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The Progressive Economics Forum

Manifesto Destiny

In my holiday reading were two manifestos – how often can you say that? The first arrived by mail just before the break, the Manifesto on Global Economic Transitions, published in September 2007 by the International Forum on Globalization, the Institute for Policy Studies, and the Global Project on Economic Transitions (I will dub this the IFG Manifesto). The second was referred to in the latest Canadian Dimension, and proved intriguing enough that I tracked down the original 2001 Ecosocialist Manifesto, by Joel Kovel and Michael Lowy.

The two together provide an interesting contrast, both starting from principles that I would heartily endorse: more democracy; less inequality; and a shift toward sustainable (carbon neutral) economies. The Ecosocialist Manifesto has the academic edge to it that can be a turn-off to some – lots of antiquated language from the early 20th century. By adding “eco” as a prefix it aspires to sex up socialism that way “neo” worked for liberalism.

In sum, the capitalist world system is historically bankrupt. It has become an empire unable to adapt, whose very gigantism exposes its underlying weakness. It is, in the language of ecology, profoundly unsustainable, and must be changed fundamentally, nay, replaced, if there is to be a future worth living. … But why socialism, why revive this word seemingly consigned to the rubbish-heap of history by the failings of its twentieth century interpretations? For this reason only: that however beaten down and unrealized, the notion of socialism still stands for the supersession of capital. If capital is to be overcome, a task now given the urgency of the survival of civilization itself, the outcome will perforce be “socialist, for that is the term which signifies the breakthrough into a post-capitalist society.

While I find the language somewhat less than appealing, I do like the focus on capitalism, and the deeper question of whether capitalism is fundamentally compatible with a sustainable economy (as Naomi Klein so well documents in the Shock Doctrine, capitalism is frequently not compatible with democracy). Among environmentalists there seem to be at least a couple camps: one that sees capitalism as the saviour, once we “get the prices right” through carbon taxes and other market reforms; and another that questions the very premise of economic growth as an over-riding objective of society (many question growth but do not see how this shoots an arrow at the heart of capitalism). The Ecosocialist Manifesto is decidedly in the latter camp.

But ultimately, while the Ecosocialist Manifesto gets basic principles right around ecology and equity, it then leaves us hanging with little in the way of concrete policy advice. This is as close as we get:

The generalization of ecological production under socialist conditions can provide the ground for the overcoming of the present crises. A society of freely associated producers does not stop at its own democratization. It must, rather, insist on the freeing of all beings as its ground and goal. It overcomes thereby the imperialist impulse both subjectively and objectively. In realizing such a goal, it struggles to overcome all forms of domination, including, especially, those of gender and race. And it surpasses the conditions leading to fundamentalist distortions and their terrorist manifestions. In sum, a world society is posited in a degree of ecological harmony with nature unthinkable under present conditions. A practical outcome of these tendencies would be expressed, for example, in a withering away of the dependency upon fossil fuels integral to industrial capitalism. And this in turn can provide the material point of release of the lands subjugated by oil imperialism, while enabling the containment of global warming, along with other afflictions of the ecological crisis.

In contrast, the IFG Manifesto is more popular and policy-oriented, although it fails to use the term capitalism at all in its analysis. While arguably anti-capitalist in orientation (the preferred enemy is “corporations”), it eshews use of the term, and that is a shame. Moving forward, it lays out a framwork for “steps toward a new economy of sufficiency, equity, sustainability and peace” with a major theme being a return to largely local, self-sufficient economies:

1) Rapid withdrawal from all carbon-based energy systems, including adoption by all countries of an “Oil Depletion Protocol”, or similar proposals for fixed annual downscalings of oil, coal and gas consumption.

2) Rejection of large-scale so called “alternative” energy systems designed to prolong the industrial growth system. These include nuclear energy, “clean” coal, industrial scale biofuels, and the combustion of hazardous materials and municipal waste, among others.

3) Speedy transition to small-scale, locally oriented and locally owned, ecologically sustainable, renewable energy systems, including wind, solar, small scale hydro and wave, local biofuels. Equally important is a dramatic increase in the practices of conservation and efficiency—i.e., powering down, together with a corresponding decrease of personal consumption in countries where it has been excessive.

