What’s not to like about CounterCoin ?

What’s not to like about CounterCoin

Flyer for the Countercoin Challenge

Flyer for the Countercoin Challenge


by Carolyn Kagan

(The second of two pieces about CountercoinThe first by Mike Riddell set out the basic philosophy and reported on the event that Carolyn mentions below.)

There are some great things happening in the Potteries and Newcastle-Under-Lyme – couldn’t they happen in Greater Manchester too?

I spent a day in Newcastle-under-Lyme at the Cultural Squatter’s community café taking part in The CounterCoin Challenge

Captain CounterCoin who drummed up interest in the streets with Narina Stead who runs the café

We were making CounterCoins out of clay that had been donated by local supplier Valentine Clays to raise awareness of CounterCoin and the part they might play in regenerating town centres and contributing to sustainable communities.

Making countercoins

It was uplifting to see and hear about the enthusiasm local people have for essentially linking a community volunteer reward scheme with resources that might otherwise go to waste. Businesses are starting to join the scheme which will expand the things that CounterCoin can be used for.

What exactly is CounterCoin?

CounterCoin is an innovative scheme which rewards community volunteers for time they spend making a positive contribution to the community – any work, in fact, that benefits society and/or promotes good citizenship.

How does it differ from other schemes?

It is different from timebanks and LET schemes, which also recognise voluntary work, as it is not about sharing and trading between members of the scheme, instead it is about enabling community volunteers to use businesses and services that would otherwise go to waste.

It is different from town Pounds (such as the Bristol, Brixton, Totnes, Lewes Pounds) which can also be spent in local businesses and services, as it has no value beyond what a business or service will offer. It is not linked to the money system in any way. CounterCoin cannot be bought and cannot accumulate as money does. If a business collects CounterCoin, they can simply return them to the body that issued them.

It is different from local discount schemes (such as TagItOn) which also encourage local spending, because it is clearly linked to excess resources and community volunteering and not just to using local shops and services, although the local aspect is built in to the CounterCoin model.

It is different from other volunteer reward schemes, (such as Tempo Time Credits ( also known as Spice ) which has national as well as a local spending opportunities on routine goods and services, and is not specifically linked to excess community resources) or school volunteer reward schemes such as Vivo Class as there is no commercial link to a company providing rewards and very clear emphasis on local businesses.

It is different from the corporate social responsibility work of local businesses where they engage in a range of different activities, usually over and above and often quite different from their usual business activities. Instead it seeks to enable businesses to use spare goods and services in return for community volunteering.

If it is not any of these things, what is it?

CounterCoin explicitly links time spent in community volunteering with spare or excess resources in local businesses and services, which would otherwise be unused or go to waste.

Some examples might illustrate the idea.

A cinema sells tickets for a show but has some spare seats which are unused. This space is wasted. The film is being shown, the cinema heated but there are empty seats. At no cost to the cinema, these seats cold be filled through customers part-paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community, so that only the balance is paid in cash. For example, the cinema could sell of £6 seats not purchased an hour before the screening for £2 plus 4 CounterCoin.  That way they are increasing their audience, improving the atmosphere in the cinema and increasing revenues by £2 in a manner which hasn’t devalued the price of a seat for the regular cinema-goers.

A bowling alley is quiet in the afternoon. The lanes are empty, the place is heated and the lights are on. The empty space is wasted. At no cost to the bowling alley, these lanes could be filled through customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community. Indeed by buying drinks and food, and by part-paying in CounterCoin these customers would add revenue to the bowling alley.

A butcher’s shop has some unsold meats at the end of the day that cannot be kept for another day. They would either be thrown out or sent for animal feed. At no cost to the butcher, this meat could be made available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community. Indeed this might increase future footfall to the Butcher and increase their local reputation.

A cake shop has some cakes left unsold at the end of the day. At no cost to the cake company these cakes could be made available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.

A bus company is running a service from X to Y. There are empty seats on the bus. This space is wasted as the bus is running anyway, is being heated and lighted anyway. At no cost to the bus company, these seats could be filled through customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.

A newsagent has some unsold newspapers that will have to be returned for recycling (a process which uses further resources). By agreement with the publishers, at no cost to the newsagent or publishers (in fact a saving, as the recycling costs would not be incurred) the newsagent could make the spare papers available to customers paying in CounterCoin they have got through spending time volunteering in the community.

In all of these examples, businesses and services are using their spare resources and capacity to reward community volunteering. And community volunteering is rewarded by being able to choose to gain access to goods or services.

So, there is no cost to the redeeming businesses and often a saving of disposal of unsold goods or even an increase in footfall and reputation as a result of being a part of the scheme.

The following diagram summarises how CounterCoin Works.

Why was CounterCoin invented?

CounterCoin was established to do three things:

  1. Help increase the sense of self-worth and confidence of local volunteers by valuing what they do and thereby helping them, where possible, along the pathway into employment;
  2. Enable businesses to extend the contribution they make to their communities whilst increasing both footfall and revenues;
  3. Reduce waste and use spare capacity, thereby bringing about a more sustainable and inclusive local economy.

The idea initially was to increase the vitality of areas which had become socially and economically depressed over a number of years, with high levels of unemployment and a weakened community spirit.

In practice, how does it work?

Charities and community groups who take on and support volunteers issue CounterCoin. It enables them to attract and retain more volunteers and thus helps them raise awareness and promote their activities, and to achieve their objectives.

Businesses and services can choose which goods or services they supply as rewards –the provision of perishable goods which might otherwise go to waste, or perhaps use up spare capacity; or it may be in part payment for goods on sale. They can accept payment wholly in CounterCoin or part in cash, part in CounterCoin. There is no cost to business and often a saving. Most importantly, it enables them to use up resources and capacity that would otherwise remain unused.

