00:00:00: The status quo is a Death March and we must abandon it now I have hope in an empirical sense.
00:00:08: As a scientist I know that a better world is possible I know that it's possible for us to keep temperature rise to less than 1.5 degrees,
00:00:16: to reverse a psychological breakdown and to improve human well-being at the same time whether or not we can pull this off depends entirely on the strength of our movements
00:00:26: and to me this is an important point I'm often asked to have hope for the future and my point is like hope in and of itself is not good enough Our Hope can only ever be as strong as our struggle,
00:00:35: and so if we want to improve our hope and feel like hopeful people we have to build the struggle that is going to be capable of bringing us to that future.
00:00:50: Thank you so much guys for tuning in to this week's episode of the designs podcast I'm your host Lucas ondreka and I'm very much honored to be joined by Jason hickel.
00:00:59: He's a degrowth scholar and activist and his last publication less is more howdy growth will save the world,
00:01:05: has just been translated into German and I thought to myself let's invite him to talk about the relationship between capitalism and climate breakdown and how we need to change our economy to meet human and ecological needs.
00:01:17: Jason thank you so much for joining me here yes my pleasure thanks for having me.
00:01:21: You argued Jason that if we want to survive the crisis of our time above all the ecological crisis we have to free ourselves from capitalism.
00:01:30: Why do you think there's no future with capitalism.
00:01:33: You can start for the big questions so yes I think it's really important that we have a clear idea of what we mean when we say capitalism.
00:01:41: Capitalism is a system that requires Perpetual growth this is the key elements and what that means is is ever increasing quantities of production.
00:01:49: And crucially under capitalism the purpose of increasing production is not in order to meet human needs but rather to extract and accumulate Surplus value right that's the overriding objective.
00:02:01: Now to sustain an ever-rising quantity of surplus value you have to depress the costs of your inputs this is so important and your inputs of course our labor and nature so you're constantly pushing the prices of Labor and nature down,
00:02:12: and this is why capitalism constantly produces crisis of inequality and ecologically breakdown right both and these are the Dual crises that we face in the world today
00:02:21: and this happens because Capitol must by definition.
00:02:25: Take more from labor and from nature than it gives back in return right it's inherently exploitative in that respect.
00:02:31: And we've known that for a long time but what's now increasingly clear is that this system is not fit for the 21st century right it's a 16th century mode of production that we have dragged over the past 500 years,
00:02:44: into the presence and it's simply not going to work for us anymore so what we need to do is shift to a post growth economy.
00:02:50: One that's capable of meeting human needs at a high standard with much lower levels of aggregate production.
00:02:55: And that objective is just unfortunately or fortunately for for others not compatible with capitalism yeah so I wrote the book to address a really I guess kind of crucial question that has emerged over the past decade.
00:03:08: So people now are very clearly widely aware of the crisis of climate change and ecological breakdown.
00:03:13: And we're also widely aware that existing efforts to address this crisis are failing right the news just keeps getting worse and no progress no meaningful progress is being made.
00:03:22: So the question is why is this happening right is it because we're not trying hard enough is it because we don't care.
00:03:28: My argument is that it's happening because of the underlying structure of our economic system so as long as capitalist growth is the core objective of the economy.
00:03:37: Then we're going to have an extremely difficult time achieving our ecological goals in most cases politicians will opt to pursue growth at the expense of ecological goals whenever these two coming conflicts and so that's a problem that we really really need to address.
00:03:50: Yeah before we go into more detail why we need that fundamental change in our economic structures and how we make it happen,
00:03:57: I just want to Jason how you became an anti-capitalist activists because you book reads like a scientific book obviously because you're an economic Anthropologist first and foremost,
00:04:08: but it also reads like a political Manifesto so what made you become a degrowth activist.
00:04:14: Yeah I know I mean my politics emerge from my work as a scientist right so,
00:04:20: my job is to draw conclusions from empirical data by in fact used to be a kind of run-of-the-mill progressive growth assist in the kind of the tradition of let's say Paul Krugman or something like that right.
00:04:31: But it became very clear to me when I actually looked at empirical evidence,
00:04:35: on growth in the relationship with resource and energy use and I can logical impact that this is not a feasible future right,
00:04:42: this idea that even the even the richest economies in the world need to continue having economic growth is so ingrained that's that everybody takes it for granted I mean I took it for granted for most of my career.
00:04:52: It's only when you're confronted with with the question about this that it forces you to rethink these core assumptions.
00:04:58: And so that process happened from you over over several years of reading scientific literature for my research and it changed the way I think honestly and.
00:05:07: And now it's clear to me that's our existing economic system is not compatible with human flourishing and planetary stability.
00:05:14: In the 21st century and my work is simply designed to point that out in the most accessible way that I possibly can.
00:05:20: So I guess that's where it kind of comes from but I should also mention that my backgrounds growing up in s w teeny and southern Africa,
00:05:29: I think played a very important role because my whole life I've been connected to anti-colonial struggles in the global South and social movements in the global South.
00:05:37: And that has given me a perspective on the core capitalist economies that I think is different from people who have spent most of their life living in those economies.
00:05:45: Because you're able to see it from the outside you're able to see it from the position of people who are oppressed by it and who suffer the damages from it and who have to deal with the externalized costs of it and so on.
00:05:58: And so being aware of those problems I think was always instrumental in leaving me open to the kind of critique that's I have that I've developed.
