This is the third part in a on-going series that I am writing about Deep Adaptation, Degrowth and related concepts, all of which are designed to provide some sort of pathway beyond the current mess that the world is in with respect to climate, inequality, poverty, excessive consumption, and excessive population growth. Today, I consider how Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) fits into the transition agenda and discuss the labour market dislocation that will accompany the transition to degrowth.
This is Part 2 of a series on Deep Adaptation and MMT that I am writing. The first part – Deep Adaptation – Part 1 (August 22, 2022) – introduced the concept. I have recently written about the coming together of a number of crises which I consider to be all linked and part of the end of normal business as we have known it. See – The global poly crisis is the culmination of the absurdity of neoliberalism (July 18, 2022). Thinking about the social aspects of that conjunction of crises, we understand that advancing material prosperity is still a goal that we should seek to achieve for millions of the globe’s citizens, who live in abject poverty with little food and housing security. But then, when we consider the ecological dimension we see immediately how the social goals have to be solved within a constrained envelope of overall material deprivation. The question then is how can we move forward towards achieving that duality. There are various propositions out there – Green New Deals, Green Growth, etc. I think they are all flawed and that proponents tend to become captured by the power relations that have created the current mess. That is where I think the concept of Deep Adaptation comes into play. Which brings me to a starting point in understanding where these institutionalised ‘green’ conservations have lost their way. Today, I am writing about growth and degrowth, because there are a lot of misunderstandings out there about this apparent conflict.
It’s Wednesday and I have been on the road most of the day so have had less time to write. A few issues are discussed below, including the problem that climate change is presenting central banks with, recent research on how an initial Covid infection appears to be causally related to a range of life threatening maladies. And then some music.
It’s Wednesday and some short items that caught my interest over the last week. The FAO’s latest – Food Price Index – shows that even though food prices fell 8.6 per cent from June (to August), “the fourth consecutive monthly decline”, they are still massive inflated (13.1 per cent higher than August 2020) and the “world’s top four grain traders” are profiting from record sales in the face of supply disruptions. The World Food Program informs us that 345 million people are enduring ‘acute food insecurity’ which is nearly 3 times the pre-pandemic number. The system is not working and I have some things to say about that below. Further, latest PMI data from Europe shows that price pressures are declining, which brings into question those (with vested interests) calling for even higher interest rates. And then some music.
As part of the my research on the concept of a ‘poly crisis’, which is the focus of my next book, I have been reading a lot about urban systems, building codes, and other facets of the climate problem. In that vein, I have been considering the concept of – Deep Adaptation – which emerged from the work of British academic Jem Bendell in 2018. His seminal paper – Deep adaptation: a map for navigating climate tragedy – was updated in July 2020 as – Update. The author has a background in geography and makes it clear he is not a climate scientist. His work on deep adaptation came up against a harsh refereeing process because it ran counter to the Groupthink surrounding how we should deal with the climate issue. Most of the resistance I suspect relates to a view that the crisis can be solved within Capitalism. In that sense, his work was dismissed as being overly pessimistic. However, the initial work on deep adaptation is rather scant on how it fits in with the ideas of class conflict within the current economic order. Jem Bendell admitted that is his original essay “the power of capital in keeping us compliant is implied” rather than explicit. His defense was that he was “writing for the sustainability profession” and he was thus “embedded in that system” (Source). This is where I am interested in the concept – to fully embed it within a more radical, Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) focused paradigm. This is Part 1 of a series of unspecified Parts at this stage where I explore the concept of Deep Adaptation and try to extent it into the MMT world.
The latest news I read from Germany was that the Rhine is now so low on water that its importance as a commercial waterway for transporting raw materials and finished products is being significantly compromised. The water level in places is now well below that required for navigation by the barges. It is the second time in the space of a few years that inland shipping in Europe has been thwarted by this sort of problem. The War in Ukraine is also causing bottlenecks in the inland transport routes as grain transports are being diverted as a consequence of the Black Sea blockades. Sure enough there are rail transports still capable of shifting the cargo but this problem is one of many now hitting Germany, which is finding out that its economic growth strategy is deeply flawed. It was only a matter of time before the ‘chickens came home to roost’. It was obvious for years that the Post-unification strategy the German government took as it entered the common currency could not deliver sustainable and stable growth. The reliance on suppressing domestic expenditure and wages growth in order to game its Eurozone partners so they recorded large external deficits in order to buy German exports was problematic given that the German insistence on austerity across the Eurozone resulted in stagnation and weaker export markets. Further, Germany relied heavily on diesel engines to underpin the strength of their dominant motor vehicle industry and not only did they lie about the quality of the products, but they failed to foresee the shifting sentiment away from polluting diesel. And, of course, they relied on imported energy from Russia to feed this industrial strength and supply their consumer markets, which assumed that Russia would remain reliable. At present they are also being impacted by the supply disruptions in China, given they have shifted their external sector towards an increased reliance on China. Some of these problems will ease but the reality is that the German model that they took into the Eurozone is now unsustainable. They must abandon their export led growth obsession, increase their reliance on domestic demand and improve the circumstances for their workers while dealing with the increasingly evident climate emergency.
