Time to Say Goodbye – Again

Thank you, Auke, for publishing it: Time to say Goodbye. Again.
It links well to the first Time to say Good-bye.

I got several responses to it, to posting the text via e-mail, one speaking of

big decision [towards] more power … for being true to yourself

It is somewhat sad that ‘being oneself’ needs big decisions, and cannot be taken for granted everywhere and for everybody.

Growth and Development

Background notes for the EuroMemo conference 2012 in Poznan

I.

In the discussion of growth we face some fundamental problems, emerging from principle tensions.

*        We are living in a capitalist system which is ultimate point of reference and its functioning basic condition when it comes today to searching security and improvement of living conditions.

*        However, exactly this ‘productive order’ is for many of us questionable – one of the reasons that is at this point of special relevance is the structural limitation of a one-sided understanding of the goal: it is the concern with living conditions in a limited, individualised understanding, not allowing a wider understanding of social conditions of life. Perhaps we should go a step further by simply speaking of social life itself.

II.

*        Accumulation is against this background a double-edged sword: on the one hand it is a ‘structural condition and goal’ of the capitalist order;

*        on the other hand, however, it is the permanent accumulation that causes a move away from the actual process of production although it remains depending on production as ultimate condition.

III.

*        Development and growth finds within this system its primary goal in the means of production as means of accumulation – independent of the meaning for the life of producers (working and living conditions). As such, accumulation becomes an empty shell, having lost all substance. Most visible signs are the process by which the different elements of the overall productive process, in particular the emergence of a seemingly independent financial sector are gaining independence from each other; and the disentanglement of productive processes out of the ‘core economic process’ (housework, DIY, SLEA …)

*        However, as consequence of this depletion

[t]his type of development of productivity necessarily approaches a limit. This is reached when the expenditure in past labour wholly compensates economy of living labour and the overall productivity of the system ceases to progress. The resulting evolution of productive forces leads to overdevelopment of the material means used, reduction in living labour and increased unemployment.

(Fontvieille, Louis: 1992: Rate of Profit and its Determining Factors; in: New Findings in Long-Wave Research; Kleinknecht, A./Mandel, E./Wallerstein, I. (eds.); New York: St. Martins Press: 203-224; here: 219 f.)

Both aspects culminate in one aspect that has to be added to the statement in the quotation: This reduction in living labour is to some extent real; however, at the same time it is only shifting living labour into external spheres, thus not least reducing the labour costs while the value of price of the labour force remains unchanged.

IV.

This constellation poses a fundamental challenge which can be put forward by the following outline:

1        It has to be analysed if capitalism has predominantly sufficient resources for reaching a new level of self-regulation and -stabilisation or if such ‘inner-capitalist development’ is unlikely (see: Mandel, Ernest, 1992: The International Debate on Long Waves; in: ibid.: 316-338; here: 332).

2        A ‘non-capitalist perspective’, however, does not necessarily mean a socialist perspective – on another occasion I sketched some issues of a possible re-feudalisation (Herrmann, Peter, 2010: Encore Citizenship – Revisiting or Redefining?; in: Herrmann, Peter, ed.: World’s New Princedoms Critical Remarks on Claimed Alternatives by New Life; Amsterdam: Rozenberg Publishers: 17-75). And I think (or should I say: I am afraid) that this needs further elaboration. On the other hand, we should follow strictly the proposal put forward by Ernst Bloch who speaks

of four different kinds of possibilities, allowing us with this an informed approach to understanding them in their objectivity. He points on (i) the formally possible – what is possible according to its logical structure; (ii) the objectively possible – possible being based on assumptions on the ground of epistemologically based knowledge; (iii) the objectively possible – possible as it follows from the options inherently given by the object; (iv) and the objectively real possible – possible by following the latency and tendency which is inherent in its elementary form.

(Herrmann, Peter, 2010: Human Rights, Health and Social Quality – Realisations and Realities; in: Laurinkari, Juhani (Ed.) Health, Wellness and Social Policy. Essays in honour of Guy Bäckman; Bremen: Europaeischer Hochschulverlag; with reference to Bloch, Ernst, 1959: Prinzip Hoffnung; Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp [written in 1938-1947; reviewed 1953 and 1959]: 258-288)

3        Looking then at growth, it seems to be more appropriate to look at development rather than maintaining the orientation on growth. It is unlikely that the latter allows capturing qualitative moments rather than limiting matters on quantified aggregations. Not least important is the fact that elaborating an understanding of development requires inevitably to outline a systemic understanding of what we re actually talking about – as such we are very much offering a positive contribution to the various debates around ‘Going Beyond GDP’. Furthermore, it allows a qualified critique of ‘New Green Deal’ arguments.