Businesses and services will be able to demonstrate their engagement with the local community at no (or very little) cost. Awareness of their offering will increase and footfall will rise. Instead of selling off surplus capacity at a discount, CounterCoin will enable businesses to increase turnover in a manner that has not devalued the product.

Communities will benefit in three ways. Firstly through the increased volunteering on activities that are of community benefit. Secondly on an increased use of local businesses and services. Thirdly through the clear support for local community building demonstrated by participating businesses and services. Further than this, though, the CounterCoin project in Newcastle-u-Lyme and the six towns of Longton, Hanley, Burslem, Stoke, Tunstall and Fenton is already a tale of widespread community engagement. Local school pupils and their teachers, a range of local people, artists, and local businesses have all been involved in designing, creating and making both the CounterCoin stamps (different ones for each town) and the CounterCoins themselves, as well as publicising the scheme. (See the video made by high school students ). To do this they have discussed and thought about the matter of wasted resources, and the roles that volunteering and business play in creating and sustaining strong communities. More than any lectures on climate change, and localising the economy, or admonishments that we have to live differently, a sound awareness of these matters has emerged from involvement with CounterCoin. As someone said to me ‘my life will never be the same after CounterCoin’.

Volunteers will benefit, not only from the voluntary activities they engage in, but in gaining goods and services they might otherwise not be able to afford. The incentives to build enough CounterCoin to spend, may mean that they do more volunteering which in turn increases their confidence and skills, helping those of working age into paid employment. There will be an increase in the number of groups who can use volunteers which will help to ensure that older people and those living with long term health or disabling conditions are not isolated and lonely.

So, what’s not to like about CounterCoin? What would it take to start a CounterCoin in Greater Manchester?

An active community group or social enterprise, established to addresses local problems or enhance the community in some way would simply have to set up a local governance board to begin issuing CounterCoin. They would issue them to their volunteers who participate in activities addressing these issues in their communities.

Backbone support can be provided to help the group develop commercial partnerships with the shops, venues and transport providers that the community themselves have identified as having unused resources and being of interest to volunteers. The best way to think about this is as a revenue share model which incentivises both parties to work together for mutual commercial and community benefit, at no cost to either. Contact CounterCoin via the CounterCoin website , via Twitter @counter­­_coin or via Steady State Manchester for more information about the scheme and the support that can be offered.

Further resources

Twitter: @CounterCoin

Recent Blog on the role CounterCoin might play in place management: http://blog.placemanagement.org/2018/09/26/countercoin/

Guardian article about CounterCoin https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/may/09/shopping-centre-currency-hope-newcastle-under-lyme

You Tube video introducing CounterCoin


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CounterCoin’s continual experimentation towards The Viable Economy

The first of two pieces on Countercoin In this one Mike Riddell (of CounterCoin Community Club Limited, Hometown Plus Limited and Steady State Manchester) reports on the Countercoin Challenge event held last week in Newcastle u Lyme.  Next up is Carolyn Kagan’s report on the event with more detail about what the scheme does.

For those unfamiliar with CounterCoin, it is a volunteer reward scheme that incentivises and recognises community action and volunteering. It was launched in partnership with the YMCA North Staffs on June 18 2017, and has already achieved a lot with the support of 24 organisations and 140 individuals working together as a team. In aggregate, over 15,000 hours of social capital have been invested into the project. This continues to rise every week.

CounterCoin believes that cooperative values and principles really are the key to securing The Viable Economy – one in which everyone is pulling in the same direction. And what we are doing here in Stoke we hope will eventually benefit everyone who shares our vision for a healthier, wealthier and happier world.

CounterCoin believes in showing the world what The Viable Economy looks like. We are people who ‘show’, not ‘tell’.

In the context of migrating towards the Viable Economy in a very practical sense, we would like to thank everyone who made Wednesday the 21st November such a special day. We were blown over by the way the people from Newcastle and the six towns of Stoke on Trent embraced the “The CounterCoin Challenge”. Many congratulations to the winner which was the Co-operative Academy in Burslem which on the day made 837 clay coins…

schoolchildren with their countercoins

Pupils from the The Co-operative Academy of Stoke-on-Trent with some Countercoins

…but in truth everyone was a winner on the day. (Photo credit: Stoke Sentinel) And thanks particularly to Valentine Clays for providing the materials to make the coins on the day, and to Steady State Manchester for funding the t-shirts our volunteers wore on the day:

Narina and Roo with countercoins
Narina and Roo of Cultural Squatters were the Newcastle hosts (photo credit: Fee Wood)

To CounterCoin, The Viable Economy is one in which volunteers are rewarded for the work they do, where they feel valued and where their own sense of self worth increases every time they immerse themselves in the CounterCoin Experience. For six volunteers at Cultural Squatters (CounterCoin’s spiritual home) this philosophy has already provided them with a successful pathway to full employment, and all since it opened on May 1st.

A Viable Economy is also one in which social enterprises and charities can see how much easier it is to attract volunteers, promote their activities & achievements, and meet their financial sustainability objectives – sooner rather than later. It is one where they are able in a very practical sense, reduce their reliance on funding for which they have to compete with other charities in an outmoded commissioning process that hails from the Old Economy.

The Viable Economy is one in which local businesses have the opportunity to contribute to community action and volunteering at little or no cost, and secure in exchange the opportunity to promote their business, increase both footfall and their customer base and increase their revenues by selling off spare capacity for part cash part CounterCoin in a manner which does not devalue their product or service.

From the perspective of the public sector, The Viable Economy is one that continually invents new ways of cross-sector working that relieve the pressure on social services and helps take individuals off benefits because they too have found work that pays.

Overall, CounterCoin is aiming to develop a less wasteful and more sustainable, inclusive and resilient local economy.

What we would really like to see now is more and more people joining us – volunteers, social enterprises and most of all businesses – in helping to create a society that really does work for everyone.