I wrote about what I am terming a ‘poly crisis’ in this recent blog post – The global poly crisis is the culmination of the absurdity of neoliberalism (July 18, 2022). I am working on material for my next book to follow up – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, September 2017). The German word ‘Zeitenwende’ means turning point. A fork in the road. It carries with it, from one interpretation, a recognition that the path that has been traversed to date is not the path that should be followed in the future. Something has to give. Whether Albert Einstein actually said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” is an interesting literary issue but the essence of the quote (correctly attributed to him or not) is sound. The idea of a ‘poly crisis’ is that big shifts in thinking and behaviour are required. We simply cannot continue to act in the same way as before whether it be on an individual level (us making our own choices) or at a societal level. The organisation of economic activity, our patterns of consumption and conduct of economic policy must all change – radically – for the planet to survive. Tinkering around the edges will be insufficient. Identifying a ‘poly crisis’ is tantamount to declaring the neoliberal experiment has failed dramatically and taken us all to the brink. It cannot form a basis for the future. But there is massive resistance to change and in Australia in the last week we have seen that in spades.
Today is Wednesday and as usual I feel as though I can roam a bit freer than usual. Today I have some great music but also my latest views on sustainable urban development and the hot topic in Australia at the moment of whether or not the Australian government should reintroduce mask mandates in certain settings given that Covid is rapidly accelerating and our death rate is now at unacceptably high levels and rising. There is a lot of guff on Twitter etc about the oppression of these sorts of restrictions. But wearing a mask is a simple way to protect oneself and those around us. It is hardly a symbol of authoritarianism and conspiracy to destroy our freedom. I see it as basically a civic responsibility. I am in a very small minority though. As usual. Tomorrow I will get back to economics.
We are used to segmenting destructive episodes as crises – the Mexican debt crisis in 1982, which gave way to the Latin American debt crisis in the 1980s, the East Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, then the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 and beyond, then the pandemic crisis since 2020. Meanwhile, firefighters are dealing with major fires from Portugal, France to Crete; Britain is about to experience 40 degrees Centigrade; Australia is dealing with a sequence of massive floods; corporations are gouging profits and pushing inflation, which is provoking policy makers to take it out on the most disadvantaged in our societies, with no logical link between the policy and the perceived problem, other than deep recessions stop the gouging; nations considered to be ‘middle income and rising’ are now lining up behind Sri Lanka to see who will be the next to basically collapse into anarchy, unable to feed its population; housing shortages are causing havoc almost everywhere; the quality of employment has declined dramatically (job security, worker agency, etc) and the trade unions are a pale imitation of what they used to be; politicians are more self-serving than ever; and people are still dying in the thousands everyday from the pandemic but our leaders insist we are now ‘living’ with Covid (more like dying with it). The reality is that all these events are linked and part of what some might call a poly crisis. Capitalism has failed and the institutions we created to tame the raw-profit greed of capital – the state, trade unions, etc – have also been compromised to such a degree that they, either are no longer effective or work as agents of capital rather than mediating the labour-capital conflict. A poly crisis requires fundamental change. But, such is the dominance of the mainstream, which has created this crisis, that all we get is more of the same. That means the ultimate solutions will be more painful and destructive and lead to conflagration as this period of human civilisation collapses.
The current period is really exposing what is wrong with the world order based on Capitalism. Those in the know have always understood that the system is not designed to advance human prosperity generally. At times in history, it has required the general improvement in material living standards to accomplish its aims – which are different from that improvement. So, it has tolerated a more equitable distribution of income and access to consumption purchasing power. But while the masses became complacement as they polished their big (oversized) SUVs, which sit in their driveways next to their big (oversized) motor boat and out the front of their big (oversized) house that is ill-designed for a carbon-neutral future, the bosses have been beavering away working out how to continue to meet their aims independent of us.