00:06:08: So and really I must say that I owe a huge intellectual debt to anti-colonial thinkers like Frantz Fanon and Thomas Sankara and you know Amy cesare and so on.
00:06:18: Who were very have been very inspiring for me and my work is in some ways a kind of tribute to that.
00:06:24: Jason let's talk about why we need degrowth in order to prevent climate disaster because the mainstream view still seems to be that we actually can have Perpetual growth we just need to decouple it from CO2 emissions,
00:06:38: for example by investing in Technologies like renewable energies and more efficiency the underlying mode of consumption and production is not questioned in those green growth narratives,
00:06:47: so why do you think that this is going to fail right so so green growth theory is widespread it's on the lips of every politician,
00:06:57: and basically it claims to fundamental things the first is that we can continue growing GDP indefinitely.
00:07:04: While reducing resource use okay and the second thing is that we can continue growing GDP while also at the same time solving the climate crisis right,
00:07:12: so we have to keep these two different dimensions in mind when we talk about green growth and it's important that we are scientific about this right so let's think about this,
00:07:21: first regarding the question of resource use.
00:07:23: There is no existing evidence of absolute decoupling of GDP from resource use okay in fact the opposite is happening.
00:07:31: We're resources right now globally is rising at a faster rates than then GDP okay.
00:07:37: And furthermore all existing Global Studies that have been published indicate that absolute decoupling of GDP from resources will not be accomplished in the future even under high efficiency scenarios okay and the reason basically is simply because,
00:07:52: in the capitalist economy the gains from efficiency improvements,
00:07:55: are basically plowed back into expanding the process of production and so you quite often achieve relative decoupling but the scale effect of growth ends up wiping out any absolute gains okay.
00:08:06: And this is a problem because excess resources is a major driver of ecologically breakdown.
00:08:10: On other planetary boundaries besides climate change and we have to pay attention to what's happening there specifically biodiversity loss resource use is the key driver of biodiversity loss and habitat fragmentation and so on.
00:08:22: Let's resource is now the second question has to do with emissions right so people will often point to.
00:08:27: Grass okay showing Rising GDP and declining emissions in several high-income Nations which is clearly absolute decoupling.
00:08:36: And they'll say this is evidence of green grass.
00:08:38: Now crucially we have known this has been happening for decades now and it happens of course because of renewable energy okay so shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy allows you to achieve an absolute decoupling of GDP from emissions.
00:08:51: But this is not green growth in and of itself.
00:08:55: What matters when it comes to the question of green is bringing emissions to zero fast enough to respect the carbon budget for 1.5 or 2 degrees
00:09:03: okay and right now no country is anywhere near accomplishing this okay so think about it even if we have some declining emissions in rich countries with Rising GDP.
00:09:14: If that is not fast enough to keep us under 4 degrees or 3 degrees or 2 degrees then this is there's nothing green about this this is a catastrophe right so emissions actually write down the zero fast enough for the Paris climate targets at minimum.
00:09:28: And the question becomes can we accomplish a sufficiently rapid reduction of emissions.
00:09:33: And the answer to that is yes but not if high-income Nations continue to pursue growth as a primary objective.
00:09:40: And the reason is because more growth means more energy use than would otherwise be the case okay,
00:09:46: and more energy use makes it more difficult to transition to Renewables quickly enough in the short time we have left okay basically more energy use makes rapid decarbonization more difficult to achieve.
00:09:57: And so this is why increasingly scientists and ecological economists are pointing out that if we want to meet our climate objectives,
00:10:05: then rich countries which have very high levels of Energy's vastly in excess of what is required to meet human needs even at a high standard.
00:10:13: Are going to have to scale down excess energies and you achieve that by reducing less necessary forms of production okay and that's what degrowth is so this is important I mean green growth Merida's may seem fresh and exciting.
00:10:27: And super high-tech and so on but in fact they've been around for more than 50 years this is like a 1970s idea.
00:10:33: Proponents of green growth keep claiming that salvation is right around the corner it's just we trust enough.
00:10:39: But of course it never and never actually arrives and so if we want to be scientific about this question.
00:10:44: We need to think much more empirically about the issue and when we do it becomes clear that green Gruff narratives are not going to be sufficient we need a more robust more scientifically informed approach.
00:10:54: Jason maybe you could give our listeners a concrete example,
00:10:57: of how the green growth narrative is flawed and how shift towards the degrowth perspective would actually look since I'm living in Germany I'm thinking of the transportation sector and especially the automobile industry,
00:11:10: which ones to sell private cars in order to make a profit and they proposed the electrification of private cars as a solution to the climate crisis
00:11:18: of course highly doubtful that is going to be sustainable when it comes to energy and resource so as an example how can we adopt a d cross perspective in this sector.
00:11:27: Yeah so this is very important if you look at the resource use
00:11:31: of various countries you'll see that high-income Nations have extremely high levels of resources in the region of 28 material tons of stuff per person per year it's wild actually and is much higher in countries like Germany and the USA and Australia and so on.
00:11:45: Now this is not a matter of like blaming individuals for a high resource Footprints no it has to do with the provisioning systems in different economies.
00:11:54: And in these rich economies transport provisioning is done almost entirely in most of the cases like in the USA Canada Australia and Germany,
00:12:03: by private car like there's an overwhelming dependence on the automobile industry,
00:12:07: which has an interest in maximizing people's dependence on cars okay now we know that private cars are much more resource and energy intensive,
00:12:16: per passenger kilometer then public transit or bicycles or walking etc etc right,
00:12:22: and so if you switch your provisioning system your transit provisioning system from private cars to public transits and e-bikes and so on,
00:12:30: you're going to be able to increase people's access to Mobility while at the same time dramatically reducing resource use and so this is an example of how we need to think not just about individual consumption but rather about the underlying provisioning systems.