Greater Manchester has given birth to many movements. But it’s time those movements discovered their common ground and joined forces as allies of Newcastle under Lyme and the Six Towns of Stoke on Trent, to show the rest of the world what can be achieved when community comes together and fights back. Please help bang the drum for CounterCoin with the message “We want you to help us to help you!!”

Our second piece (on Monday) will explore how Countercoin works.

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Better Buses in Greater Manchester.

We are pleased to republish an article that appeared in The Big Issue North, by Pascale Robinson, coordinator of the Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign. First though, we’d like to introduce it, in the context of our thinking on a viable Greater Manchester.

People with placards getting on a bus.

Campaigners, including some from Steady State Manchester, at the Better Buses launch.

Steady State Manchester is happy to back the Better Buses for Greater Manchester campaign. Why?

Firstly, environment and climate change: 29% of carbon dioxide emissions in our city come from transport. If we are to encourage the radical shift away from the private motor car that is needed, then, in addition to human powered travel over short distances (walking and cycling mainly), then there needs to be affordable and attractive shared transport between the places where people need to be. The current pattern of public transport in Greater Manchester is largely radial in nature – much better connections in and out of the centre than between suburban neighbourhoods. So a lot of people end up using private cars to go between places. The results are the noise, the crisis of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at levels far in excess of our share of what’s left of the global carbon budget to keep warming within minimally safe limits. Moreover the sheer number of cars, as well as causing congestion, means that walking and cycling become unpleasant and often dangerous.

Secondly, economic and social justice: at present people with low incomes have to spend a considerable part of their income on transport. Public transport is costly (typically much more so than in comparable European cities) and since it doesn’t go where people need to be taken, people are often forced to run a car, a big drain on household budgets.

Bus regulation would be an essential first step in getting the kind of public transport system that would meet these two goals of ecological and social justice. We would also like to see people travel less: working, playing and resting near home rather than wasting time being transported across the city would improve the liveability of the city, reduce costs and reduce environmental impacts. So while we support bus regulation, we want to see efforts made to restructure the city around liveable neighbourhoods that meet most of the functions people need. That won’t happen overnight, but economic, environmental and social factors mean we need to start the move in that direction and escape the treadmill of fossil-fuelled hypermobility.

Why don’t we just bring our buses into public control/hands?

Pascale Robinson                                                              Originally in Big IssueNorth                                                                                                          (thanks for permission to reproduce it)

Buses make up of 80% of public transport journeys in Greater Manchester.

They’re the backbone of our local economies, to our ability to access jobs and opportunity. When they’re unreliable, they hold us back. 37% of job seekers in Greater Manchester cited transport as one of the keys barriers to getting a job. That’s over a third of us not able to get our foot in the door.

So why isn’t our transport up to scratch? Why are our buses expensive, late and infrequent? Why aren’t our local transport authorities doing their job and setting up the infrastructure for us to live our lives?

The simple answer is the system currently doesn’t let most authorities run or have any oversight of bus networks.

Currently, most bus networks across the country, including Greater Manchester’s, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, are deregulated, except for a few pockets (where publicly owned buses companies exist). Bus companies only run the routes they want to, and they set the fares. Most think that it’s the local transport authorities that are in the driving seat, but actually the only time they can put on a bus service is when there is a big need and they have cash to offer to bus companies. They’re at the mercy of big bus companies, who run the profitable routes and take public money to foot the bill of other services. It’s against competition law for bus companies to cooperate, so you cannot have a smart ticket which lets you get on any bus or tram in one city, with a cap on daily spend that guarantees you’re getting the right price. We have a patchy, fragmented network which no one takes accountability for as a result.

And why would they want to cooperate on better services? Many bus companies hate the idea of a daily cap on spend, like you have with the oyster card in London. The system works well for them. Some 40% of bus companies revenue is public money. Shareholders of ‘the big five’ pocket £149 million a year on average, all while First raised fares last week in West Yorkshire and Leeds. There was an outpouring online, with one Leeds bus passenger saying ‘Absolute joke. No wonder people are preferring to drive rather than use public transport.’

This wildly inefficient use of public money is increasingly untenable, as government cuts to bus budgets mean there is less cash in the pot to offer socially necessary services.

So, what could we do instead? How can fix our buses and make bus companies accountable to us?

Regulation. Regulating a network basically means that one body, a local authority, have oversight of it, deciding the routes in advance, tendering out contracts to bus companies for a set amount of years. Authorities can use profits from busy routes to subsidise other routes, because they receive fare money, so all communities can have a bus service. Local authorities decide the timetables, pensions of drivers, maximum emissions that buses give out, what fares to charge, and more.

It’s pretty exciting, and Greater Manchester is one of the first authorities in the UK to consider it, which if successful, would set a precedent for others to follow.

Bus companies will tell you that everything can be achieved when you ‘work in partnership’. Partnerships will mean wi-fi on your buses. Partnerships are an alternative to regulation. We think they’re just not an option.

Why? Partnerships are voluntary agreements between bus companies and authorities, which bus companies themselves have to support for them to get through. This is not going to get us the bus system we as passengers and staff deserve. We need regulation.

Is it coincidence that under London’s regulated bus network, where Transport for London (accountable to the Mayor) runs the buses, they have one of the best bus networks in the world? Clean, reliable, frequent, and affordable. Is it coincidence that in the last five years alone Jersey’s regulated bus network has seen as 32% increase in passengers? All this while Greater Manchester has lost 8 million miles of bus route since 2010.

Why haven’t all these things that bus companies promise been done already? Are they worried about the reduced profit margins that regulation means?

Bus regulation is not a catchy slogan. However, regulated and deregulated bus networks are the difference between our access to jobs, services, and your loved ones. Regulated bus networks mean world class buses, one of the big ways we’ll achieve less congested cities with healthier air.