4) Recognition that some nations, because of historic patterns of colonialism, aggression, and resource exploitation have gained disproportionately from control of the planet’s resources. All solutions to the current crises must include awareness and an active effort toward reallocation of global resources to restore an equitable balance between and within nations.

5) Rejection of all the primary negative elements and goals of economic globalization, and the highly undemocratic “neoclassical” economic model itself. These negative factors include: hyper economic growth; export-oriented pro- duction in agriculture, energy, and manufacturing; deregulation of corporate activity; privatization of the natural commons; privatization of public services; “structural adjustment” of economies toward global trade and away from local needs; emphasis on global markets; destruction of local markets; sup- pression of protective tariffs and investment controls (meant to protect local resources and businesses). Such features of economic globalization are designed to sustain global corporations, not the environment or viable communities. Any sustainable democratic system will feature values and practices which are virtually the opposite of all those.

6) Reorienting the rules of economic activity—trade, investments, standards—to favor economic localization and local political empowerment (subsidiarity) wherever possible. The many global examples of existing sustainable communities should be acknowledged, and local economic well-being should take precedent over global corporate trade and growth. We favor major reforms of current international trade and finance bodies, such as WTO, World Bank and IMF, and export credit agencies, which are now primary actors in supporting the unsustainable global economy of today. Where institutional reform is not achievable, we seek their replacement by new international, national and local institutions and processes that do not act as surrogates for global corporations, but act in the interests of environmental sustainability, equity among nations and peoples, principles of subsidiarity and democracy; ecological, cul- tural and biological diversity, within the inherent limits of nature. (See also Cavanagh and Mander, Alternatives to Globalization.)

7) We favor less long-distance trade rather than more; more and deeper regulation of corporate activity; less movement of capital across borders; more emphasis on regional and local self sufficiency, sustainability and control; greater community participation on corporate boards, and increased rules of investment that favor local ownership; graduated, negotiated use of import and export controls as necessary, with corresponding transfers of resources from North to South to offset displacements from reductions in trade; use of trade policy to protect small farmers and small entrepreneurs in all countries, while recognizing the special needs for transitions of farmers and workers in less developed countries; re-empowerment of the concept of the local, regional and national commons; redesign of urban and non-urban living environments to conform to the true realities of a post carbon era; restrictions on all con- version of agricultural lands away from food-growing, and reconversion of many lands that have already been removed from agriculture and their return to local community ownership.

8.) Internalization of the full ecological and social costs of corporate production; codification of the “polluter pays” principle.

9) Promotion of an orderly re-ruralization, and revitalization of communities by way of land reform, education and application of eco-agricultural micro- farming methods, import/export controls, and emphasis on local democracy; all of these in preparation for the inevitable de-industrialization of agriculture, as cheap energy supply declines.

10) Reintroduction of a modernized version of “import substitution”, or regional self reliant models among nations, i.e., where nations seek to satisfy their most fundamental needs such as food, housing, energy, resource production and control, and livelihoods, from local systems and resources rather than being dependent on long distance supply, which routinely leads to dependency, insecurity and exploitation, empowering global players while harming local.

11) Introduction of new standards of measurement regarding the success of societies. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross National Product (GNP) must be recognized as inadequate and incompatible with societies that now seek basic shifts in values. Emphasis must now become human well- being, environmental sustainability, and the preservation of “natural capital” as primary concerns, rather than exponential growth, corporate profit, or personal wealth accumulation.

12) Within the contexts of global carrying capacity, establishment of global limits on total overall quantity of energy production, and the creation of stan- dards of “sufficiency” equity, sustainability and resource reallocation.

13) Prior rejection, and clear limits upon all technologies assessed as environmentally or socially unsustainable. Application of the “precautionary principle” with respect to all technological development.

14) Recognition that protection and preservation of the natural world—its full biological and genetic diversity, and all of its beings, is a primary goal and necessity of a sane and sustainable system, and that nature has inherent rights to exist on the earth in an undiminished healthy condition, separate from its services to humans.