00:12:42: And this this happens across sectors and so if you look at,
00:12:44: obviously right like public water systems are more resource and energy efficient than everyone drinking from private bottles right public health care services are much more resource and energy efficient than private ones,
00:12:58: and the reason for this discrepancy is simply that sin public provisioning system the objective is to meet a specific human need rather than to grow corporate profits right.
00:13:08: And so this allows you to actually accomplish your objectives your human needs meeting objectives with much less resource and energy use and that's really a key lesson for us and ecologically economics.
00:13:18: Yeah I guess the one big question when it comes to degrowth is immediately what about jobs if you ask people on the street they either don't know what the growth is or they associated with a recession with something that happened during Corona when they lost their jobs.
00:13:32: So how would you propose to them that di growth is actually something worth pursuing at that they don't need growth to live good lives.
00:13:40: Yeah okay let's dive into the sea yeah so degrowth that is very simplest calls for a planned reduction of excess resource use and energy use in high-income Nations.
00:13:49: In a manner that is just and Equitable right safe just and equitable.
00:13:55: So and also which reduces inequality and ends poverty and improve social outcomes and this is really quite important this is what distinguishes degrowth from a recession.
00:14:04: Write a recession is what happens when a growth dependence capitalist economy fails to grow everything falls apart right poverty goes up inequality goes up homelessness goes up,
00:14:15: people lose their jobs and their houses and so on it's a total catastrophe in this happens every 10 years in a capitalist economy.
00:14:21: So a recession is what capitalism does it rides from crisis to crisis which is extremely destructive to human beings D growth is totally different degrowth,
00:14:31: is actively about reducing inequality reducing unemployment is reducing poverty and reorganizing production around meeting human needs.
00:14:39: So what does this look like in concrete terms it's important that we get to this,
00:14:42: it's really quite straightforward start by recognizing the fact that right now the dominant assumption in economics is that every sector of the economy should grow all the time.
00:14:52: Perpetually regardless of whether or not we actually need it too okay yeah this is an absurd and irrational way to manage an economy at the best of times but in the middle of an ecological crisis it's clearly Madness and deeply dangerous.
00:15:06: So instead of assuming that let's have a conversation right about what forms of production we actually once to improve things like renewable energy things like public transit things like Health Care access.
00:15:18: And then also think about what sectors or forms of production are clearly destructive or too big and are socially less necessary and should be actively scaled down right so things like private jets SUVs are travel fast fashion right industrial beef farming.
00:15:33: Advertising the practice of planned obsolescence where by corporations produce Goods that are designed to break down after a very short period of time to increase product turnover.
00:15:41: And so on and then of course you know the military industrial complex.
00:15:45: There are clearly huge parts of our economy that are organized mostly around corporate profits rather than around human well-being
00:15:53: okay so recognizing that facts is the most important first step
00:15:56: now most people will agree with us if you ask them to identify parts of the economy that are less necessary and need to be scaled down to reduce excess resources and energy use.
00:16:06: They will have no difficulty identifying what those sectors are okay the question that arises for everybody immediately is what about jobs and livelihoods.
00:16:16: If you're going to be producing less necessary forms of production what about the jobs that are at stake lair.
00:16:23: Now what's interesting and important to recognize here is that ecological economists have proposed a solution to this for several decades in fact this solution goes back 100 years and the solution is simply,
00:16:34: as your economy requires less labor to produce the things you actually need.
00:16:38: Then you shorten the working week and distributes necessary labor more evenly okay therefore
00:16:44: you take the games in the form of more leisure time and you end unemployment in the process right permanently end unemployment unemployment is an artificial scarcity produced by capitalist economies and it doesn't need to exist,
00:16:59: we can support that objective by also at the same time introducing a public job guarantee or a climate job guarantee.
00:17:05: That will allow anyone who wants to train or retrain,
00:17:09: to participate in the most important Collective projects of Our Generation for the sake of the ecological transition right.
00:17:16: Building out renewable energy capacity retrofitting homes insulating buildings regenerating ecosystems and so on.
00:17:24: So these two principles together and sure that there's no increase in unemployment during this transition this is the bread and butter of a just transition.
00:17:31: At the same time it's also really important that we expand Universal public services and D commodify core social goods Healthcare education public transportation water energy internet all of the basics of people require for survival.
00:17:46: We need to ensure that everyone has access to the goods they need in order to live decent flourishing lives.
00:17:53: Andy commodifying the core social sector and giving us social guarantee that everyone can access those goods is essential to that objective.
00:18:00: Okay now the final piece of the puzzle is to reduce inequality dramatically.
00:18:05: And this is a really important one I want to briefly dwell on this for a moment if I may sure people will often ask me will there be enough income in a degrowth
00:18:13: scenario to meet everyone's needs and the answer is by definition yes okay so income is simply we have to understand is simply the obverse of prices the prices of all the stuff that the economy produces
00:18:26: every year okay so as long as we are producing the things that we actually need,
00:18:32: their will by definition be enough income for people to buy those things okay there will literally never be a shortage of income.
00:18:39: The only question we have to address is how is that income distributed how is purchasing power in the economy distributed.