We need you on board to win this fight however. To call for regulated buses in Greater Manchester, which could set the precedent for all the UK to regulate, please sign the petition at www.betterbusesgm.org.uk

People and placards at the bus

ANother shot from the launch. Pascale is on the right of the picture.

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The degrowth niche: What does it mean for Steady State Manchester and a Viable Economy?

The degrowth niche: What does it mean for Steady State Manchester and a Viable Economy?

by James Scott Vandeventer                                                                         click for pdf version

Radical ideas and actions guide our work at Steady State Manchester as we advocate a better future for Greater Manchester. Our vision for a viable economy, and related policiesfor the Greater Manchester city-region, are informed by research and practice that challenge the dominance of economic growth, that embody social values such as cooperation, solidarity, and equality, and that promote stewardship for the planet. Among these influences on our work, the degrowth movement is gaining momentum as an alternative vision for the future. As it continues to develop, degrowth can and should continue to be an inspiration for Steady State Manchester and other groups that work toward a better future.

In a recently published journal article ‘A Degrowth Transition: Pathways for the Degrowth Niche to Replace the Capitalist-Growth Regime’, Claudio Cattaneo, Christos Zografos and myself argue that degrowth is a radical innovation to the current socio-economic system. Through an analysis of degrowth literature, we show how the field is developing over time and consider potential pathways it might follow into the future. We argue that degrowth is a niche – a small, relatively protected pocket of research and practice that is continuing to develop – and that it presents a compelling alternative to the dominant socio-economic system, what we call the ‘capitalist-growth regime.’ By understanding degrowth as a niche and how it is developing, Steady State Manchester and others can develop better ways for advancing our vision for the future.

This blog post will summarise the findings of our research, discuss two potential pathways into the future we identify, and comment on the relevance of this research for Steady State Manchester and our vision of a viable economy. I also include, for the visually inclined, some cool visualisations of degrowth research and citation networks.

The degrowth niche

To establish degrowth as a niche, my co-authors and I critically apply what is known as the multi-level perspective framework (Geels, 2004) and analyse degrowth literature to understand and visualise the dynamics of degrowth research. Because tables and charts can be terribly dry, I refer you to the article, (also available from author by request) for the full results of our analysis. Suffice it to say, the amount of publications and the citations of degrowth literature are both increasing over time, but there are a relative few number of authors both that are most frequently publishing degrowth research and that have highly-cited publications.

More interesting are the visualisations of degrowth literature. Below are few examples of those visualisations from 2008-2012, and 2008-2016. The first set shows co-authored research by geographic location of the authors. The second set shows authors that are often cited together in degrowth literature. In these latter two, the more that an author is cited alongside others – the more heavily they are relied on together – the larger their name appears. All visualisations are taken from the article (Vandeventer et al, 2019).

Geographic collaborations – 2008 to 2012


Geographic collaborations – 2008 to 2016

Authors frequently cited together in degrowth literature – 2008 to 2012

Authors frequently cited together in degrowth literature– 2008 to 2016

Our analysis shows how, in the degrowth literature, while there is an increase in the numbers of publications and citations, a relative few number of authors, including Giorgos Kallis, Joan Martínez-Alier and Francois Schneider, Joachim Spangenberg and Filka Sekulova, are most prolific. These works articulate core ideas of degrowth and set the vision and expectations for the field moving forward. The first set of visualisations show how many of these authors are based in Spain, but in recent years the dependence on researchers based in Spain (and specifically Barcelona) has given way to a multi-centred network of degrowth authors that is more geographically dispersed. In particular, hubs of research in England, Germany and USA are emerging. In our analysis, the development of degrowth is also clear through literature that considers degrowth in comparison to other visions for the future (such as steady state and sustainable development). These works reflect a critical exploration of the core elements of degrowth while maintaining an openness to new ideas and approaches. In the second set of visualisations, it is clear that authors are drawing on a range of historical scholarship (from authors such as Illich, Easterlin, Meadows and Castoriadis) to justify their critique of the capitalist-growth regime and, at the same time, engaging with contemporary literature both within and outside the degrowth publication network (including work by Jackson, Daly, Latouche, Fischer-Kowalski, Costanza, and others) to explore normative values and contemporary arguments and to relate them to degrowth. This narrative suggests degrowth is a dynamic and evolving field, but one that is becoming more cohesive. In fact, we suggest in the paper that this shows how degrowth is exhibiting characteristics of niche development according to the multi-level perspective. These include: the articulation of expectations and visions, building networks, and learning and articulation processes.

Looking ahead: pathways for change

Having established that degrowth is a niche, my co-authors and I lay out two potential pathways for change of the capitalist-growth regime. In both cases, significant pressures on the capitalist-growth regime lead it to severely de-stabilise, opening up opportunities for niches to step in. The paper explains these in more detail but, to summarise each pathway briefly, in the first – De/re-alignment pathway – involves collapse of the capitalist-growth regime and its subsequent re-alignment around degrowth as the new regime; in the second – what we call a Pluriversal pathway – following breakdown of the existing regime, degrowth becomes a model for some places, but a pluriverse of micro-regimes emerge that are relevant to local circumstances.

These pathways lead to significantly different outcomes, and the underlying logic behind each is likewise different. In the De/re-alignment pathway, niches compete until degrowth emerges as the preferred socio-economic system that hegemonically dominates the new regime everywhere. On the other hand, in the Pluriversal pathway, degrowth is symbiotic with other micro-regimes that are differentiated and do not compete for control of the socio-economic system. We consider this latter pathway more reflective of how human society organises itself – through cooperation, not ruthless, winner-take-all competition – and thus suggest degrowth ought to work toward this pathway for change.