It should be noted with special interest that we find in the literature presentations that do not even consider the need of defining growth. It appears as a ‘given fiat’, something that does not need any definition or conceptualisation, let alone questioning. Furthermore, it is light-heartedly confused with development. Looking for instance at the work on the Diversity of Growth (McMahon, Gary/Esfahani, Hadi Salehi/Suire, Lyn [eds.], 2009: Diversity in Economic Growth. Global Insights and Explanations; Cheltenham: Edward Elgar), we see a striking divergence of the lack of conceptualisation of growth and the eagerness towards a differentiated analysis of the conditions of growth.

V.

In particular with reference to IV j it is suggested to see growth as an in principle static concept. The main orientation is on a ‘soft-landing’ (Mandel), i.e. the maintenance of the accumulation for its own sake. We may see the historical patterns of inner-capitalist development as characterised by the well-known cyclical patterns of three overlapping moments:

  • business cycles – reflecting supply and demand
  • conjunctural cycles – reflecting the aggregate fluctuation as reflection of capacities (and the move between departments and sectors), and
  • major cycles – as matter of major changes of the framework for and basis of accumulation.

Although we are concerned with far-reaching changes, they are only a matter of changes of the capitalist accumulation regime itself. Consequently they do not question the capitalist character of accumulation itself. In other words, the main point of reference is profitability of capital, and with this the rate of profit. Again in other words, the dynamic as presented with these different modes of business, conjunctural and major cycles is nothing else than the capitalist mechanism to counteract the tendency of the profit rate to fall.

VI.

This requires to look for a more differentiated view on accumulation regimes. As reference, Lipietz’ definition is helpful, seeing

the regime of accumulation [as] stabilization over a long period of the allocation of the net product between consumption and accumulation’ which ‘implies some correspondence between the transformation of both the conditions of production and the conditions of the reproduction of wage earners.

(Lipietz, Alain, 1986: New Tendencies in the International Division of Labor: Regimes of Accumulation and Modes of Regulation; in: Scott/Allen J./Storper, Michael [eds.]: Production, Work, Territory. The Geographical Anatomy of Industrial Capitalism; Boston/London/Sidney: Allen&Unwin: 16-40; here: 19)

1        Crises are well-known as points of change – and we can specify: changes are not only but as well very much concerned with changes of the accumulation regime. The French theory of regulation (Aglietta et altera) refers fundamentally to only two different regimes, namely the Fordist and the Post-Fordist regime. This is in the present author’s view extremely limited, being based on a limited understanding of capitalism[1] and thus failing to realise a much wider potential of the analysis.

    A hint for a wider understanding can be taken from the following presentation:

As capital accumulation becomes more intensive capital tends to become more concentrated , and the relative power of capital vis-à-vis labour … is changing. All this is occurring while the forms of competition, and therefore the industrial and financial structures, evolve. This is the history of contemporary capitalism. The ‘passage’ from a relatively competitive capitalism to one that is often called ‘monopolistic’ took place essentially during the ‘Great Depression’ at the end of the nineteenth century for reasons that were not only economic (economies of scale, market power) but even more social (the centralisation of capital is also the centralisation of capital is also the centralisation of labour, a process intended to heighten the possibility of social control given the rise to trade unionism). ‘Monopoly’ capitalism is thus the product of a stressful long-wave downturn, in which economic conflicts criss-cross with social and political conflicts, and as a result of which a new socio-economic paradigm is put in place.

(Dockès, Pierre/Rosier, Bernard, 1992: Long Waves. The Dialectic of Innovation and Conflict; in: New Findings …; op.cit.: 301-315; here: 309)

2        Tentatively, the following dimensions may be suggested as reference points for a differentiated view on accumulation regimes:

a        capital intensity

b        (raw-)material dependency

c        labour intensity

d        indigeneity/international dependencye        relative strength of department I, II, and III respectivelyf        class relations and regulatory mechanisms

3        Again only tentative, the following regimes are proposed:

a        merchant capitalism/industrialising

b        early industrialist capitalism

c        Fordism

d        state monopolist capitalism

e        service-regulationist capitalism

f        post-Fordist capitalism

g        ‘supra-national state-monopoly capitalism’ (Thomas Kuczynski)

This is surely not an exhaustive classification. One point that springs immediately to mind is concerned with the usefulness of a separate monopolist stage.

4 The perspectives presented under 2 and 3 can now be combined by transferring them into a matrix.

capital intensity

(raw-)material dependency

labour intensity

indigeneity/in-ternational dependency

relative strength of department I, II, and III respectively

class relations and regulatory mechanisms

merchant capitalism/industrialising

early industrialist capitalism

Fordism

state monopolist capitalism

service-regulationist capitalism

post-Fordist capitalism

‘supra-national state-monopoly capitalism’

5        It can now be asked if accumulation is actually also an issue in non-capitalist, here: socialist formations. If we give an affirmative answer we are required to reconceptualise both, the understanding of accumulation and of accumulation regimes. The ultimate point of reference has to be clearly defined by the genuine orientation of an immediate link between human practice (as [re-]production of and in everyday’s life] and the economic process. The mediation based in the capitalist form of commodities must be overcome. Paul Boccara contends for the capitalist formation that

[r]egulation concerns the inciting of progress in material productive forces (and in labour productivity) and the fighting of obstacles to such progress.

