and policies of more local actors. For this reason we do indeed use terms like solidarity, conviviality and stewardship to identify and promote an alternative set of values and principles for a seamless economic, social, political, cultural and ecological framework, which we call here the Viable Economy.

Key features of the Viable Economy:

Economically viable

An economy that is resilient in the face of bubbles, crashes, supply chain interruptions and the whim of National governments.
More money staying local and more democratic and local control over savings and investment.
An economy that delivers (and measures) what we need rather than growth for growth’s sake.
A balanced economy without the hyper-development of some sectors (e.g. financial speculation, armaments).
An economy that does not have to keep expanding, although where some sectors will grow,(e.g. renewable energy) and some must shrink (e.g. fossil fuels).
Where needed investment comes from within rather than from exploitation of other peoples or as profit-seeking from external investors.

Socially viable

Control over the economy rather than the economy controlling us.
An economy that relies on and builds equality, solidarity and cooperation among people, here and elsewhere.
An economy that rather than increasing inequality, progressively becomes more equitable.
Less exploitation of the majority world while keeping open channels for communication and learning globally.
An economy founded on stewardship of human and social capital, that does not waste people’s energies and talents, that includes everyone.
With an increased space for non-commercial transactions: the collaborative or solidarity economy.

Ecologically viable

Radically reducing both the exploitation of finite resources and the emission of pollutants, including greenhouse gases: a one-planet economy.
Based on production and consumption for need: a frugal abundance.
More security for us all because the environment is protected from further destruction.
Resilient to climactic and other ecological shocks.
An economy that practices stewardship of the natural world that we depend.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:
1 Davies, W. (2012) The making of neoliberalism. Renewal: a journal of social democracy http://bit.ly/1gLcgjH

2 Economic democracy places economic decision-making, not solely with property owner, shareholders and managers but with a wider group of people with stakes in the economy including workers, custom-ers, suppliers and citizens, for example through workers co-ops, employee ownership, participatory budgeting, and consultation on strategic economic policies.

3 Lone, A., & Silver, D. (2014). White Working Class Communities in Manchester. New York: Open Society Foundations. http://bit.ly/1xoRafl

4 New Economics Foundation. (2004). Chasing Progress: Beyond measuring economic growth. nef. http://bit.ly/1wewa7

5 IPCC http://report.mitigation2014.org/spm/ipcc_wg3_ar5_summary-for
policymakers_approved.pdf page 8

6 Rockström, J., Steffen, W., Noone, K., Persson, Å., Chapin, F. S., Lambin, E. F., Lenton, T. M., et al. (2009). A safe operating space for humanity. Nature, 461(7263), 472–475.
doi:10.1038/461472a

7 These strands include Ecological Economics, Keynesian economic theory, the post-Marxist critique of political economy, decolonial and liberation theory, critical social policy, cultural studies and permacultural thinking. However we also use more orthodox approaches, for example those from welfare economics and law to support our analyses.

8 Gorz, A. (2010). Critique of Economic Reason. London: Verso. Before the widespread adoption of the label “neoliberalism”, “economic rationalism” was term used in Australia to refer to that intellectual and policy framework.

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One Response to The Viable Economy serialised – the first two sections

  1. Pingback: Malmö: re-imagining the city | Uncommontater

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