00:18:46: And so it's essential that we distribute purchasing power.
00:18:49: As fairly and as evenly as possible to ensure that everybody has access to the goods they need to live good lives and this is important
00:18:56: the solution to an ecological economy is a fair distribution of income it's impossible to overemphasize that facts now doing things like shortening the working week and introducing a job guarantee and Universal basic Services things like that.
00:19:09: Will automatically improve the bargaining power of Labor.
00:19:12: And therefore improve the working-class share of the national income and their access to the National products right so that goes a long way towards accomplishing,
00:19:21: a reduction in inequality but we can also introduce,
00:19:24: wealth tax or maximum income to ensure that no one is allowed to accumulate so much that they drive ecologically break down and prevent people from accessing the goods that they need,
00:19:33: so this is crucial I think to the transition that we require.
00:19:37: Jason a new book less is more you cover extensively the relationship between inequality human well-being and ecology maybe you can elaborate a bit more how does inequality affect our well-being and the ecology
00:19:49: and why are you can lie turn in society is better for human well-being and the environment.
00:19:54: Yeah so we know from several studies that inequality is a problem when it comes to both human well-being and ecology because
00:20:04: basically here's what it does it induces an extreme form of status anxiety right so everybody who's worse off is made to feel shit about themselves.
00:20:14: And also isn't a position of quite often actual impoverishment now and so they have to earn and buy more in order to.
00:20:24: Feel okay about themselves right and this produces this endless treadmill of unnecessary status production and consumption and of course it never ends in the sons of if there's always if there's always inequality the Richer constantly pushing the objective Out Of Reach of everybody else okay,
00:20:38: and you can see this very clearly on social media especially on Instagram so status anxiety is a crucial part of a capitalist economy.
00:20:46: And of course that excess production also has ecologically effects and so not only is it is an equality bad for human well-being by inducing anxiety.
00:20:55: But it's also bad for the environment look it's empirically possible and this is very exciting research,
00:21:00: we know empirically that we can meet human needs at a high standard for everyone on the planet for 10 billion people more than we have a presence while at the same time stopping climate breakdown.
00:21:10: But that is only possible with a relatively even distribution of resources and energy okay so that's I mean this is effectively what we face right like there's no obstacle to us.
00:21:23: Ending poverty and achieving good centers living for everybody.
00:21:27: Within the boundaries of our planets but it's not possible in a highly unequal economy and this has been demonstrated over and over again by Major scientific reports over the past couple of years,
00:21:37: so it's crucial that we addressed this this problem with urgency yeah it's super crucial because one common misconception I see when it comes to degrowth and promoting is that people think it's some kind of radical form of austerity,
00:21:50: it might be that we need to shift away from the consumption of new smartphones new TVs new cars and ever shorter intervals but do they make us happy actually.
00:21:59: Or what could be gained by D crowing those sectors and investing more in for example care work or in more free time and more spare time.
00:22:09: So maybe explain a bit where this misconception of radical austerity comes from and how we shift the perspective towards one of radical abundance,
00:22:18: yeah this idea of austerity is totally Bogus the people that make this claim actually have no idea what they're talking about let me explain,
00:22:25: so austerity is what a capitalist economy does in order to get more gross okay so every time there's some kind of crisis.
00:22:33: Then capitalists want to cut Social provisions and introduce artificial scarcities in order to put people in a position where they have to work and produce more increasing productivity in order to get growth going again
00:22:46: okay so austerity as a child of capitalism austerity as a child of growth ISM degrowth calls for exactly the opposite.
00:22:53: It wants to expand public services and end unemployment
00:22:57: so that growth is no longer necessary for people to live good lives right it is if anything a theory of radical abundance it proposes,
00:23:06: that's abundance that a radical abundance of access to core social goods,
00:23:11: is the antidote to growth as an is the answer to capitalism even one of my colleagues jurgis callous frequently points out that capitalism cannot operate under conditions of abundance and so this is what we are calling for
00:23:24: and I think that's that's quite an important point to underline so yeah I mean if there's going to be a steady of anything in a d growth scenario it's going to be austerity for the rich we know from empirical modeling that
00:23:37: most people's lives will be dramatically improved in a degrowth scenario with the policies that we proposed there will be less economic and security there will be more free time,
00:23:46: there will be better relative wages for the working class there will be better access to high-quality Healthcare and education and housing and Transit,
00:23:55: etcetera etcetera not to mention by the way we get to stop climate and ecologically breakdown in his tracks which is quite an attractive proposition but no think about it this way one of the core propositions of degrowth,
00:24:07: is that we end planned obsolescence okay so imagine that our smart phones and our computers and so on,
00:24:14: our washing machines and refrigerators last twice as long as they presently do okay what this means is that we therefore consume half as many.
00:24:22: With no loss to our actual use value of these important products right.
00:24:27: So resources and energy use involved in those sectors has gone down and yet we have not lost anything in terms of our access to these core Goods the only people who have lost in this Arrangements,
00:24:38: by the capitalists that run corporations that rely on planned obsolescence right their profits go down by half
00:24:44: and I look I think that we should accept that as a reasonable as a reasonable outcome fine by me so yeah no I really see this argument about austerity being totally disingenuous these people have not read anything about degrowth scholarship.
00:24:56: Even a cursory reading of the existing literature would disabuse them of such ridiculous Notions,
00:25:02: Jason all that you're saying sounds so socialist also Eco socialist so I just wondered why do you shy away from the label socialism you don't actually use it in your book,
00:25:11: and what's the relationship between your way of thinking and the Eco socialist tradition like my main issue is simply that we like when communicating in public.
