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Climate Crisis and Managed Deindustrialization: Debating Alternatives to Ecological Collapse

Discussion in 'Strategy & Tactics' started by Kamran Nayeri, Dec 1, 2017.

  1. Kamran Nayeri

    Kamran Nayeri Moderator

    Responding to two questions Saral Sarkar raised in his "For Saving the Earth We Need to Tell the Whole Truth: An Ecosocialist's Response to Richard Smith."

    On Saral's objection to "bottom-up democracy": A part of Saral's criticism of Richard's essay, strangely enough, is about the latter's commitment to "bottom-up democracy" in transition to ecological socialism. Saral says "I do not understand the connection between the two, planning and democracy." Is not the failure of bureaucratic central planning in the Soviet bloc in all its manifestation, including "market socialism a key lesson of the 20th-century history?" (For an excellent critique of the Chinese central planning, see, Richard's recent essay). If we do not replace the market mechanism (the operation of the law of value) with self-organized and self-active councils of working people, how do we hope to transition from capitalism to ecological socialism? Saral who in a subsequent comment on this thread takes the position that the Soviet bloc was socialist in 1989 and became capitalist by 1991, may not agree. But I doubt many others share his point of view. Lack of socialist democracy is a kiss of death for any socialist or ecosocialist project. Saral's examples demonstrate the complexity of the process but they do not negate its essential necessity of "bottom-up" democracy. Would any reasonable person demand that in a brief essay to "change the conversation" Richard should also get into the complexities of democratic planning in the transition period (they are book-length discussions of these and a fairly large literature if anyone wants to know). The shoe is really on the other foot. If Saral disputes the essential necessity of "bottom-up democracy," in my rendering councils of working people, he should make his case in a separate essay. Overcoming capitalism and starting the process of transition to ecocentric ecological socialism will require a social revolution that is meaningless without self-organized and self-acting working people and history gives us good examples of the revolutionary potentials of the working class to do so (see, my review essay of China Miéville "October" for two examples in 1917 Russia and 1979 Iran).

    What to Do About Jobs? Saral helpfully points out that ecological socialists who argue for retrenchment of the world industrial economy must provide reasonable answers to the question of jobs and for developmental needs of the Global South. Saral's own answers turn again on population control in the Global South (in a separate comment on this thread he urges ecosocialists to "talk to couples" in the Global South about family planning) and shortening of the work week in the short term and doing away with labor-saving technologies in the longer term in the Global North. In an earlier comment on this thread, I have responded to Saral's policy proposal for population control in the Global South. I noted that demographers require empowering and educating women and availability of birth control and abortion. Saral's ideas of "managed deindustrialization" are very compact and need a lot more detail. In my long essay, "To Be or Not to Be: Ecocentric Ecological Socialism as the Solution to the World Social and Planetary Crisis," I deal with these questions in some detail both theoretically and historically (I give examples from the Cuban revolution which has provided much in terms of human needs and has managed population growth in the last 60 years with educating and empowering women and providing them with free and safe birth control and abortion on demand). My essay's focus is on Richard's shared interest in "managed deindustrialization" where I take the current U.S. economy and suggest ideas for how it can be retrenched. The answer is not so much in doing away with labor-saving technologies but with technologies that are anti-ecological and anti-social and replacing the capitalist structure of the economy with an ecological socialist one that favors human development instead of capitalist profit. Finally, I argue that this process and the new economy will make almost everyone very happy because it is driven by the councils of the working people in local, regional, national and international levels. Let me cite Samuel Alexander's fine essay "Life in a ‘Degrowth’ Economy, and Why You Might Actually Enjoy It" (2014) that makes the same point (which I neglected to cite in my own essay but I gainfully cited in my other writings). Sam has a number of other similarly thoughtful contributions which you can find on The Simplicity Institute website and on Our Place in the World: A Journal of Ecosocialism which I publish and edit.
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2017
  2. Rahul Basu

    Rahul Basu New Member

    Hi, to take this in a somewhat different direction, there's a somewhat modified capitalism that we are advocating as a path towards some sort of steady state human civilisation. It revolves around viewing nature as a shared inheritance, where we are custodians over our inheritance. Provided we safeguard the capital, we may consume the fruit.

    Consider inherited gold jewellery. It can simply be locked away for the next generations - but this is a headache or expense. Alternatively, the gold can be sold and the money invested in land - as long as the land is maintained, every generation can consume the income in their time.

    Minerals face a similar dynamic. They are sort of a treasure trove that attracts rent seekers of all kinds. The first argument is to sell the minerals as good things can be done with the money. The next part is to share the proceeds - some for the miners, some for the politicians, some for the government. Where there's unrest, some money for there as well - whether as carrots or as sticks. Essentially, there are many interest groups who want to extract the minerals, in the expectation of benefiting from the proceeds.