15) Recognition that personal behavior shares responsibility with systemic conditions for the present problems, and for their solution. Many western industrial peoples have been privileged to enjoy the fruits of the present process, but must now work to change excessive consumption habits, while realizing that such change will actually bring positive benefits via greater free time for personal, family, social, recreational and spiritual pursuits.

16) Recognition that many indigenous societies of today, and many countries of the South, have already established societies with priorities and values such as we have listed above, and should be consulted as models and guides for change.

17) The success of all systems and societies should be judged by fulfillment of five fundamental criteria: ecological sustainability; degree of “net energy gain” or loss; degree of social equity, well-being, and “sufficiency” rather than surplus consumption and wealth; democratic decision-making processes; and non-violent conflict resolution.

18) All nations should conform to these principles.

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Comments

Comment from rabbit
Time: January 4, 2008, 7:08 pm

I have yet to read a socialist tract from any century that didn’t predict the downfall of capitalism. And yet capitalism is still here, bigger and badder than ever, while many socialist regimes have fallen.

A great strength of capitalism is its ability to adapt. It’s a creature of permanent creative destruction, its leaders not one man or organization, but every single person who declares themselves an entrepreneur. The great capitalist corporations of tomorrow will be different than today, and those of the day after different again. No one elected or overthrew them – the market made her judgement, and she is as honest and unforgiving as it gets, and that gives capitalism its enduring strength.

Would it be out of place to suggest that we would be more likely to succeed by working with capitalism, rather than attempting to delegate it into the dust bin of history? Yeah, kinda thought so.

Comment from Andrew Jackson
Time: January 6, 2008, 8:00 am

I would argue that we need new, democratically accountable global institutions to re-regulate global capitalism at least as much as the return to locally rooted economies argued for in these manifestos. That is, of course, a huge topic for discussion. However, I fail to see how we can deal with global environmental and development issues without some sort of global plan.

Comment from Paul T.
Time: January 6, 2008, 1:42 pm

to rabbit,

I would move rather cautiously when digging away at capitalism and creative destruction. If there is one thing apparent from the demise of the ecosystem, capitalism is fairly efficient in its ability to set good portion of the economy in the direction of ecosystem destruction plain and simple. Nothing truly creative about it, just more productive ways of satisfying the selfish needs of the many that has been going on since we left the trees. Yes there has been layer after layer of innovation within the production process, and a few more of the herd have been enabled access to the shiny flashy and a full belly yet the problems that has been creatively shaped into the many forms of contemporary asset generating wealth production, with an appropriate measurement tool has generated more negative externalities than positive. And with a whole pile of unacceptable inequity in both production and consumption. Of course this starts us back on the pathway of defining what is progress and that might be turning the pages to far back in seeking a solution to the current trajectory we are on.

I guess that would be my critique of the many points of scrubbing it all and starting from scratch that seems to leak through the many points above. We are too far gone, to go all the way back. We need to shift the trajectory and aim towards a new base, and the first notion that must be redefined, is what is progress and aim towards it!

Melting ice caps, unbalanced ecosystems and a 42 inch lcd tv for the few to view it all from is not my idea of progress.

We need take some strategic steps forward and it is not hard to see what they are. War reduction would be a start.

We need a manifesto there is no doubt but from my perspective, expecting to rebuild it all on some socialist base although having merit, I believe is a bit unrealistic given the time frame. We need to make smaller steps towards these goals and maximize the changes towards ecosystem sustainability rather than social sustainability. Undoubtedly the two are not independent however they are not perfectly correlated either.

Reregulation tools at the global level, or at least building a capacity within trade zones, or even as low, within the power echelons rankings as core groups of nations states would be a starting place. I think that this last has been achieved although not consolidated or institutionalized yet. But it is close within selected core nations. We need to keep pushing and things like manifestos are good for kneading the clay and setting the initial shape. we need to outline that pathway and make adjustments along the way.