00:25:21: It's clear that
00:25:23: a lot of people are stuck in these old especially the older generation are stuck in this old like cold war binary we're basically the only two options are effectively american-style capitalism,
00:25:32: and then the misery of the late USSR or stalinism or something like that right the conversation is so absurdly polarized and obviously look we can acknowledge that we need to to shift to a post capitalist economy.
00:25:47: With several crucial socialist principles which by the way are not alien to most people are actively desired by most people including you know Universal public provisioning
00:25:57: with all of us enjoy to some extent in our lives and we want more of right so these are core socialist principles.
00:26:05: Which have been the the main determinants of social progress over the 20th century so let's Embrace what is clearly good there.
00:26:13: But also recognize that you know the post capitalist economy of the 21st century does not need to look like a command-and-control Soviet economy necessarily okay in the sense that
00:26:24: to me reading the history of Twentieth Century the main problem with these states right was the fact that they were not Democratic like there was no real economic democracy
00:26:34: and so I line with the principle of economic democracy.
00:26:37: And I would like to see that brought into our discussion about about what socialist features might look like so yes look I mean degrowth Scholars,
00:26:45: I would say probably most of them aligned with Eco social thought in fact degrowth in some ways emerges from Eco socialists traditions.
00:26:54: If by Eco socialism we simply mean a society that delivers that is organized around supporting human well being with democratized means of production right and accomplishes those goals,
00:27:05: within ecologically limits this is the basic definition of Eco socialism and obviously degrowth aligns with this.
00:27:12: But here's the thing is that many do you go Scholars will simply point out that Eco socialism does not exhaust.
00:27:17: The horizons of our imagination okay because if we look at critiques of growth and capitalism from the global South and from feminist perspectives and from any other perspectives it becomes clear that there's a plurality of post-capitalist visions.
00:27:31: And we needed we need to create space for that broader discussion and for those plurality so that the 21st century is not a single story.
00:27:39: But makes room for a diversity of stories and so I think that's probably the main objection that some degrowth Scholars with it would have with aligning explicitly with Eco socialism,
00:27:49: but for the most part I mean there are findings their conclusions are very similar.
00:27:54: By the way I wonder Jason if there are any historical examples where you're kind of degrowth program the planned reduction of production and consumption at any point was successfully implemented and what we can learn from it.
00:28:08: No no degrowth has never been tried in a systematic way before of course there are several things that we can learn from historical examples
00:28:16: take the US and European economies during World War 2 there was an immediate transformation of these economies for the sake of supporting human needs by redirecting
00:28:26: productive capacity arounds human welfare and of course the war efforts away from
00:28:32: other forms of private production and consumption okay so so when there's an emergency we know that this can happen oh by the way we saw it again during the covid-19 epidemic during the middle of the crisis it was clear that suddenly there's an emergency brake countries can pull it and slow down certain sectors of the economy of course
00:28:47: pointing to the covid-19 crisis is not a good example
00:28:50: for degrowth because the sector is that were slow down in most cases were ones that we really need that are crucial to human well-being things like,
00:28:58: schools and gyms and cafes but you know things that are crucial to Human conviviality
00:29:04: what we need to be doing instead is using that same tool but to slow down less necessary forms of production say for SUVs or private cars or private jets or you know industrial beef production or trawling Etc so
00:29:16: but we know the tool exist we just have to deploy it but we also know from ecological economics.
00:29:22: That there are many nations in the world that's managed to achieve very strong social outcomes with relatively little by way of resource and energy use and we know that they do that basically through strong forms of public provisioning over and over again.
00:29:37: Public provisioning of course social goods is crucial to meeting human needs at a high standard.
00:29:43: With low ecological impacts and that's a really crucial lesson that we take from the existing data.
00:29:48: Jason I would like to talk a bit more about the relationship between economic growth on the one hand and human well-being or happiness on the other hand because in your book you actually debunk a lot of misconceptions about this relationship.
00:30:01: Still a lot of people think that you need economic growth in order to achieve human well-being but you show that's actually not true that we have to look at other indicators,
00:30:11: and you also bring comparisons between countries which I found interesting
00:30:16: for example you compare the United States of Costa Rica and to show that Costa Rica scores high on happiness course than the USA which is of course a much much richer country,
00:30:26: so maybe you can elaborate a bit more about the relationship of economic growth and human wellbeing.
00:30:31: Yeah the first and most important thing to understand here is the GDP growth is not an increase in Social value or in use value or in well-being.
00:30:40: Or in anything that most people think it is it's not it's not an increase in the livelihoods OR in provisioning.
00:30:46: Is very narrowly defined it is an increase in the total quantity of commodified goods and services in the economy
00:30:52: okay so and by commodified goods and services I mean goods and services that are bought and sold on the market because GDP excludes the majority of things that are not bought and sold on markets okay
00:31:03: now clearly there is no automatic relationship between increasing production of commodified goods and human well-being
00:31:12: it literally all depends on what we are producing.
00:31:16: Right and whether people have access to those things so are we producing tear gas or health care if we're producing good things like healthcare do people have access to them or are they so expensive because they're privatized or enclosed that people can't access them,
00:31:30: so this question of what we're producing and whether people have access to them is absolutely Central to determining the relationship between growth.