What this means for Steady State Manchester and a viable economy

The argument that degrowth is a niche offers a compelling narrative about how degrowth is undergoing processes of development. By questioning the primacy of competition and introducing the possibility of cooperation, our paper opens up a discussion about processes of change not only for degrowth, but also for allies of the degrowth movement. Among these allies, we at Steady State Manchester and our vision of a viable economy could learn from the development of degrowth and a Pluriversal pathway for change.

First and foremost, we should continue to articulate our expectations for the future and our vision for a viable economy that is relevant to Greater Manchester. This should be adapted to contemporary changes, such as Brexit, the financialisation of housing in the city-region, and unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change. At the same time, we should continue to establish relationships with like-minded groups and individuals in the city-region with the aim to build a groundswell of support for the change we seek. In addition, we should learn from examples of success, such as the radical local government Barcelona en Comu or the participatory budgeting process in Brazilian cities, and also from other niche movements seeking change, such as the current work of Extinction Rebellion here in the U.K. Finally, the processes of articulating a viable economy for Greater Manchester should be informed by engaging with our members and allies, including those in the degrowth movement. By continuing our work and remaining guided by cooperation, we will help set the groundwork for a Pluriversal pathway as it becomes clear the capitalist-growth regime is destabilising and may be nearing collapse.

Based on this, there are some final considerations to think about moving forward. For one, how might a viable economy be different in other city-region contexts? What would be similar, what would be different, and what are the key local circumstances in determining the vision for a viable economy and kinds of policies to get there? A second consideration relates to engaging with other actors and institutions – what is the relevant scale, who can be legitimately considered an ally, and what key ‘anchor’ institutions should we focus on? Finally, how can a viable economy take concrete actions toward a Pluriversal pathway for change to the dominant capitalist-growth regime, and how does a viable economy envision the future socio-economic system of Greater Manchester?


I am grateful to Carolyn Kagan for comments on a draft of this post.


Geels, F. (2004). From sectoral systems of innovation to socio-technical systems: insights about dynamics and change from sociology and institutional theory. Research Policy, 33, pp. 897–920.

Vandeventer, J.S., Cattaneo, C. and Zografos, C. (2019). A Degrowth Transition: Pathways for the Degrowth Niche to Replace the Capitalist-Growth Regime. Ecological Economics 156, pp. 272-286.

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There’s a problem with New Green Deals

A Green Keynes? Not by himself!

The New Green Deal, or Green New Deal, idea is getting a lot of coverage. There are some good ideas there but serious flaws, and they demonstrate a kind of laziness of thought among some of the advocates.

A New Green Deal means expansion of the economy. That means more consumption, more imports, more waste, more material flows, more emissions.

This is a consequence of the Keynesian multiplier: and such expansion is the aim of the New Green Deal, the re-stimulation of the economy.

Another way to think about this is in terms of rebound. Think about on what people will spend their improved incomes. Yes, carbon intense goods and services.

Unless everything is produced in a zero carbon way, “green growth” means incrementing emissions, unless the shift to clean energy outweighs the carbon inputs to production, distribution and end of use pollution.

Moreover “growing the economy” generally means growing profits, that is, the share of value going to capital, to the already privileged and rich, rather than to those with less. The illusion of a rising tide (of income) obscures those in sinking boats (of wealth).

Going back to emissions, it seems a Green New Deal, or Green Growth (whilst they boost clean energy, insulation, etc.) can only help mitigate emissions if, and only if, there are resource caps & energy caps at the input side of the economy.

Similarly, the tendency to increase inequality requires a focused, pre-distributional policy framework.

So the Green New Deal paradoxically risks adding to the problems it set out to fix. Only with credible counter-strategies on resource/energy inputs (consumption by firms, the State, and citizens) and pre-distribution (basically that means socialising ownership), can it become an authentic solution to our predicament.

You might even say (though missing out a lot of subtleties and detail) that Green Keynesianism (for that’s what these New Green Deals are) needs strong doses of both ecological economics and Marxism.


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An economy that does not grow?

An economy that does not grow?

Mark H Burton

                                                                                                                                     pdf version

cover of S Lange, Macroeconomcs Without Growth - click for the publisher linkThere is now plenty of evidence that economic growth is highly problematic for human welfare and survival. The evidence comes from three domains. 1) The ecological: continual growth uses up the resources that supply and the sinks that take the waste from human activity globally. 2) The social: economic growth does not correlate well with human welfare and its supposed benefits, rather than being shared, become ever more concentrated at the top of the wealth and income pyramid. 3) The economic: economic systems that rely on perpetual growth are inherently unstable, and meet internal and external constraints (or contradictions) that undermine them.

While it may be clear that the wager on endless growth is a bad one, a more difficult question arises: “what would be the characteristics of an economy that does not grow?”.

In his book “Macroeconomics Without Growth1” Steffen Lange attempts to construct a framework for answering this question, rooted in the three main approaches to theorising the economy, hence the subtitle: “Sustainable Economies in Neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian Theories”. The book is a valuable contribution to the theory and practice of degrowth and provides a solid grounding for interventions in the policy arena, including those by political parties that seek to construct a coherent alternative, rather than a mishmash wish list of proposals. A strength of the book is its rigorous, formal analysis of the main theoretical approaches and what they say about the preconditions for growth, and the possibilities of zero growth.

As such the book extends to 583 pages, and the detail, with recourse to mathematical formulae to capture the various models and sub-models, will mean that many will not read it. The aim of this essay review, then, is to summarise the book, emphasising the synthesis reached by Lange, and suggesting a few issues that arise.

In search of the macroeconomics of post-growth.

Lange sets out to answer a specific research question, “which macroeconomic conditions lead to sustainable economies without growth?”, where “sustainable”, refers to environmental sustainability, social welfare and economic stability.