    We are advocating a three step process for mining (ignoring environmental & social impacts for the moment):
    (a) Mining is effectively the sale of the mineral, so the owners, usually the government as public trustee, must ensure zero loss - recover the full value other that reasonable extraction costs.
    (b) Everything received must be invested so that the capital is kept intact and income is generated. We recommend a permanent endowment fund like Norway, Alaska, etc.
    (c) Share only the real income, only through a commons dividend, like Alaska.

    Globally, zero loss isn't even a goal in most cases, and losses are large. IMF estimates best case scenarios of a 15% loss. We've found loss rates exceed 80% for minerals in India. No marks for guessing why politicians in power allow this. Note that any loss from the commons is equivalent to a per head tax or a negative Basic Income. When a few miners benefit, a loss is essentially a per head tax on everyone to benefit a few.

    Saving everything is also not common. Only a few nations like Norway and Timor Leste insist on saving all proceeds from their minerals. Consuming the money from selling the minerals is the default practice. Politicians love this as they can get re-elected.

    When this intergenerational equity framework is extended to the environment, other natural resources, and the commons generally, it turns out to have interesting possibilities for starting a transition within the framework of a market economy.

    The Future We Need is advocating this approach. Disclosure: I'm a member. There's more at What is the future we need? – The Future We Need – Medium
  3. Saral Sarkar

    Saral Sarkar New Member

    There are four basic logical flaws in Rahul's reasoning.

    (1) He is not differentiating between renewable and non-renewable resources. Land is renewable, i.e. a permanent asset if maintained properly (using only manures and not chemical fertilizers, using rainwater instead of intensive irrigation). Minerals are non-renewable resources and limited in supply. Once they are used up, they are gone. Only a part can be economically recycled.

    (2) The permanent endowment funds like that of Norway are not really permanent. They can be (and indeed are being) invested in other industries including in mining (No industries can run without mining industries). Norwegians can consume the income. But when the industrial civilization ends due to lack of sufficient amounts of minerals like oil etc. income from such funds will cease flowing.

    (3) Steady state or not, industrial economies cannot for this reason be permanent.

    (4) The only truly renewable resources are arable land, rain water, and biomass (plus human and animal labor power). They are indeed renewable and permanent if …… .But they are limited. Only a certain number of humans can live off these resources.
  4. Rahul Basu

    Rahul Basu New Member

    Thanks for going though our work.

    We need both an end state (true sustainability) and a transition path. Our proposal is a logical pathway towards intergenerational equity (and then sustainability) within many contemporary frames of thinking. Note that intergenerational equity underpins sustainabiliity. After all, what are we trying to sustain and for whom? The productivity of the planet for future generations.

    Our proposal may not be the end state, but could induce the frame shift laying the ground for alternatives.

    In terms of kinds of natural resources, we see a continuum from fossil fuel minerals to spectrum. At one extreme, they are single use. At the other extreme, they are infinitely renewable. Land, fisheries all have mixed characteristics - the sustainable yield is that which doesn't deplete the capital. So mineral value needs to be saved as it is entirely capital in nature. Spectrum auctions can be paid out as a commons dividend when it is received by the government as it represents purely income. In mixed cases (salmon runs), we should only consume the sustainable yield, ideally as a commons dividend.

    We differentiate between two values of a mineral. There's a value in situ, and there's a separate value in use. The value in situ is the economic rent, or sale price minus extraction cost.

    Once the mineral is extracted, it can be used to make things, and re-used to a limited extent. This is the value in use. Fossil fuels can be used only once. On the other hand, like land, gold can perhaps be reused indefinitely if we put in as much effort to maintain gold as we would with land.

    To take a concrete example, gold has been mined in Kolar in India for centuries, and intensively over the last 100 years. The mineral deposits are exhausted. The present generation of Kolar neither have the gold, nor investments of equivalent value. However gold can be largely recycled, so the value is use is largely intact. If the people of Kolar had captured and saved the value in situ, they could purchase the same amount of gold back from the market to make into jewellery, if they so choose.

    As we see it, there are 2 core issues. First, minerals (& other natural resources) can be converted into other forms of capital, and there's any number of people who would like to get their hands on the wealth - rent seekers. They want to extract the minerals in order to capture its value in situ, wealth that leads to power inequalities. This drives a huge number of issues surrounding minerals. It also tends to undervalue minerals.

    Second, a large part of the population want "development" - cars, phones - which requires minerals that must be mined somewhere. This is the value of the mineral in use. While the people understand mining causes damage, they hope that politicians will find a magical technological & governance fix for the problems it creates. No extraction of minerals on the planet is outside the consideration set.