(Boccara, Paul, 1973: Etudes sur le capitalisme monopoliste d’Etat, sa crise et son issue ; Paris : Editions Sociales; qouted in Fonvieille, Louis, 1992: Rate of Profite and its Determining Factors; in: New Findings …; op.cit.: 203-224; here: 204)

    Under non-capitalist conditions this should be translated into a concern with the means needed for (re-)producing and improving everyday’s life. ‘The economy’ is now decisively only a means to an end which can be considered as ‘external’, an annex in which social practice finds one and only one expression, as far as it is concerned with the production of the social itself. In actual fact it is more precise to see here the true socialisation of production, i.e. the emphasis of the social character of production.

6        From here we can return to the question of growth as part of development. The two main lines are about growth in capitalist societies and in non-capitalist formations.

    Within capitalist societies we have the different contexts in which growth has to be seen: as cyclical movement aiming on short-term equilibration and as cyclical movement creating new areas fro accumulation after principle breaks in socio-technical respects. A first useful reference can be drawn from Menshikov’s view on ‘overall capital’, i.e.

not only capital materialised in new production equipment and research facilities, but also capital embodied in the whole new economic structure. This includes:

1.   New industries and plants which are built in the course of the technological revolution;

2.   Capital invested in producing new products – producing equipment, consumer and producer goods, new materials and types of energy;

3.   Capital invested in new infrastructure installed to serve new industries;

4.   Capital invested in creating new kinds of business organisation;

       and

5.   Capital in new government institutions and activities which are set up or expanded to support the new economic structure.

(Menshikov, Stanislav, 1992: The Long Wave as Endogenous Mechanism; in: New Findings …; op.cit.: 233-256; here: 246)

Important is also to investigate thoroughly the many parts of the overall actual social and societal production that are not commonly part of the GDP-calculations. Exploring this in detail requires a major empirical effort – even if we take an approach simply to growth as accumulation of capital, we have to consider its multifaceted character by way of itemising the existing GDP and those parts that are systematically left out.

This is a commonly recognised problem, however the readiness to take up the challenge in an integrating way is by and large missing. A telling example is the work of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, chaired by Jospeh Stiglitz, Amartya Sen acting as chair-advisor and Jean-Paul Fitoussi acting as coordinator (see for the work and also for the report http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr – 25/12/2010 10:56 a.m.). Although they criticise the GDP for its limitations, they do not offer a sound solution. Instead we find a kind of crib: if a coherently consolidated (system of) indicators is not in sight, a solution is suggested by running three indicator sets in parallel, concerned with the ‘Classical GDP-Issues’, ‘Quality of Life’ and ‘Sustainable Development and Environment’. This may be seen as progress. But it may also be seen as locking up of disintegration. Such parallelisation misses that a sound elaboration of indicators depends on an integrated approach. Cost-benefit analysis, properly understood, cannot be sufficiently undertaken in a ‘treble-entry accounting’. Rather it has to search for a way that allows fully integrating the different factors rather than setting them side-by-side. The latter results in such paradoxes as the ‘positive value’ of work that is undertaken in order to repair environmental damage (and already the ‘positive value’ of activities that damage the environment); or taking another – typical – example is the loss of GDP-contribution by non-employment-based activities which may contribute to ‘Quality of Life’ or ‘Sustainable Development and Environment’. I discussed relevant issues already in an article on ‘Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality’ (see Herrmann, Peter, 2012: Economic Performance, Social Progress and Social Quality; in: International Journal of Social Quality 2(1), Summer 2012; © Zhejiang University, European Foundation on Social Quality and Berghahn Journals: 43–57 doi:10.3167/IJSQ.2011.010204). Whereas I discussed on that occasion more the conceptual perspective in the light of the lack of a sound understanding of the ‘quality of life’, it is at present of interest to emphasise that we have to look even in an affirmative perspective at more or less simple mechanisms of cost-benefit analysis. The to main factors that are needed for such an analysis are

  • the offset of private and societal costs/benefits and
  • the inclusion of the time perspective.

There are no clear criteria for the length of the latter – for pragmatic reasons it is suggested to refer to one generation the substantial reasoning behind this is rather simple: it can suggest a span of sustainability which then is permanently perpetuated. The overlapping of generations means that under the condition of ‘one-generation-sustainability’ sustainability is secured in the long run.