Happy new year to all at PEF. Hope all had a good rest of some sorts.

paul

Comment from Phillip Huggan
Time: January 6, 2008, 2:09 pm

Two different definitions of capitalism are being confused here. Price as an economic agent. And markets as a supreme capital distributive force.
Few would question the former, but the latter clearly doesn’t work; leads to the situation where an oil president turns the US Constitution into a piece of toilet paper and (unsuccessfully 🙂 tries to steal oil, bankrupt his country, forment a global holywar, and fracture NATO in one fell swoop. All thanks to lobbyists and an underinvestment in (non-market allocated) social programs.

#8 above is the clincher that might be the reason capitalism doesn’t work, and why the universe appears quiet. Oil companies in Canada and the USA would rather pay less to lobby governments successfully, to ignore Global Warming, then pay a small carbon tax. What winds up happening is that the social cost of Global Warming rises and the necessary carbon tax rises. The situation is identical to where market forces have been used to provide firefighting services and the building burns down while the corporate firefighters negotiate really high firefighting fees. Eventually nationalization becomes a superior social outcome to the lobbying economy business schools are churning out.
Canadians banks claim they can’t afford $150 million free bank accounts (demand market forces), yet their CEOs are drawing eight figure salaries to make leveraged plays the average savings account holder understands better (don’t invest in what you don’t understand) than they do? The Alberta government under Klein was one of the biggest exporters of negative social capital Canada has ever seen.

The above list seems redundant and wrong. Switching to local farm production is noble, but would starve most of the world (many cities are far from suitable farmland) within months. What is merely needed is to cost the (often hidden) social capital of various economic sectors. If airlines in the future lobby against safeguards when a pandemic appears imminent, nationalize them if neccesary to deal with it. Same for big oil and coal in the present.

Comment from Phillip Huggan
Time: January 6, 2008, 2:32 pm

For example, S.Harper has claimed addressing Global Warming might hurt Canada’s economy in 2008. Meanwhile the cost of Kyoto is about $4 billion annually. 1% of GST. Martin’s Green Plan would have functioned very similiarly for $2 billion annually, because building capital infrastructures Green is cheaper the earlier you do it (it is usually more expensive to retrofit embedded infrastrutures like building insulation than to build them low-footprint at the time of construction, and it takes time to train green engineers and technicians, and marketing green products to create economies of scale spreads takes a while). All economists deride the GST cut; rejigging tarriffs and subsidies a bit may provide the same insulation to US consumer slowdown at a much cheaper price…

In a few years time the identical global social capital may cost 2% of GST. In a decade’s time, maybe 1% of permanent annual GDP growth. In two decades, that might be it for long-term modern civilization and we’ll regress to middle-age lifestyles with more toys and scarier weapons. Until climate change wipes out agriculture as it always has in the past, reverting survivors to hunter-gather existence.

Comment from Dave Gardner
Time: January 7, 2008, 8:12 am

These manifestos offer medicine that will be painful for most to swallow, yet desperate times obviously call for desperate measures. Those of us who believe a new paradigm is desperately needed have our work cut out for us. It begins with re-educating and re-orienting a growth-obsessed world. The medicine may not actually taste that bad, but a growth-addicted society thinks it will. The world must be prepped so that it will be ready to take this medicine!

Dave Gardner
Producer/Director
Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity
http://www.growthbusters.com

Comment from Paul T.
Time: January 7, 2008, 2:23 pm

An additional comment with a bit more cement in it. One issue that has been quite loudly screaming into my ear is the notion of environmental information or should I say the lack of it. We need to have a more concerted effort in this area. We need clear, precise, reliable, ubiquitous, unbiased information on the ecosystem. One would think this type infrastructure work would be in place already. However that is not the case. If we want to assess the change our policies make, we need to start building efficient measurement tools. Here are two examples that I take as proof that we need to move on this area and we need to move now.

Statistics Canada as late as 2001 did not have an independent environmental statistics program. It was in 2001 that they finally put a makeshift program in place that was pieced together without much strategic perspective. In fact one could surmise that the program they have in place, still does not have the independence away from Environment Canada to measure what they see fit. They have the Statistics Act that is a quite powerful political instrument. I still am perplexed at why Mr. Felligi and crew do not make use of this as means to put in place some effective statistical program on the environment. I will say that since 2001 they have been adding the informating capacity and have made some noted improvements, but they still are mere lap dogs to environment Canada. I would not have a problem with that accept for the fact that Environment Canada is a highly political space and that is not what is needed right now given the likes of Harper and crew. That is precisely why we have the statistics Act, to remedy the political interference in information collection to allow policy makers, business and labour leaders, and the general public to make informed decisions.

