Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Sustainable Steady-State Socialism

The richest 20 percent of people consume 86 percent of everything that is sold for private consumption.

The poorest 20 percent consume 1 percent of it.

A typical American buys 53 times as many products as someone from China, one American's consumption of resources is equal to that of 35 Indians, the average American will create 13 times as much environmental damage as the average Brazilian.

The average "footprint" -- the amount of biologically productive space allocated per person in resources to sustain them -- is 2.3 global hectares. But the average American's footprint is 9.7 global hectares, while the average Chinese is only 1.6. If just China and India wanted to achieve Japan's per capita footprint, for example, they would require an extra planet Earth's worth or resources to meet their needs.

If the Chinese on a per capita basis were to consume the same amount of grain as Americans (291 kilograms, or 642 pounds compared to 935 kg, or 2,061 pounds today), China's total consumption would represent two-thirds of all the grain harvested worldwide in 2006 , OneWorld reports. And if the Chinese ate as much meat per person as the Americans do now, they would be consuming around four-fifths of the world's total meat production.
"China will, of course, not tolerate being told not to aspire to First-World levels. But the world cannot sustain China and other Third World countries and current First-World countries all operating at first-world levels." Jared Diamond in "Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive":

Encouraging the developing world to consume like the West simply isn't a sustainable strategy. Encouraging Americans ( and others of the developed world ) to buy less doesn't seem a likely option either when for capitalism the retail industry that makes $7 trillion a year and consumer spending represents two-thirds of the $10 trillion U.S. economy.

"Shopping habits represent such a large part of greenhouse gas emissions that even if every household switched to renewable energy and stopped driving cars tomorrow, total household emissions would fall by less than 20 percent", the Sydney Morning Herald reports, quoting a study.

The enormous rise in living standards for the majority of the world’s population which is entailed by the establishment of Socialism is certain to mean a great increase in energy consumption. Even if Socialism is far less wasteful than capitalism, it will still follow that new energy sources will have to be found . There are two reasons why renewable sources are not used today as much as they could be. Firstly, there is concern over the cost and economic viability of such supplies. Secondly, relatively few resources are put into researching and developing renewable sources. Besides new sources of energy, more efficient consumption of energy will be an important step, with more of the energy supplied in some process being delivered as useful energy at the end. the capitalist system creates vast amounts of energy waste in the military and its socially useless jobs such as marketing, finance and banking which are part of its profit making machine. This waste would not happen in socialism which would be solely concerned to provide for real needs.

We can set out a possible way of achieving an eventual zero growth society operating in a stable and ecologically benign way. This could be achieved in three main phases. First, there would have to be emergency action to relieve the worst problems of food shortages, health care and housing which affect billions of people throughout the world. Secondly, longer term action to construct means of production and infrastructures such as transport systems for the supply of permanent housing and durable consumption goods. These could be designed in line with conservation principles, which means they would be made to last for a long time, using materials that where possible could be re-cycled and would require minimum maintenance. Thirdly, with these objectives achieved there could be an eventual fall in production, and society could move into a stable mode. This would achieve a rhythm of daily production in line with daily needs with no significant growth. On this basis, the world community could reconcile two great needs, the need to live in material well being whilst looking after the planet which is our shared home in space.


Scott said...

It sounds like you're saying economic prosperity and sustainable lifestyle are incompatible. I hope you're wrong, but concede that you might be right. I think it largely depends on the path society chooses. In other words, with good design, we do not have to accept a reduction in production and consumption.

Jared Diamond had an Op-Ed in the NYT last week that made roughly the same argument as you, but I think there are fallacies in his thinking, which can be exploited to allow for growth and well being.

ajohnstone said...

I think what is missing both from Jared Diamond's and my own blog comment and even your criticism is an analysis of WHY we have this high level of conspicuous consumption in the West and why supposedly "happier" peoples now wish to take the same route of acquisition .

Erich Fromm seems to have sought a psychological explanation which i touched upon in another blog item


Fromm states that “…the pursuit of happiness does not produce well-being”.
We are a society of notoriously unhappy people lonely , anxious , depressed , destructive , dependent .
The psychological premise of capitalism , that the pursuit of individual egoism leads to harmony and peace , is equally rejected by Fromm .To be an egoist , he says , means :

“I want everything to myself, that possessing , not sharing , gives me pleasure; that I must become greedy because if my aim is having , I am more the more I have .
I can never be satisfied , because there is no end to my wishes : I must be envious of those who have more and afraid of those who have less.”
Fromm therefore concludes that the character traits engendered by or socio-economic system are pathogenic , and produce sick people and a sick society . Given that fact , we are headed for an economic catastrophe unless we change our social system , not just the ecological basis of it . The physical survival of the human race depends on it.

it is through one's
possessions that one attains the power and freedom to be oneself; one's sense of self-identity and self-worth--in short, one's social status--is tied up with,and expressed through, one's possessions. This is what Fromm means by a "having" mode of existence as opposed to a "being" mode.

So it does not matter how modest one's real needs may be or how easily they may be met;capitalism's "consumer culture" leads one to want more than one may materially need since what the individual desires is to enhance his or her status within this hierarchal culture of consumerism and this is dependent upon acquiring more than others have got. But since others desire the same thing, the economic inequality inherent in a system of competitive capitalism must inevitably generate a pervasive sense of relative deprivation.

What this amounts to is a kind of institutionalised envy and that will be unsustainable as more peoples are drawn into alienated capitalism .