It is of crucial importance that this is immediately linked to the value of labour power. This is a matter that needs much more exploration, not least as we have to look at both sides: the pressure on the value of labour power, the push in terms of covering the costs of the value of labour power (towards social benefits, ‘low cost provisions’ and ‘outlets’ but also the actual increase of the value of labour power as matter new groups as bearers of new qualifications etc. (see in this context Fontvieille; op.cit.: 210/12).

VII.

To some extent this opens also a connection between micro and macro-perspective. It is the contradiction – as requirement to permanently balance the profit rates, looking at the variable and the constant capital on the level of the enterprise level and the level of the macro-economy.

VIII.

To clarify and gauge patterns of growth, the following questions will be useful as guideline.[2]

1        What grows?

2        What is the purpose of this growth?

3        Who is the direct beneficiary?

    Who is the indirect beneficiary? – Differentiated according to individuals, classes, society, state[3]

4        What are the means of growth?

    Differentiated according to different ‘factor inputs’ and kinds of capital/‘capital sections’

5        What are the costs of growth?

6        Who actually bears them?

    Differentiated according to individuals, classes, society, state[4]

IX.

Different capitalist forces and interests and the contradictions between different sections and fractions of the capital should not be neglected. They play a huge role not least in connection with the determination of the cost of labour and the question who actually pays them (see already the statement at the end of VI.)


[1]            In part this can be explained by the origin of the research, namely Aglietta’s empirical study (Aglietta, Michel, 1976: A theory of capitalist regulation. London: Verso) which had been by its own claim limited.

[2]            See already VI. 4

[3]            The differentiation between society and state may be important as in several cases the state will be used as means of distribution or also as means of ‘real cover by societal’

[4]            The differentiation between society and state may be important as in several cases the state will be used as means of distribution or also as means of ‘real cover by societal’

Beginnings – Going Astray

It is the great time of the year again – at least I like it: the students are returning, or are just arriving at the university. For many a huge step, something like entering the ‘large world’, another step to adulthood.

The other day I had been standing with Michael and Paddy in the student centre, looking across campus where the freshers had been shown by their older mates   how to get around. Well, somewhat oldish terms – and there is surely much of this in the mind: the freshers feeling like making a step towards independence, being a bit unsure about what all this about, the requirements and just …, well for many it will be the first time that they really leave the lap of their parent’s home …; the mates being proud that they can show a bit of what they learned already, showing a bit of their supremacy, and perhaps also a bit of their power: the abilities they achieved. And there the three of us are standing, talking about the way they and we actually go. Are we looking at students out there: the young people we have to teach – we the supervisors, feeling ‘super-wise’ …; are we looking at young colleagues with whom we will collaborate on this huge project which enlightenment failed to establish: a better world – a world which actually cannot be ‘established’ as such; rather a better world will always have to be a process, a movement of people coming together to make a world a common property (process of relational appropriation, as I define it – still grateful to Denisa: I brought this definition forward in class, elaborated it and … forgot the wording. She, at the time one of my Hungarian students, had all the notes from the classes …). Or are we looking at the future competitor on a market on which skills are traded, in societies and regions that aim on being

most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

Although I am in general very much on the side of those who consider the glass being half-full, I am worried: I listened to last weeks negotiations in Kassel – the German Constitutional Court approving the ESM – in my opinion a decision strictly based on nationalist interests without offering any answer on the problem of Europe which faces the danger of falling apart; I listened to Barroso’s ‘State of the Union’ address at the same time, repeating shallow phrases from over the years, (leaving the bloomy phrases aside) calling for a stronger Europe – sure, I am not against a stronger Europe as such, though the question of the overall aims remains to be asked and answered; and I followed the elections in the Netherlands, the results of which came to many (and also to me) as a surprise, moving the country under the VVD towards a questionable Freedom and Democracy.

And I remember the other day colleagues talking about a high number of registrations for a course:

There are people out there who are interested. We just have to find a way to answer the demand ….

Well, there is definitely interest in education – and now I mean the education in the true sense: education as means of emancipation. And this is something we have to encourage, we have to fight for ways that allow this to happen: this kind of education and this kind of emancipation – not a matter of individuals’ demand but of societal necessity for which we have to create space.

For me, every new teaching period is such a challenge – not primarily a question of what to teach but more a question how we can learn together, how we can develop relevant research skills: brave openings.

May be I be it is an absurd idea. May be not.

Talking about absurdities: The other day a mail had been passed on to me, sent via the staff-exchange server – a former employee from UCC, now retired, talking about the fact needs must be met ‘even in retirement’ and offering the service of a Training and Development Company she set up. It is about More to Explore and Rethinking your Thinking. And courses are offered on the premises of UCC.

Well, it may be I should rethink my thinking, my optimism: A university that is claiming to be ‘Ireland’s first *****-university’, a university that leaves part of the work to be undertaken by retired staff, a university that is particularly proud of sports people as bearers of the academic torch, just recently Five sports people conferred with honorary doctorates. – Yes, well done lads.