00:31:37: And human well-being and this is what explains the fact that several dozen countries.
00:31:43: Outperformed the USA on core social indicators despite its significantly less GDP per capita
00:31:50: okay so the USA is a core example because it's one of the richest countries in the world it is the most advanced capitalist economy and so if we're going to assume that capitalism is the way to go then the USA as our example right
00:32:03: the USA achieves a life expectancy of around 77 years now compare that to for example Spain
00:32:10: Spain outperforms the USA on cora social indicators including with a life expectancy that is at least five years longer,
00:32:18: perhaps even six years longer with a GDP per capita of 55 percent less than the USA right.
00:32:25: How is that possible it's because the USA has extremely wasteful
00:32:30: forms of production that are organized mostly around corporate profit rather than around human well-being Spain does a better job at ensuring people have access to core Goods they need,
00:32:40: and that's why their social indicators are better Costa Rica as you mentioned as another example now Costa Rica has 80% less GDP per capita than the USA.
00:32:49: And yet outperforms the US and life expectancy and has a level of
00:32:54: reported well-being that matches the Scandinavian countries so one of the highest in the world and it accomplishes this with very low levels of ecologically impacts so this is not to say that Costa Rica is perfect
00:33:05: you know far from it but it is an example of how again focusing on core public provisioning systems is a very effective way at ensuring you deliver high levels of well-being with relatively low,
00:33:19: resource and energy use.
00:33:20: Okay if we recognize that GDP is not a good measurement for human well-being how can we actually measure human well-being and is it just enough to change the measurement method,
00:33:30: right so it's actually really widely recognized that GDP is a problematic indicator even several leading mainstream economists recognize this fact
00:33:39: and there are of course several alternative approaches the first probably most popular one is the genuine progress indicator okay so it's called the GPI here's the G Pi does,
00:33:50: it corrects GDP in the sense that GDP only measures production but does not measure the social and ecological costs of production so G pi,
00:34:00: subtract effectively just subtracts social and ecological costs so that we get a clear picture of what's happening in the economy and whether it's delivering real progress,
00:34:10: or if it's just delivering progress for capitalism right I mean GDP and this is important ultimately GDP is a measure of the welfare of capital not a measure of the welfare of humans so DPI is one alternative
00:34:24: but several ecologically economists argue that instead what we should have is more of a dashboard approach instead of a single indicator which can hide quite a lot.
00:34:33: You actually want to be able to focus on your actual objectives right so if you have specific social objectives like improving access to housing and Healthcare
00:34:41: improving wages improving you know life expectancy then make those your targets and and pursue policies that improve those directly.
00:34:49: And if you have ecologically objectives such as you know improving soil quality and reducing emissions make those your targets and pursue policies,
00:34:57: that deliver on those directly rather than hoping that pursuing growth will magically deliver on your social and ecological objectives which of course it virtually never does
00:35:06: right so we need a more rational way of thinking about the economy and how to manage that and and these are some of the core proposals,
00:35:14: maybe you can talk a bit about the political mental and societal obstacles when it comes to actually applying a degrowth program,
00:35:24: so because if research as you suggest here points in the direction that a post-capitalist society would be better for human well-being
00:35:33: but also for the climate
00:35:34: then one has to wonder why the fuck doesn't it happen why don't we go in that direction so what what in your view are the major reasons that this position is still some marginal and which obstacles that we face.
00:35:50: Yeah I know this is important right so the major challenge to degrowth scholarship over the past decade has been to demonstrate that it is possible to have a d growth scenario.
00:36:00: That is the same time improve human well-being and that has now been demonstrated so that's very exciting.
00:36:06: The question how he comes about the political feasibility of it now we've demonstrated again that in a degrowth scenario the majority of people will be better off.
00:36:15: The problem is that there is a small faction of our society the ruling class know that clearly stands to lose quite a lot from such a transformation from such a transition,
00:36:25: the people that benefit from the existing structure of the world economy are obviously very against any possibility of degrowth since growth isn't obviously in capitalism's what sustains their privileges.
00:36:36: So so this is so this becomes an issue right it's effectively what we're talking about is effectively a political battle.
00:36:43: We know that there is very strong support for Cordy growth policies that I've mentioned things like a shorter working week a public job go and see.
00:36:52: Living wages you know a fair distribution of income this very strong support the question is why do we not see these policies coming into play.
00:36:59: After all we live in democracies you would expect that the wishes of the majority would be implemented as policy.
00:37:06: But in fact this doesn't happen and the reason is of course because we don't have real democracies.
00:37:11: And this is the major barrier to political transformation we have political systems that are overwhelmingly captured by Elite interests right through things like.
00:37:20: Campaign Finance laws that allow rich people to effectively by campaigns and politicians.
00:37:26: Institutionalized corruption even in countries that are.
00:37:31: You know in the G7 the race I mean the US and UK are prime examples of this and also we have media systems that are behold into corporate interests and concentrated in the hands of a very small number of companies
00:37:43: these are all major problems to the kind of democratic discussion and policymaking that is required to achieve adjust neck logical transition.
00:37:52: And so a demand for democratization has to be at the core of our demands for an Eco social transition I think that's really essential.
00:38:00: Yeah totally agree I'll fight Elsa has to be a fight for democratization otherwise we will fail
00:38:04: but it seems also Jason that we have to fight and hegemonic battle about imaginations about ideas about ideology,
00:38:12: because when I look around it seems that a lot of people are actively embracing or way of living which is disastrous for the climate but also disastrous for less well-off people in the world.