    This is the political constituency we need to address to achieve sustainability, not the converted. If we ask this group to give up minerals totally, we are also asking them to give up their hopes and aspirations. Our pitch is that without stopping extraction, we are resolving many of the issues with minerals in a way that is logical and fair, and benefits those who want "development" as well.

    We believe that the first issue is more important today given how it helps maintain the existing power structures that incentivises ceaseless extraction. Consider why Trump / Republicans are opening up protected areas for drilling / mining. The world is awash in oil already, so access to the mineral isn't the driver. The driver is to get hold of the value in situ for the government (to give a tax cut to the rich, get election donations, get re-elected) and the mining companies (owned by the rich, give election donations, get favourable terms for mining leases).

    Access to minerals is also an intergenerational issue, and in Goa, we have proposed caps based on 200 years availability. We realize this is theoretically imperfect, but possibly feasible in practice.

    Note that if the intergenerational perspective takes hold, then a few responses are logical. First, mineral owners should insist on a minimum price for their minerals, possibly even a global compact on a minimum price for mineral owners. Second, there could be caps or a total ban on extraction (hold minerals as strategic reserves) with the residual demand being imported (directly or indirectly through finished goods). Third, if the minerals are a shared inheritance, then so is the forest & biodiversity on top of the mineral, as well as the atmosphere and ocean that we are polluting. This initiates the frame shift.

    From a conservative perspective, if there is a reasonable likelihood of the end of civilisation, then it would be ethical to extract only a small fraction of the mineral stock, and invest the proceeds of minerals in other assets that increase the likelihood of surviving the event. This takes us towards anti-fragile thinking of Nissim Taleb.

    If all owners take this perspective, extraction will drop, and prices will rise to ensure equivalent consumption drops.

    End game

    In the limit, we should divide the eventual available minerals on the planet by the residual life of the planet to work out the annual extraction cap.

    If we absolutely prohibit any use of minerals, we will go back to before the stone age.
  5. David J

    David J Member

    I think Rahul's piece really helps us identify the key issues in terms of movement strategy going forward; given time constraints, what kind of "transition" facilitates the building of a political constituency (from the "non-converted") while staying true to revolutionary goals? How much time do "frame shifts" toward "inter-generational perspectives" take ( moving beyond ideological hegemony to a new cosmo-vision, on the scale of a reformation) ? As for time constraints, we know that winning slowly is the same as losing outright and a plan that might have been eminently reasonable had it been initiated 30 years ago might be unreasonable now.

    It is essentially the same dilemma as Hansen's Tax and Dividend proposal; slowly ( how much time?) bringing in popular "masses" in exchange for upholding market ideology (exchange value, competition leading to innovation, cost/benefit analysis etc..). Rather than imagining some blanket prohibition on "any use of minerals", I believe we must construct a just austerity for upper and middle classes to finance development for peasants and workers on an international scale. But that requires more than an enlightened discursive intervention or progressive tax policy.
  6. Saral Sarkar

    Saral Sarkar New Member

    Saral's response to Kamran's criticism

    (1) Despite all its defects and shortcomings, central planning was not at all the reason for the failure of Soviet socialism. The real reason for that was (a) the sheer impossibility of the goal that the Soviet socialists, latecomers in the race, pursued, namely catching up with and then even overtaking the USA (and other rich Western countries such as Germany, France , UK etc.) in regard to standard of living and military power. (b) Another important reason for the same was the moral degeneration of Soviet communists. I have elaborately dealt with these reasons in the first two chapters of my book Eco-Socialism or Eco-Capitalism?

    (2) Cuba is not a good example for supporting Kamran's view. It lies too close to the imperialist USA, which has always been trying to strangle the small island country's economy, and as the Bay of Pigs invasion showed, was even prepared to militarily wipe out socialism in the country. As far as my knowledge goes, the Cuban communists never asked the people, nor the workers, whether they wanted to align their economic policy with that of the Soviet Union or with that of the capitalist USA. They had no choice, they imposed their economic ideas and policy on the people and the workers. And they also did not ask the people and the workers when they, in recent years, introduced market-oriented reforms with small private enterprises.