I wish you all well in the current academic year!

Indeed – and I hope we can do better!!

Enigmas of Mastery – or Arts Challenges Academia

A side remark – isn’t all this blog-epistle a side remark, personal reflections on various issues in which personal, social and societal issues conflate?

So then a short note on dialogue. There is perhaps a reason for talking about the master and bachelor in ARTS that we should not push aside without reflection – as social scientists in particular we are part of a complex social structure – its history in past, present and future. And though we are not independent, we are part of a process that we may consider as symphonic piece of war and peace (borrowing the title from Tolstoi). Monumental and complex, full of contradictions and thoroughly determined by our readiness to truly engage in looking for collective solutions. Yesterday I have had the opportunity to attend an exciting concert here in Munich – exciting not least as it presented a tensional line from Bach’s 5th Brandenburgische Concert, passing Schubert’s 4th Symphony (‘The Tragic’), leading to Strauss ‘Thus Spoke Zarathustra’. Being confronted with the latter, consequently with the highly problematic oeuvre by Wagner provoked to move further moving beyond the smooth integrity of the Court Society, overcoming the tragedy and crossing the borderline of nihilism – not by denying it but by looking for a synthesis, for instance offered in the magnificent masterpiece provided by Shostakovich in the Symphony No.12 in D minor, Op.112 ‘The Year 1917’ – Admittedly something one has to learn listening – Barenboim once had been teaching me to admire Shostakovich’s work. And admittedly revolutionary processes and ‘results of revolutions’ (which, of course, will always be processes themselves) have to be learned. And looking at processes of learning the words by Albert Schweitzer on Bach’s work gave to come to mind:

It is not about alternating between the Tutti and the Concertino. ; the different bodies are related to each other in an intrinsic tension, penetrate, differentiate and conflate for another time – and all this emerges from an unfathomable necessity, inherent in the art. … One gets the impression to really face what philosophy throughout all times presented as a higher occurrence, the unfolding of an idea, creating its contradiction in order to overcome it, creates from here a new contradiction, overcoming it again and so forth, until it returns to itself, after it went through all stages of life. It is the same impression of unfathomable necessity and enigmatic satisfaction while listening to these concerts, following the subject matter as it first presents itself in the Tutti, then being subject to enigmatic divisive powers, finally returning in the final Tutti again to its inner entity, coherence.

(quoted in Wolfgang Stähr, 2003: Nicht nur zur Weihnachtszeit – Konzerte von Arcangelo Corelli bis Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. Berliner Philharmony Programmheft Nr. 25 zum 21.12.2003)

Wouldn’t this be a matter we should revive in academic culture? A Sunday visit in the Alte Pinakothek paradoxically confirmed this when I joined a new format of arts education: Cicerone. As much as it is about the utilisation of great speeches the visit showed so much that all this is about dialogue, with the paintings, even between the paintings, between the presenters and not least by including the visitors.

Yes, academic life, if it takes itself serious is about the mystery of mastery of arts.

Sustainability, Non-Sustainability and Crime II

In the wider context of sustainability we have to deal not least with growth – to be more precise: the obsession with growth. Of course, this term is, at this stage, hugely problematic – a matter that is at this stage even widely accepted in mainstream economics and social science.

It is not least problematic if we take it as universally valid pattern.

(i) Growth is typically biased, limited to a quantifiable development, leaving by its very definition qualitative aspects out of consideration.

(ii) It also undermines even conceptualising systematically any non-commodifiable aspects of life (take happiness e.g.: we would speak of increasing happiness, not of growing happiness).

(iii) Growth is with this perspective in principle and inherently a completely individualist concept – even in its pretended ‘social’ understanding (for instance as matter of macro-economic growth) it is based on methodological individualism.

(iv) It is then difficult (if not impossible) to conceptualise ‘needs’ in a globally differentiated way: conventional growth is surely nothing needed in the so-called developed world; on the other hand we find in many regions severe under-supply of goods; as far as this undersupply is a matter of the lack of means of subsistence and ‘basic goods’, the answer will be obvious. However, in several cases there may be an unquestionable need although the means of satisfaction are not defined. An example for the latter can be seen in India where we find attempts to introduce cheap, i.e. affordable cars. This may well be an example where the need (transport for everybody) cannot and should not be questioned; but where the means to answer this need cannot be seen as given – in some respect the need may actually be limited (spreading availability of services, increasing local production by decentralisation  …); in another respect the means of transport can be directed in different ways rather than orienting on private means.