The problem

First, some clarification about the term “economic growth”. In everyday speech, and that includes that of politicians, journalists and other commentators, “economic growth” is typically used without definition. It can generally be assumed to mean growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at national level (and for groupings of countries when added together), or Gross Value added (GVA) when used for sub-national economies. It will generally be corrected for changes in prices over time, and for country to country comparisons, corrections are made for population and for some purposes, for local prices: there are methodological choices made ,and controversies about, such corrections. However, “economic growth” might also refer to growth in incomes, or to growth in the material aspects of the economy, that is to say, the volume of products made or consumed. These distinctions are important since the discussion to follow does concern the relations between GDP growth and change in the volume of materials and energy that flows through the economy, and the extent to which it comes out at the other end as pollution. However, for most purposes, it can be assumed that in most non-technical discussions, it is GDP or GVA that is meant by “economic growth”. GDP does, however, correlate well with the material flows of an economy (as evidenced, for example in carbon emissions). In scholarly work, the terms are more usually defined when used.

Lange begins his book with an overview of the key issues for the macroeconomic dynamics of growth. Central to this is the debate over decoupling of GDP growth from environmental impacts (on resources and sinks). The growth advocates suggest that because GDP measures aggregate value rather than material flows, change in one need not follow the other. Moreover, it is often argued that growth is needed to fund the investments needed to reduce emissions and to substitute for unsustainable resources. The growth critics argue that such decoupling between GDP growth and material flows is unlikely to be achieved at the levels needed to mitigate the damage.

Lange explores these issues in detail, bringing in the relevant economic concepts. He then identifies the existing alternative approaches, broadly Daly and collaborators’ Steady State Economy, the European continental Degrowth literature, Prosperity and Managing Without Growth in the work of Victor and Jackson, and from the German language literature, Postwachstum. While these approaches do use concepts from ecological, Keynesian, and Marxian economics, Lange notes that they are not generally based within a macroeconomic framework, one that seeks to understand how the economy as a whole behaves. They also do not draw on the dominant neoclassical approaches. The result is the “research gap” that he identifies:

… a lack of research on conditions for economies without growth based on well-established, comprehensive, macroeconomic frameworks” (pp. 29-30).

Three theoretical approaches

The heart of the book is a detailed exploration of neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxist economics, asking how they understand economic growth and its drivers, whether a non-expanding economy can be envisaged within each framework. In doing this there is a particular focus on the interplay between technological change, money, investment, profit, expenditures by different sectors, consumption and labour productivity.

Each of the three paradigms, neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxist, is itself diverse and Lange, even in such a long text, is necessarily selective. This is particularly the case with the Marxist contributions where he only focuses on Marx’s classical account and the monopoly capitalism revision associated with Baran and Sweezy and authors associated with Monthly Review (and the Marxist ecological economics also associated with this current)2. Nevertheless, there is sufficient material for him to extract key ideas from the three paradigms and it is these that inform his conclusions, the focus of the next section. The surprising finding is that from each of the three paradigms (and their variants), the preconditions of an economy without growth can be extracted.

A model of sustainable economies without growth.

Where the book is particularly helpful is in the closing chapters. Here, on the basis of his investigation, Lange synthesises an overall macroeconomic model of an economy without growth. Because that is likely to be of most interest to a majority of readers, I’ll set this out here. Inevitably, this misses out many subtleties and steps in the argument. As you will see, the implications of Lange’s review are not a matter of minor tinkering but indicate the need for a major overhaul of the economic system.

Overall description

Design features

An economy that does not grow has the following overall characteristics.

  • Firms are collectively owned: collective ownership discourages large retained revenues which would drive capital accumulation and marketing.

  • Increases in revenues and in labour productivity maintain high wages, and/or improve working conditions and reduce working hours.

  • These firms sell their products within a market that is subject to the following rules and regulations.

    • There are strong environmental policies such as strict limits on the exploitation of natural resources and strong environmental taxes.

    • The government acts to reduce the non-wage costs of employment while increasing the cost of energy, natural resources and physical capital (buildings, production plant etc.).

    • Policies prevent economies of scale and favour diseconomies of scale – for example by increasing transport costs, favouring small firms and local infrastructures.

    • The sales function is strictly regulated, including strict regulation of advertising and built in obsolescence and new features.

    • Policies such as incentives and regulations support the reduction in working hours.

On the supply side of the economy, production levels are constant, gross investments only occur at the level of capital depreciation, technological change is re-directed to clean production, and working hours reduce. Note that firms have no incentives to invest above the rate of capital depreciation because of the pressures to stay small and local (diseconomies of scale). Firms are incentivised to improve resource efficiency. Increases in labour productivity are modest, because energy and other resources are expensive. Any increases in productivity go towards the reduction of working hours: collective ownership militates against dismissals while people prefer increasing leisure rather than increasing income.

On the demand side, private consumption and government expenditure stays at a constant level and shifts from dirty (i.e. environmentally damaging) to clean products. Personal and household consumption stays static because incomes are not increasing and “the sales effort has been largely repealed”. Government spending stays static since it is not needed to expand employment. Private and State consumption shifts towards cleaner products because the ensemble of production factors in this economy makes them relatively cheaper. Moreover, political attitudes favour cleaner products.

With regard to money, there are no savings and no continuous expansion of accumulated assets by any sector or grouping. This is the result of zero net investments. Without growth, asset accumulation by one group would require the accumulation of debt by another. The lack of accumulation is achieved through low economic inequality, redistributive government policies and banking system regulation.


These conditions lead to the following outcomes for the economy as a whole.

  1. Because aggregate demand and supply stay constant over time, there is zero growth.

  2. Pollution (i.e. including emissions) decreases because production stops growing and technological innovation is directed towards emission reductions and due to shifts from low labour, high emission (i.e. dirty) products to low emission, high labour (i.e. cleaner) ones.