00:38:24: And they either do it because they don't give a fuck or they do it because they can't imagine something else they can't imagine post-capitalist Society.
00:38:33: So what do we have to do to win this ideological battle.
00:38:37: Yeah look I think that one of the reasons for the hegemony of growth ism is because it's a very ideological Terrain in the sense of.
00:38:46: For years it has been drummed into us that growth is necessary for social progress as necessary for human well-being improvements is necessary for everything good right it's a very powerful metaphor.
00:38:58: Children grow plants grow we like things to grow who doesn't right it's deeply rooted in a sense of being natural
00:39:05: so and this is an amazing ideological opportunity for Capital to be able to sell its projects of expansionism,
00:39:13: and accumulation and exploitation right under the banner of growth,
00:39:18: so and this is what's the scholar Timothy Mitchell refers to as capitals Alibi right by saying that it is increasing growth it's able to get us to buy into projects we might otherwise reject right.
00:39:31: So to the extent that growth does depend on ecological destruction and human exploitation and Colonial plunder and so on we might as moral beings wants to reject those things but as long as it's framed in the language of growth,
00:39:44: then it's very effective at getting us to buy into it right,
00:39:48: and this is really a difficult ideological work that we have to do we have to be able to have a clear discussion about what growth is and whether we want it or not,
00:39:56: and only once we can have that discussion I think is there a possibility for us moving forward so in this is really what degrowth aims to do is to start that discussion.
00:40:03: Yeah it's quite a task in your book your call it the decolonization of our thinking and that goes so deep it goes back to the Enlightenment thinking
00:40:11: that established like an exploitative way of thinking about nature and thinking about the colonialist subjects,
00:40:19: so and you also cite indigenous communities which obviously have another way of thinking about nature and thinking about human beings within nature so maybe you can
00:40:30: talk a bit more about what that decolonization of thinking and Tails.
00:40:34: Yeah so um so this emerge is actually from my study of the history of capitalism and as any historian of capitalism will tell you,
00:40:43: what capitalism required in the 15th and 16th centuries in order to get going was of course mass and closure kicking peasants off the land and forcing them into.
00:40:52: A competitive labor markets and so on right you know this of course was essential to the very possibility of primitive accumulation and reinvestment for expansion of production and so on.
00:41:02: But at the same time that alone was not enough right so a transformation in the fundamental means of production was not enough for capitalism to get going it also needed a new story about nature and this is such an important part of that history.
00:41:15: In the 15th and 16th centuries even in Europe the dominance ontology the dominance philosophical understanding of being.
00:41:23: Was that humans are fundamentally interconnected with the rest of the Living World they accepted no fundamental distinction between humans and non-human beings in some kind of hierarchy right.
00:41:34: In fact what they did is they related to non-human beings and to ecosystems and the land etcetera as kin right,
00:41:40: in a relationship of reciprocity and early capitalists clearly recognize this as a barrier to the capitalist former production.
00:41:48: Because you need to somehow be able to separate people from nature,
00:41:51: and put them into a position where they're willing to extract and dominates and exploit nature no and they found this solution in the ideas of the Enlightenment thinkers like dick hearts and bacon.
00:42:05: Who were arguing at that very same time that we should understand that humans alone have spirit and agency and consciousness,
00:42:11: and the nonhuman world is merely matter is merely object so humans are subjects nature is an object's this is called dualism and it provided the moral license the philosophical justification for a new economic system,
00:42:25: that abolished this understanding of reciprocity with the lands and instead put people in positions of exploitation and domination over the lands.
00:42:33: This very idea was spread across the world during the European colonial projects you know analyst ideas were always considered to be backward and had to be abolished.
00:42:42: In favor of European do last thinking.
00:42:45: So this was effectively you know a core part of the colonial projects it was an elite ideology that was imposed on the European masses and then on,
00:42:55: the colonized populations of the rest of the world.
00:42:57: And Indigenous Scholars have been pointing out for several decades now very clearly in their writings and teachings.
00:43:05: That this is a core problem of Western philosophical thought and it needs to be addressed if we're going to have an Eco social economy right so we need to restore this principle that humans are fundamentally interdependent with the rest of the Living World,
00:43:19: and should have an economy that enters into a relationship with Karen reciprocity with nature rather than a relationship of domination and extraction.
00:43:26: Yeah when it comes to how we think about the world we can certainly learn a lot of from indigenous ways of thinking about the relationship between humans and nature
00:43:34: but it only goes so far I guess and that's why I wonder if you also see resources within Enlightenment thought to sort of save Enlightenment from itself.
00:43:43: Yeah it's a good question so first of all let me just clarify for your listeners my my references to indigenous philosophy are intended to highlight their critique.
00:43:53: Of Western ontological assumptions okay and importantly their ideas about this are not some kind of Timeless a historical culture right,
00:44:02: they emerged according to several scholars in this tradition they emerged precisely in the encounter with European colonialism which was deeply ecologically destructive and
00:44:12: deeply destructive to human communities especially in the Americas where a massive genocide of course occurred.
00:44:18: In the wake of This Disaster there was a clear recognition that we can never accept this again what you know what is it about the worldview of the colonizers that allowed them to inflict such extraordinary damage.
00:44:29: And their point is that the core kernel of European thoughts that did that was was effectively dualism right and so this is what they reject,
00:44:38: as part of a long process of the critique of European colonization right now this is not to remand a size indigenous thoughts and that's not to say that everybody has to adopt indigenous.