Fundamentally questionable presumptions are at least the following:

  • Growth is understood as growth of the production of ‘goods’ and with this actually leading to an understanding of economic processes based in consumption as ultimate end of the process. – It would be different by looking at (re)production of daily life (and the related means) as ultimate end. Only then economic growth would be a means rather than an end in itself.
  • This means also that production in the mainstream understanding is only narrowly understood, namely as production of goods. However, it is necessary to go beyond this understanding, searching for ways of determining other ‘means of production’, which themselves produce the ultimate product, i.e. daily life of socio-individual beings.
  • With this, a further qualification emerges: considering the human being as genuinely and indispensably social being requires – in the light of the demand of sustainable sociability – accepting equity not as secondary, i.e. as result of growth of the production of goods (thus is the fallacy of mainstream economics). Instead, equity is condition, i.e. means of production of sustainable sociability. – The latter can easily be shown by several empirical studies, for instance those that point at the Nordic countries facing less problems during crisis; cooperatives being let hit by the crisis etc.
  • Another and fundamental fallacy is that growth strategies as they exist today are to a large extent only mechanisms of (i) distribution and (ii) externalisation. A few remarks may be exemplifying this.

Space

We find some evidence for emerging and increasing poverty, developing in countries exactly at that time when they closely entered the global economy …, and when they did so as ‘explicit periphery’ of the world economy. So-called developing countries had been for a long time sufficiently strong in their own reproductive and sustaining way before entering fully the global economy.[1]

Social I

We find several mechanisms of externalisation, not least ‘shifting costs’ to the organic environment (nature)

Social II

A further social dimension can be seen in ‘by-production’ and parasite-production: enterprises produce political influence (CSOs sitting on political boards); contribute to welfare (foundations); NGOs produce services; households are engaged in DIY-production and so on.

Time

In many cases this can be closely linked to processes of tempoarilisation of costs, shifting them to later generations.

I am not yet sure if ‘development’ is a sufficiently thought through alternative – development carries with it the burden of Rostowian modernism though it can surely be questioned if this is a necessary burden.[2] One additional fundamental critique of growth emerges in this context: growth emerged in the meantime as by and large nationalist concept, being closely linked with the mechanisms of competitiveness. To the extent to which this is true, a Green Deal is highly problematic as long as it is conceptualised with the emphasis on ‘changed growth’ rather than changed understanding of ‘buen vivir’.

As long as we follow the mainstream growth model, we have to be aware that  there are two issues that are of fundamental importance, although they are easily overlooked at least in terms of their consequential character: the current model is based on two patterns that are frequently and in popular gist considered to be exceptions but that are actual fact structural foundation of the system – as such they are closely knit into the factors that had been laid before us in the previous paragraphs:

  • debt is the one
  • the other one is crisis.

The strictly economic side of debt can easily be described – and much had been written about it. It is not always considered sufficiently that there is a fundamental difference between private and public debt but by and large it is probably fair enough to say that the difference is usually seen and only naive political jargon draws simple comparisons. The perspective from political economy is a bit more difficult – but in any case it is also fundamentally a concern with a rather traditional model of growth, in particular looking at the wider understanding of distributing economic components over time. This is then not only a matter of financing current investment on the account of expected gain in the future. At least equally important are various inherent mechanisms of social transfer, as for instance business investment loans financed by agglomerating savings of private households, ‘cold expropriation’ of private and business households by the means of undervalued government loans (e.g. a short note on this here), shifts of public money to private businesses using also mechanisms of tax exemption and tax evasion.

However, another perspective has also to be considered, it is concerned with the soci(et)al time perspective. Both, personal and social history are based on a loan taken from the future, however without sufficient cover. The reason for the lack of security is not a matter of overspending. In order to understand the contradiction, it is not sufficient to consider the (im)balance between spending and borrowing – these are actually by and large brought into congruence with each other via various mechanisms of the economic crisis – a mechanism which is, at least insofar we are talking about a crisis of consolidation, nothing else than forceful negotiations which decide who is paying which share. This can be roughly broken down to the following: the investors, the mediators, the consumers. Still, there is another factor, socially constructed by a specific political-economic understanding, namely the ideology of infinite growth: it is the suggestion that the major share is paid by the future. So – simplified – we end up with the following rough scheme:

Current debt

Loan from future 1

Delayed payment:

Loan from future 2

Societal

Societal

Societal

Investor

Investor

Consumer

Consumer

paid by soci(et)al inequality

paid by societal inequity

remaining unpaid

At this stage it does not play a role if we are talking about debt in monetary terms, energy, raw material, space … . Importantly we have to aim n maintaining the link

  • between production and reproduction of daily life

and also

  • between the needs and means as mentioned earlier with reference to Wilhelm von Humboldt.

And of course, we can then clearly see the justification of speaking in the title of the crime of lacking sustainability: It is even in positive law – in terms of the criteria set by this society – a crime insofar it disrespects the fundamental principle of contracts: contracts are actually drawn with a party that is not part of the negotiations.