  3. Wealth inequality is low because the ownership of firms is distributed, shared, across the population.

  4. Income inequality is low since wages are the only source of income (i.e. there is no accumulation of assets that then generate income as interest, dividends or rent).

  5. The economy overall is stable because employment levels are kept high and there is no instability arising from the money system.


Lange is clear that there are limitations to his work. Firstly, the analysis is for closed economies. We know that the current circuits of extraction-production-distribution-consumption-pollution are global in nature. They involve massive power and wealth imbalances – Western economies have rested for at least 200 years on the exploitation of resources, labour and markets in poorer countries. Moreover, a country attempting to move to a no-growth model would have to deal with the instabilities and pressures arising from the tendency of other economies to grow and the interdependence of national economies in global markets.

This leads onto the second shortcoming: there is, as Lange points out, only sporadic treatment of political economy, the interrelation between power, as politics and economics. The dominant system of power actively maintains the present capitalist growth economy and, as he acknowledges, it has to be confronted and itself transformed if there is to be any real change.

Many of these policies stand in conflict with the interests of strong social groups. In particular, the interests of the capitalist class … or oligarchy.. These groups would lose major parts of economic wealth and income and the ability to accumulate capital…. Strong social movements and alliances between different (in particular the labour, environmental and feminist) movements are the most plausible manner to implement these conditions anyhow.” (p. 537).

Thirdly, and related to the previous point, the policy dimensions are presented in relatively abstract terms rather than as “oven ready policies” that a government might be able to implement. As a macroeconomic account, the book does not concern itself with the vital question of who implements the implied changes to the system: what is the balance between top-down and poplar, bottom-up system reform, for example?

A fourth shortcoming is the limited consideration of land as a unique and finite resource. Countries are, by definition, defined by a delimited geographical area, which is differentially valued and valuable based on relative location (i.e. land in the City of London versus land in rural Yorkshire have different relative values). Indeed, the extent to which the economics of land as a unique factor of production, or as a “fictitious commodity” is lacking in most macroeconomic theories3.

However, these shortcomings do not detract from the achievement of the book which is to produce a coherent and theoretically pluralistic macroeconomic account of the preconditions for an economy that does not (have to) grow.  It puts more flesh on the bones of the steady-state / post growth economy (something we try to explore and promote at the regional scale), showing that it is a feasible option, although it will be very different in almost every respect, from the economic system we know today.  It will be a valuable tool for those working out the detail of the necessary transition to a post-growth society, and economy and for those, in multiple sectors, struggling to bring it about.

I am grateful to James Vandeventer for comments and suggestions on a draft of this review.

This article is now also available at Resilience.org

pdf version

1 Lange, S. (2018). Macroeconomics without growth: sustainable economies in neoclassical, Keynesian and Marxian theories. Marburg: Metropolis-Verlag. See http://www.metropolis-verlag.de/Macroeconomics-Without-Growth/1298/book.do;jsessionid=D57C51C17FAA0E4D72B788EB9B71301C

2 Baran, P. A., & Sweezy, P. M. (1966). Monopoly capital : an essay on the American economic and social order. New York: Monthly Review.
Bellamy Foster, J., Clark, B., & York, R. (2011). The Ecological Rift: Capitalism’s War on the Earth. New York: New York University Press / Monthly Review Press.

3 To introduce this issue does not mean we are saying that all value stems from land.

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Does ecological sustainability mean the end of growth and capitalism?

FLyer for the eventOn Sunday 4th November, people from Manchester and beyond packed a lecture theatre at the University of Manchester to hear a debate titled “Is Capitalism Unsustainable?”, organised by the University’s Political Economy Centre.  The speakers were local climate scientist Kevin Anderson, MEP and “green economist” Molly Scott Cato, ecological economist and political ecologist Giorgos Kallis and Economist Robert Pollin.  Kallis and Pollin participated by video link from Barcelona and Massachusetts, respectively.  The title was maybe a bit misleading since a lot of the discussion was about the economic strategies for dealing with the climate emergency, but inevitably this is also about the dilemma of green growth versus degrowth and the future of the capitalist system.  It was rather ironic that it took the non-economist on the panel to explain most clearly how the present economic system of endless growth and grossly unequal accumulation must be confronted head on if there is to be any chance of averting this crisis.

Below is an analysis of the debate by Peter Somerville, a Manchester resident and academic at the University of Lincoln.  He and I have also written a longer critique (available on request) of Pollin’s recent article in New Left Review which promotes the green growth idea.
I agree with most of what he says, though I think the debate between growth and degrowth is still relevant.  In a question from the floor, Beth Stratford made an interesting point that perhaps the only way to make green growth work is via resource and energy caps – i.e. legislating to restrict the flow of finite and polluting resources into the economy.  Such an innovation, not a very likely prospect maybe, could transcend the degrowth – green growth debate.  I also disagree with Peter’s final comment on the “who is greenest?” game: people in positions of influence and leadership really do need to take the high moral ground and model actions and lifestyles that are resource-light, such as refusing to fly.
Mark H Burton

Some comments on ‘Is Capitalism Unsustainable?
Peter Somerville

There were problems with both the conduct and content of this debate. On the conduct side, each speaker presented their case reasonably well (although unfortunately, I couldn’t follow what Bob Pollin was saying, at least initially, because of the poor quality of the video link, and they tended to speak too quickly and cover too much ground in the time). After the presentations, however, the Chair tried to get the presenters to ‘debate’ (as she put it), and they responded largely by repeating themselves while also managing to stray away from the question. In the end, none of the speakers managed to define either capitalism or sustainability.