    (3) But after winning the civil war, i.e. after 1921, did the Soviet communists have any chance of managing to effect a quick recovery of the thoroughly ruined economy of Russia by means of a workers' council system of governance? No. They even had to call back erstwhile Czarist bureaucrats and economic managers, give them authority, and pay them higher salaries to lead the job of economic recovery. They had no choice. Later they even had to adopt the New Economic Policy (allowing markets and limited scale private enterprise). When the planning process began, in 1928, they did have a choice as regards the path to develop the country's economy and to build up industries. They could have continued with the New Economic Policy. But then they would have had to give up their goal of creating a socialist society (which the Chinese communists did in the late 1970s). But all that is history

    (4) Today, the idea/project of creating an eco-centric eco-socialist society can, realistically, only be proposed to the broad masses after large-scale ecological and economic (perhaps also simultaneously social) breakdowns have taken place. The middle-term goal of such a project would be the very opposite of economic development, i.e.to scale down the economy. There would be no choice. After an eco-socialist president/government has been elected by the majority, or come to power through some chaotic violent process (as in Russia of 1917 or in Tunisia and Egypt in the Arab Spring of 2011) she or the prime minister would have to dictate the ecological and egalitarian economic and social policies (formulated with the help of a central planning commission) and even lay down which industries and which factories must be gradually or immediately closed down. I am sure, in every affected factory and industry there would be stiff resistance from its employees. You cannot ask these employees: "should this factory be closed down?" and let them decide democratically. Only details of the process and of alternative employments can and should be discussed with them. Moreover, there would be little time to first build up an elaborate system of governance through workers' councils at all levels. What Richard and Kamran are visualizing in this regard, the promise of happiness etc., are devoid of any sense of realism.

    (5) Richard and Kamran seem to be visualizing their method of planning for a period after a smooth and peaceful transfer of power to or much after a violent capture of power by eco-socialists have been completed and the country (and the economy) in question has settled down to some degree of peace and order and is not being threatened by some neighboring or distant antagonistic power. Even in such a situation, the success of this method of planning would depend very much on how much consciousness building work has been done in the period before the new era begins. The reality is: we are miles away from such a situation. At present, i.e. in our times, this work is hardly being done. We all are mainly talking to ourselves.

    (6) In any case, I have my doubts. In many such discussions (both in this forum and elsewhere), I often note that participants are discussing about, rather speculating on, hypothetical issues relating to distant future situations. It seems to me that such discussants forget that we do not have much time to save the earth. I cannot here quote any expert scientist. But in any case, we cannot wait for indefinitely long. I miss a sense of urgency in our discussions on this forum.

    (7) Kamran refers to successful population control methods used in Cuba: " empowering and educating women and availability of birth control." All that could be done in Cuba after 1959, i.e. after Fidel, Che and co. had captured power through their violent means. But today, about 6o years later, the population bomb has already exploded. And the fall out can be seen everyday in the TV: the unending flow of illegal migrants into Europe and USA, the success of all kinds of terrorists, civil wars, breakdown of law and order at many points in Germany and France etc. We cannot say any more: let us first take over power, then we shall empower and educate women in the poor countries. We have to do something now.

    (8) Kamran writes "Saral's ideas are very compact and need a lot more detail." So far as population control is concerned, I can offer an essay I first published in 1993. It contained, among other things, some of my ideas as to what should and could be done then, much before overthrowing capitalism. It is still worth reading. Here is the link:

    Saral Sarkar's writings: Search results for Polemics
  7. Rahul Basu

    Rahul Basu New Member

    Our perspective is that the intergenerational equity principle will be central to any sustainable future. We can critique the curent economic system as preventing true intergenerational equity. But whatever final solution we identify, intergenerational equity will be central.

    Our work uses the intergenerational equity principle within the current economic system and tries to derive its logical consequences. This can be simply used as a theoretical model to explain what IE implies within the current economic system [and how it is inadequate.] This debate would be useful in understanding what a future economic system would need to look like.

    Or intergenerational equity can even be implemented in practice. There are strong grounds within the current framework to do so. Yes, there will be unexpected outcomes. However, the advantages of actual implementation would seem to outweigh the disadvantages. It would be wonderful if even one government somewhere took this on, so that we can see what actually happens.

    It is important to understand that ours is a family of options. Land tax + dividend, carbon tax + dividend, Sky Trusts, National Wealth Funds, all these are underpinned by the intergenerational equity principle.

    We believe as a practical matter, advocating intergenerational equity thinking in this manner is something useful we can do right now. If we put some weight behind it, we may delay the end, or we may even avert it (less likely). But hopefully it will have set the stage for intergenerational thinking for what comes after. What else could we do that would be more useful?
  8. David J

    David J Member

    Thanks for the reply Rahul, few would argue with the IE principle in the abstract but to "implement it in practice...within the current framework" seems much more problematic. For instance, each time I start my car I am affecting future generations yet I have no method to account for it, certainly not through pricing. I agree the carbon tax could serve as a kind of symbolic gesture, but it doesn't relay the urgency of the crisis or change our ecological relation to the planet. We modern Westerners like to tell ourselves the story that we "care" about our children but there is a disavowal at work, a mis-recognition, where we know driving the car is problematic but we ACT as if it is not.

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