We can come back to what had been said before: for understanding the contradiction, it is not sufficient to consider the (im)balance between spending and borrowing. Such perspective is simply limited to the realm of circulation. However, the real imbalances are on the level of production. For a clearer understanding of such localisation we have to distinguish at least analytically the following dimensions – always keeping in mind that the fundamental reference is the production and reproduction of daily life. The following is suggested:

  • Systemic (re-)production, i.e. the (re-)production of the socio-political-economic system itself. Part of it is well reflected in the definition of the accumulation regime as brought forward the Régulationist School. Important is to consider that the definition is established by drawing a close link between production and reproduction, looking at

stabilization over a long period of the allocation of the net product between consumption and accumulation which implies some correspondence between the transformation of both the conditions of production and the conditions of the reproduction of wage earners.[3]

  • Personal (re)production, i.e. the (re)production of individuals and private households, importantly establishing a link between development of personalities and their ‘fit’ into the societal relations and vice versa.
  • National (re)production, i.e. the (re)production which is mainly concerned with a specific part of the systemic (re)production, however, limiting this to a certain social space and in turn providing a basis for specific exclusionary structurations
  • Class and cleavage (re)production, i.e. the (re)production of different relations that socio-politically ‘order’ the positions within the overall relationality.

Two factors are of major importance. First, social and political divisions find their original foundation in the first of these (re)production-schemes, i.e. on the systemic level. However, these can only emerge from the division of roles – a matter of division of labour and also of – only in part subsequent – division of power positions. Second, in all these cases we find specific environmentalisations. With this term I suggest that human beings define themselves as depending in different degrees from the natural conditions of the organic environment, the other way round: the tendency to externalise of organic environment. This independence is itself relative as much as it is defined by human agency’s individual and/or collective ability to control the organic nature. It should be clear, however, that the dependency is a relational one. The highest thinkable degree of independence is one of the ability to make perfect use of the organic forces – though they cannot be overcome nor can human beings transcend their own organic essence.

Tensions and contradictions emerge within each of these realms and also between them – an apparently incalculable net of relations. These tensions and contradictions are in their historically specific form definiens of historical structures of meaning. – And this can be – and is at times – the nihilist demeaning of everything, arbitrariness of existence that is getting aware of the crime of lacking sustainability.

Is there a way out? One way out is the amplified nihilism: denial of the future, suggesting that the debt is already to high to be paid back at any one stage. Another is the religious or otherwise value-ridden suggestion that another world is longed for – and thus it should be possible: the internalisation of a deeply felt enigma and frequently the idealisation of the past and the suggested eternal while facing the crumbling away of parts of reality. There are technical suggestions – green deal and decoupling.

Finally – and in part contradicting the aforementioned suggestions – there is the need to concentrate really on a new mode of production as core of a new societal formation. This surely has to be socialist in its very core. But being socialist has to thoroughly consider a new productive basis under non-industrialist conditions. An important question is in which way socialisation of production can be employed as a means also of ‘steering needs’.

Part of the necessary analysis is to clearly answer in a differentiated way the questions of what is needed, how this is determined and who the actual producer is.

Including importantly the questions of capitalisation and commodification of labour power

This includes material, immaterial, mediated/symbolic dimensions

What id actually needed for the (re)production of daily life

Important is also the differentiation between the departments (I & II according to Marx; in addition III according to Luxemburg; in my own opinion this needs today further differentiation, for instance by looking at the service sector as candidate for a further department)

Including the question of marketisation[4] and commodification

How the need is determined – e.g. by physical necessity, social definition, technological requirements or suggestions … (a new approach to Maslow?)
By whom is actually produced (incl. public households,[5] private households, NGOs, as ‘by-product’ of other processes …)

[1]            It remains to be discussed how this relates to the thesis of world systems theory, in particular the interpretation by Gills and Frank (see Frank, Andre Gunder/Gills, Barry K. (eds.) 1993: The World System. Five Hundred Years or Five Thousand?; London/New York: Routledge); furthermore it would be interesting to analyse in this context the theory of major cycles (Kondratieff waves).

[2]            Part of this is more extensively reflected upon in my article  ‘Indicators – More than Evidence and Maths; forthcoming in: Journal of Globalization Studies’, Association with the Faculty of Global Processes of the Lomonosov Moscow State University; Eds.: Leonid Grinin/Andrey Korotayev/Victor de Munck/James Sheffield; Volgograd: Uchitel; and the more extensive document from the Cork-presentation on occasion of the Poverty Summer School at University College Cork.

[3]            Lipietz, Alain, 1986: New Tendencies in International Division of Labour: Regimes of Accumulation and Nodes of Regulation, in: Production, Work, Territory; Scott, A.J./Storper, M. (eds.); London: Allen Unwin: 16-40, here: 19

[4]            Important to note that marketisation does not necessarily means capitalist markets.

[5]            In addition public goods though they are not necessarily produced by public bodies.

