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Byron Shire
September 28, 2022

Will degrowth be forced upon us?

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For decades, we have been engaged in the old cold war battle between capitalism and communism.

As the Free World mantra goes, ‘capitalism good, communism bad’.

Has there ever been true communism though? In Russia, it morphed very rapidly into cruel totalitarianism, costing the lives of millions. The old Soviet Union enslaved millions across Europe in the name of communism. China has become an authoritarian centralised capitalist state, run by a dictator. Absurdly, there are 1,133 billionaires in China compared to 716 in the USA. The poor, as always, are ruthlessly exploited.

A Chinese friend of mine, now living in Australia, said she much preferred living here, as ‘it’s more communist than China’!

Supporters of the capitalist system point out all the benefits that have resulted from it – lifting millions out of poverty, entrepreneurs creating amazing inventions, new medicines, mass production of cheap food and goods – all fuelled by the profit motive.

Individuals have been free to create and market their goods and services and make considerable profits without interference from the ‘heavy hand of the state’.

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher further freed up the capitalist economy, reduced taxes on corporations and individuals and promoted globalisation and liberalisation of trade.

Tariff barriers and other inhibitions to trade were swept away. It was a free for all.

There has been a major downside to all this. All this increased prosperity, particularly for the few, has led us to this current climate crisis.

The runaway capitalist system depends on ever-increasing consumption and waste of resources. Fierce competition means cutting costs and prices to compete in the marketplace, and ends with things like giant mountains of ultra-cheap throw-away clothes made by virtual slaves from petrochemicals.

The world is now awash in toxic chemicals used in the mass production of virtually everything. You know a system has totally failed when babies are born with over 200 industrial chemicals in their tiny bodies.

The laissez-faire neoliberal capitalist and the misnamed communist systems are wrecking our planet, and making it literally uninhabitable for humans and millions of other species. Obviously, it can’t continue.

The question really is: what can we as ordinary citizens do about this? How can we end this appalling destruction and what kind of system can we replace it with?

There are examples of economies not driven merely by profit, efficiency, competition and growth, especially in indigenous communities.

Sharing, simplicity and working together as a community while respecting nature are the keys to success.

The degrowth movement, born in the 1970s, wants to see shrinking rather than growing economies, using far less energy and fewer resources. In a degrowth society, community wellbeing is placed ahead of profit. It certainly doesn’t mean ‘living in caves lit by candles’ as some detractors claim.

It does mean radically scaling back our global consumption of resources.

Degrowth may be forced upon us regardless. The climate crisis is already having a serious impact on economies, and tens of millions are facing starvation and homelessness.

Economists worldwide regard economic growth as a key objective. Political parties of all persuasions take it for granted that economic growth is a worthy objective and most decisions are predicated on that.

An efficient and fair economy, however, does not depend on throwing away resources and poisoning the land, water and air.

Planting trees is an economic activity, repairing appliances creates jobs, reclaiming and re-using materials is economically beneficial.

The old extract, consume and throw away economy needs to be replaced now by a circular economy.

The lack of regulation on business and constantly lowering taxes has led to a great disparity in wealth between top executives and ordinary working people. This wealth gap is widening alarmingly. Few young people can now even think of buying homes.

Clearly, the system has broken down and is beyond repair.

Individuals can do their bit and it does have some effect.

We can do the obvious, like not buying water in plastic throw-away bottles, we can repair clothes and other items, we can grow and buy food free of pesticides, but all this is simply not enough. The major changes that are needed to rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels, to stop and reverse deforestation, to drastically reduce the disparity in wealth, are all required at a governmental level and internationally.

The current capitalist system needs to be jettisoned entirely, but obviously not replaced with the failed so-called ‘communist’ system. Maybe there is no current single ‘ism’ to replace it. There really needs to be a diversity of localised systems based on the overall concept of the wellbeing of every member of the global community.

One thing is certain, we need to change very urgently.

Richard Jones.

Richard Jones is a former NSW Democrat MP, and is now a ceramist.

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  1. Our failing system is more communist than ever. It gets worse the more communist it becomes. Communism always fails, is labeled ‘not true communism’, and will always ‘work next time’.

  2. Our failing system is failing because it has become even more capitalistic and fascist in truth. This situation has NEVER worked , despite monstrous bail outs for banks and depression/recession for the average citizen. Inequality is the aim of capitalism, and when the disparity between the billionaires and the starving becomes intolerable, war and revolution are inevitable. Rationalisation then is argued as to what led to the war , and we proceed again on the same course, convinced that it will “work next time”. Richard Jones has written an exemplary piece here , but I suggest Democratic Communism would be an excellent replacement for this tired old colonial monarchy.
    Cheers, G”)


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