Information and data is an important prerequisite in promoting and sustaining change and our institutions have the abilities to implement the forces required to make the change, however no matter what politicians seem say these days, we are still getting hung up on the politics of change.

Here is another example. I tried in earnest to last year to initiate a project that would have saw a joint effort betwen some major players to allcoate and bring some much needed monies to a couple of Canada’s leadoing forestry research centers to enhance and improve on the research and development capacities of those studying the Boreal forest in Canada. It all fell apart early on in the initiative as senior government leaders felt the politics surrounding the issue were not convinicing enough to justify the expense. Talk about shooting ourselves in the foot. We need some large injections in resources into such R&D initiatives to aid not only Canada but the world in further understanding the forest ecosystem. It seems however if an intiative is not some how related to forestry sector commercial activities than you can kiss your R&D dollars good bye. We need leadership on these issues and we need these leaders to act.

As mentioned in my comment we have some decent assets in place. However their contributory outputs towards ecosystem solutions are severely being under utilized. These are just two examples of how we need to get the information infrastructure to start working towards solutions. In the information age it is almost ridiculous to think that I do not have the information at both an individual, neighbourhood, community or provincial, national or global level. What information is out there is only the start of what we need in our struggle towards an eco-friendly economy and society.

pt.

Comment from Siamdave
Time: January 10, 2008, 2:46 am

What is needed above all is to get out of the box. Capitalism is to human society as cancer is to the human body. They’re Building a Box – and You’re In It – http://www.rudemacedon.ca/dlp/box/box-intro.html

Comment from Alexander Murray
Time: January 10, 2008, 7:05 pm

The reference to Creative Distruction in rabbit’s comment is especially apt in the context of this blog entry. It was Schumpeter who argued in ‘Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy’ that capitalism would destroy itself not by any Marxian internal contradictions but by its very success. If it were not for capitalism, of course, we would probably not be sitting by our computers as members of an ever-growing intellectual class who have the free time to spend writing manifestos about how to ‘fix’ the system that got us out of abject poverty.

Although based upon valid concerns (for the environment, in particular), these manifestos and the attitudes underlying them are frightening examples of what Schumpeter wrote about. Dave Gardner’s comment about “re-educating . . . [the] world” is particularly unseemly and conceited. As if total planned systemic change is even within our ability to bring about! (Or do you believe that they didn’t have economic and political self-interest in the USSR?) Advocacy is one thing, but am I to believe that Mr. Gardner or the writers of these manifestos have figured out exactly how the world should be organized and how everyone should be ‘re-educated’ to get us there? Is this what people mean when they talk about democracy?

There is nothing remotely ‘progressive’ about this kind of thing. It is a regression to the old British conservative ethic according to which an intellectual or aristocratic elite is responsible for taking care of society because the common folk do not possess the intelligence or moral fortitude to govern their own lives. One of the relatively unusual things about Adam Smith in his time was his belief that ordinary people could make better, more socially-beneficial choices about their own lives, given their own circumstances, than could any philosopher. Where does ‘re-education’ come into the picture unless we reject this ethic outright?

The integrity of the environment is extremely important, and it may well be the issue that proves the unsustainability of capitalism. (With so many things having been predicted to bring about the downfall of capitalism, one is bound to eventually be correct!) I would bet that the ‘capitalist era’ will eventually end, just as every other economic system has come and gone. But if and when capitalism is replaced by something else, its successor will not be something written down in a manifesto by intelligent people. The new order will emerge as the product of people from all strata of society reacting to whatever new circumstances face them. No manifestos and no active ‘re-education’ will be needed.

In the meantime, there may be measures we can take to rectify environmental damages and other inequities. But we should not impoverish ourselves and condemn the developing world by returning to ‘localism,’ import substitution, national ‘self-reliance’ (i.e. arbitrary economic nationalism), or the imposition of other excessive restrictions.

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