Sustainability, Non-Sustainability and Crime I

Debates on sustainability, if taken in as matter dealing with a wider, social understanding of the issue in question, are frequently linked to a rather mechanical understanding of needs, and in this context  reference is not least made to considerations on marginal utility and the subsequent thesis that at a certain point any additional consumed unit does not lead any additional (or only a minimal increase of) satisfaction. Even an adverse effect can be made out in cases where we can speak of definite overconsumption. The commonly presented thesis is that there is a point of saturation  beyond which no ‘added value’ is possible. And of course, there is a close link then also to the Pareto-optimum.

However, the entire approach is based on a fundamental flaw, only dealing with numbers and different weighing, loosing the underlying qualitative aspect out of sight. Utilities can in deed be quantified. However, this is presupposing that use value and exchange value are distinct units, at least in tendency separate from each others. Actually, in this view they both take distinct physical forms, the one being the actual ‘good’, the other its money-form.

Such approach may be fundamentally criticised by bringing two aspects together – which also means by referring to the following two conditions:

  • the consuming and the paying entities are basically identical.
    – Of course, in a macro-economic perspective this can only mean that in a long-term perspective (in the last instance) externalisation is not possible
  • the utility value is not understood as matter of ‘consumption; rather , consumption is itself (part of) a productive process (as outlined for instance in the Grundrisse by Marx) and s such production is meant to be a matter of ‘empowerment’. The ‘utility’ is ‘mastery of life’ – right in the understanding put forward by Engels:

The materialist conception of history starts from the proposition that the production of the means to support human life and, next to production, the exchange of things produced, is the basis of all social structure; that in every society that has appeared in history, the manner in which wealth is distributed and society divided into classes or orders is dependent upon what is produced, how it is produced, and how the products are exchanged.

What Engels is presenting is a fundamentally and genuinely social relationship, not simply inescapable but even without a want to escape. Production, products and consumption are very much an entity, in the same way as the individual is not social by his/her interaction with others but its own intrinsic existence.

Against this background we ay turn our attention to Wilhelm von Humboldt and his work on The Limits of State Action.[1] Towards the end of his treatise he looks at the question of prevention of crime, however, importantly linking this to the question of causes of crime.    He contends that

… all prevention of crime must be directed to its causes. But these causes, which are so infinitely varied, might be expressed perhaps in a general formula as the feeling, not sufficiently resisted by reason, of the disparity between the inclinations of the agent and the means in his power for gratifying them. (117 f.)

And from here he continues:

Although it might be very difficult to distinguish them in particular instances, there would be, in general, two distinct cases of this disproportion; firstly, when it arises from a real excess of desires, and, secondly, when it results from a lack of means to satisfy even ordinary inclinations. (118)

We have to try to stripe off all this fundamentalist individualism that characterise Humboldt’s remarks – and then they may actually be rather meaningful to grasp more thoroughly the challenges we face today, as much as we faced them already throughout history of mankind. In other words, the challenges about sustainability and a new understanding of what economic activities are about are not new – however, they are permanently captured by a tensional relationship that is characteristic in different dimensions, sometimes occurring in parallel, sometimes in a somewhat alternating way.

It is frequently said that today’s economies are structurally depending on debt – debt together with quantitative growth are suggested to be an indispensable condition of stability. Leaving the inherent contradiction aside: stability – as far as it resembles stasis – is made dependent on two dynamic aspects, one of the main problems seems to be that  the entire pattern is based on a fundamental contradiction – a tearing apart of entities.

Consumption is in a twofold way separated from its productive dimension: it is suggested as independent from the process of manufacturing (production of goods) and it is furthermore suggested to be independent from the production and reproduction of human existence. However, in bot, economic and social theories these two ‘divisions’ are not sufficiently considered. In other words, difference and connection between productive and non-productive consumption are left outside of analytical considerations. Cum grano salis, the same is true fro production as matter of reproduction. By this, the goal of reproduction is turned away from its original perspective, now not being concerned with human beings but with socio-economic systems.

Thus, the task of policies on social sustainability have to take up the challenge to establish and maintain ‘blocks against externalisation’ as every of the before-mentioned separations are also mechanisms of socio-economic externalisation.

Though it remains for the moment open to properly relate happiness, prosperity, flourishing, wealth etc. we may see a perspective. If we have, according to Amartya Sen, to look at ‘capabilities needed to flourish’ (Sen, see also Nussbaum) we may concretise this by defining flourishing primarily as developing contentness against the disparity as it is outlined by Humboldt, the

disparity between the inclinations of the agent and the means in his power for gratifying them.

Functionings, as frequently centre-staged by Sen, are now also matters of the ‘social individuals’, partially independent of the functioning of social systems – and dialectically in this way determining new perspectives for these systems.


[1]      1791/92; ed.: J.B. Burrow; Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1993