Bob Pollin and Molly Scott-Cato both argued for some kind of green new deal, though from slightly different perspectives (social democratic and environmentalist, respectively). Molly saw ‘sustainable investment’ as the way forward (better than taxes, caps, etc), and argued that this could be done on a non-profit basis. She did not elaborate but, knowing Molly of old, I suspect this will involve co-operatives of some kind. Not only is this approach perfectly compatible with capitalism, but Molly also did not explain how it could possibly achieve a transition to a zero carbon world (or biodiversity or the non-exhaustion of key minerals). So Molly managed to fudge not only the issue of whether capitalism is sustainable but also the issue of sustainability itself – clearly a consummate politician!

Bob was more specific than Molly on the nature of green investment, and on this he made some useful points (which are developed in his article in New Left Review). He was less clear, however, about how his green new deal would keep fossil fuels in the ground. I think probably everyone would agree with him that a just transition must include effective redeployment of fossil fuel workers, but such redeployment presumes that fossil fuel industries will first be decommissioned, and Bob was less clear about how this might be achieved. He believed that capitalism was sustainable but was not so forthcoming on the nature of capitalism and preferred to talk about ‘growth’.

Much of the session was taken up with an old debate on ‘growth versus de-growth’, which sadly were never defined. Consequently, none of the speakers distinguished between material growth/de-growth and value growth/de-growth. Marx taught us long ago that capitalism is based on capital as self-expanding value, and capitalist production exploits labour to produce commodities that have both (abstract) value and (concrete) use-value. In value terms, such production involves an expansion in socially necessary labour time. If this is what is meant by growth, then Bob is right to the extent that all capitalisms including green capitalism involve growth, because green industries are more labour-intensive – under capitalism more labour produces more value. This growth of value, however, is not the same as the growth of material output, which can be measured in terms of increase in the use of matter and energy. Historically, capitalism has indeed been associated with such material growth, but it is by no means clear that this has to be so forever. As Giorgos Kallis said, green industries tend to have lower technical productivity (that is, less material output per unit of labour) than fossil-fuel industries, so a transition to a low-carbon economy could involve real material de-growth. Giorgos seemed to want an end to capitalism, anyway, so it is possible that for him de-growth has both material and value forms.

Kevin Anderson clearly believed that capitalism was unsustainable but his proposed solution, namely the expropriation of global wealthy elites, global redistribution of wealth and income, and more or less permanent austerity, did not seem realistic, at least not on the time scale now required. Unfortunately also, this agenda seemed to get mixed up with a tiresome ‘greener than thou’ game, where people compete to see who can big themselves up the most for their sustainable behaviour (while beating others up for their unsustainable behaviour). This seems a poor substitute for a proper debate on the role of personal behaviour change in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

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Why is the GM Spatial Framework delayed?

aerial view Stakehill area, Middleton

Stakehill area, Middleton. Image capture from googlemaps

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has announced that the launch of a redrafted Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) has again been delayed.  Here’s why.

1) GMCA now thinks 175,000 houses could be built on available land.  Most of this is  “brownfields” sites but some is on Green Belt [see note 1 below].
2) The Office for National Statistics, ONS, now says Greater Manchester will need 140,000 new homes by 2035.
3) Even in the original GMSF, it was tstated that 72% of new homes would be on brownfields. That gave a figure of 163,584.  That’s still bigger than the ONS projection of  140,000. 
This means that on these projections (not forecasts), GMCA could meet housebuilding needs without taking any Greenbelt.  GMCA has since improved its identification of brownfield sites.
4) That means that If ONS are right, there will be no need to build housing on the Green Belt.
5) But government is going to publish a new methodology for calculating house building targets: we don’t know what inflated numbers will be in that [see note 2].
6) So GMCA are both surprised and puzzled, having already quietly reduced their house building assumption from 227,200, the figure published in the GMSF, to 200,000.  That’s why they’ve bounced it back to central government, asking for clarification.  That’s why there is a delay, although there also reports of disagreements between the Mayor (who wants to avoid green belt build as much as possible) and some local council leaders, who want to build more.
Also bear in mind that,
7) Brownfield sites include a variety of spaces.  Some have been unoccupied for so long that nature has re-possessed them; they have become nature reserves, amenity spaces, greenfields in the urban area. Plans to build on these (Pomona Island, Rye Bank Fields, Nutsford Vale, for example) have already produced resistance.  Our view is that when global ecological, climate, economic and social systems collapse, we will need green space close at hand to feed ourselves (see point 9, below).  Rather than increasing the amount of built environment we need to look for a completely different model: one where we retrofit a green, convivial, and economically viable (in our terms, not those of corporate interests) economy into the existing space of the city region.  However, former industrial sites will need careful evaluation, just as they would for housing, schools, and so on, given the history of industrial uses and contamination risks.
8) The GMSF utilised a work of fiction called the Accelerated Growth Strategy, produced, without any transparency as to methodology, by a company called Oxford Economics. This had staggeringly high, and unprecedented figures for economic growth (which we and others refuted at the time), from which needs for housing and industrial (warehouse sheds mainly) builds were derived (we don’t know how).
9) Meanwhile, the IMF is saying there is very likely to be another global recession, the IPCC says that climate catastrophe is on its way (and nothing much is being done to avert it), and Brexit has also reduced “growth” projections (which is why the ONS figures have reduced).  So these grand plans really do need a more humble rethink.

1. The 175,000 figure for available land comes from the “submitted sites” here: https://mappinggm.org.uk/call-for-sites/… and it DOES include a number of greenbelt sites. The quality of the data on this map (and spreadsheet https://mappinggm.org.uk/…/170920-Call-for-sites-All… ) is not high . You have to trawl through a lot of free text comments to see references to Green Belt / Green Fields, so it needs a lot of work, and local knowledge, to make sense of it.

2. Since the government is promoting the myth that the housing crisis is due to a lack of supply (it helps them avoid tackling root causes like benefits-austerity and sky high house prices), and they like a stick to beat local government, we can certainly expect continued pressure to build more.

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