00:44:49: Ways of thinking about this and so on there are clearly resources within the Western philosophical tradition itself,
00:44:56: that points in the very same direction and I have in mind here particularly one scholar one very famous Enlightenment thinker.
00:45:03: By the name of Spinoza who was a contemporary of Day cards.
00:45:07: He watched Eckhart rise into Fame during this period when capitalist were making use of his ideas to justify the transition to capitalism,
00:45:14: and the destruction of more ecological Democratic race of being in Europe.
00:45:20: And he rejected the carts core ideas you know Spinoza explicitly said look the cards dualism is wrong.
00:45:27: There's clearly no evidence that humans are somehow fundamentally separate from and Superior to Nature right.
00:45:33: And Spinoza was proved right over and over and over again in the centuries after that by scientists from Darwin on word who demonstrated this to be the case that humans are not the only beings with Consciousness that they are in fact,
00:45:45: co-evolved with nature etc etc and what's necessary to happen here is simply that we align our Consciousness to Scientific findings.
00:45:55: Rather than to the outdated mythology is of bacon and Dick hearts that so beguiles Western.
00:46:03: Elites of the 17th century.
00:46:06: Jason when we look at all these obstacles to decolonization of our thinking first and foremost but also the obstacles that you described in power structures privilege classes,
00:46:17: and media bias that all profit from the current system,
00:46:21: when you see all these obstacles which stars do have to align in order for us to get to a degrowth path,
00:46:29: so what's your theory of transformation what gives you hope yeah look I think that the the existing
00:46:35: theory is totally going to fail us the existing theory is basically let us leave this up to our leaders and see the climate negotiators and to the corporations etc etc this is fundamentally not going to work
00:46:48: and the sooner we recognized that the better our chances of surviving 21st century will be
00:46:53: right so what instead is necessary I insist that a strong aggressive political movement is going to be necessary.
00:47:01: And this cannot be simply environmentalist alone right I mean of course Fridays for future and Extinction Rebellion have been important political forces,
00:47:09: they've changed our discourse about climate in a few short years but they do not have the material political power to pull off the kind of transition that is required given the fact that it runs against
00:47:21: the interest of the ruling class what is going to be required for that is an alliance with working-class formations,
00:47:28: and labor unions towards accomplishing a just transition so environmentalist need to get on board with the core social policies that we propose,
00:47:37: which will take the question of livelihoods off the table for working class communities and allow them in turn,
00:47:44: to unites with environmentalists over correc illogical demands only once the question of livelihoods and jobs is taken off the table once that question has dealt with permanently.
00:47:53: Right with a shorter working week and a job guarantee and Universal basic services and a fair distribution of income.
00:47:59: Then can we have an open conversation about what sectors of the economy can be scaled down without worrying about the Spectre of unemployment.
00:48:07: So that aligns is going to be essential and existing labor unions may not be in a position to do that this is going to require a different more radical form of unionism.
00:48:16: So that's important I think also alliances with social movements in the global South are essential here.
00:48:23: Global south social movements have a much more radical and accurate and analytically rigorous understanding of the crisis they recognize this as a crisis not primarily of Technology right not to be solved primarily by technology but to be solved,
00:48:37: by addressing the Deep underlying structural causes namely capitalism
00:48:41: and its imperialist relations with the rest of the world and so we need to be aligning with global south social movements supporting their demands in the climate negotiations.
00:48:50: They're the ones that have skin in the game now this alignment of social forces I believe has the potential to pull off a dramatic transformation of the world economy.
00:48:59: If you think about what social movement have been able to accomplish in the past everything from the labor movements of the 1940s and 50s,
00:49:07: to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s to the anti-colonial movements of that same era these movements transformed the world in the middle of the middle of the 20th century,
00:49:16: and that needs to happen again and it's going to require no less immobilization so the sooner we get to work building those alliances,
00:49:24: building your solidarity is the better because that's the size of a movement that we're going to need.
00:49:30: So that's to me a crucial instruction I guess for the coming years.
00:49:36: Unfortunately Jason our time is up so one last question what kind of scenarios do you see for the future of our societies.
00:49:43: And what do you think will happen if we don't manage to bring about the great transformation that we talked about here.
00:49:50: No no the the alternative is very very bad the status quo that we're headed for I cannot emphasize this enough is really not compatible with organized human civilization as we know it.
00:49:59: There is no progress with the status quo.
00:50:02: So it's essential to realize that the world that we will inhabit by 2070 which is within the lifetimes of the present generation is going to be a real,
00:50:12: dystopian disaster so so I mean you simply need to read the latest ipcc reports,
00:50:20: to make this abundantly clear the status quo is a Death March and we must abandon it now I have hope in an empirical sense.
00:50:29: As a scientist I know that a better world is possible I know that it's possible for us to keep temperature rise to less than one point five degrees to reverse psychological breakdown.
00:50:39: And to improve human well-being at the same time.
00:50:43: Whether or not we can pull this off depends entirely on the strength of our movements and to me this is an important point I'm often asked to have hope for the future.
00:50:51: And my point is look like hope in and of itself is not good enough.
00:50:55: Our Hope can only ever be as strong as our struggle and so if we want to improve our hope and feel like hopeful people we have to build the struggle that is going to be capable of bringing us to that future.
00:51:06: And that's really the imperative that we face today Jason thank you so much for joining me here thank you thanks very much.