Growl module: solidarity & cooperative economy

Rethinking Economy and Uncovering Possibilities


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Rethinking Economy and Uncovering Possibilities

[…] Instead of telling a narrow story about economies as varying combinationsof market and state, a solidarity economy approach suggests that we define economics much more broadly as all of the diverse ways that human communities meet their needs and create livelihoods together.

To aid us in identifying these diverse economic activities and relationships, it is helpful to visualize economies as interconnected flows made up of different "moments," or spheres of activity, and to examine what kinds of cooperative and solidarity-based forms of economic organization already exist in each sphere. Where, in the diverse economy, are people engaging in activities and relationships that embody values of solidarity, cooperation, equity, sustainability, democracy and pluralism? What kinds of economic relationships might open up space for recognizing and deepening these values in our communities and in our societies? Asking such questions through a diverse economy lens allows us to see myriad possibilities in each sphere of economic life:

· Creation. Where do the basic "raw materials" come from? Here, in the form of what we might call "ecological creation" and "cultural creation," we find a powerful gift economy. Ecological creation involves earth processes―birth, growth, photosynthesis, respiration, geological and chemical transformation, etc.―that are the “original points of production” and sustain and generate all life and culture. The moral responsibility to honor and share these collective “gifts from the world” is a key starting point for a solidarity economy perspective. Likewise, cultural creation offers resources such as language, stories, music, ideas, and skills. Generated and transformed over millions of years by collective creativity, imagination, intuition, observation and experimentation, they are gifts passed down from our ancestors and should be shared and held in common trust.

· Production. How are goods and services produced in ways that foster cooperation and solidarity Here we can identify structures such as worker cooperatives, democratic nonprofits, grassroots producer cooperatives, forms of household production, self-employment and self-provision (hunting, fishing, gardening, scavenging and "do-it-yourself" projects), and family or community care provision. We might also examine the possibilities for transforming certain "conventional" forms of productive organization such as municipal and state-owned enterprises and values-based "high-road" businesses into more robustly democratic and cooperative institutions.
· Transfer and Exchange. How do goods and services move from production to consumption in ways that enact solidarity values? Forms of solidarity exchange include community currencies, barter networks, fair trade, "solidarity markets," and the use of sliding scale pricing. Transfer also occurs through one-directional movements such as progressive/redistributive taxation and Robin Hood-style re-appropriation (known by those whose excessive resources are being appropriated as "theft"). Gift economies, in which reciprocity is established through giving without expectation of return, are also powerful and widespread means of transferring resources.

· Consumption or Use. Through what kinds of cooperative institutions are people and communities organized as consumers? Examples include consumer cooperatives, housing cooperatives, collective self-provisioning, community supported agriculture initiatives and institutions of participatory, democratic municipal and state citizenship (participatory budgeting, neighborhood councils, etc). How are the demand sides of markets organized socially and institutionally in ways that encourage solidarity? Here we can identify various forms of "ethical consumption" that animate local, ecological and fair trade purchasing practices and institutional "socially responsible" purchasing policies.

· Surplus Allocation. How is surplus, generated in the economic cycle, appropriated and used in ways that foster solidarity values? How does surplus re-enter and re-invigorate the cycle in ways that support other solidarity-based initiatives? Here we have institutions of solidarity savings financing such as credit unions, cooperative loan funds, rotating savings and credit associations, gifting and sharing practices. We also have activities of composting and recycling (also forms of investment) that involve the return of material surplus back into the human productive system and the larger life system.
· Governance. What kinds of institutional policies, rules and procedures shape a supportive context in which solidarity-based initiatives can thrive? These might include elements of organizational and business governance (democratic decision-making, grassroots accountability, cooperative and equitable internal economic structures, etc) or policies and procedures implemented by local, state or federal governments (participatory budgeting, cooperatively-structured service provision, financing support, incentives, favorable legal structures, etc).

Some Key Questions and Debates Within Solidarity Economy Movements

Solidarity economy is clearly an open and contested world of ideas and practices: in the context of a space of shared values, debate and difference within solidarity economy networks are alive and well. It might, in fact, be the case that the greatest tension for solidarity economy is how to negotiate the complex lines between, on one hand, keeping a robust scope of debate and difference inside the movement and, on the other, recognizing that some differences may, indeed, lead to real and important divisions in terms of tactics, strategy and vision. Inclusiveness may have limits when it comes to the transformation of dominant economic relations; where are these limits? There are no easy answers, nor will I attempt to

suggest any here. I want to conclude this chapter, instead, by raising more questions.

These are a few--though by far not all--of the key questions that we might raise about solidarity economy networks and organizing efforts:

  • Who, really, should be included in "the solidarity economy"? While inclusiveness and openness are priorities, don't lines need to be drawn somewhere? How do we create such exclusions without creating divisions that weaken a potential movement?

  • How should solidarity economy efforts relate with initiatives that share similar values but identify with different terms (such as "cooperative economy" or "local living economy," for example)? Can we have a solidarity economy movement with many names that is still connected and strong?

  • What is the relationship of solidarity economy movements to "markets"? How do we rethink markets and market dynamics in ways that foster solidarity values? Are certain kinds of markets inherently problematic? How can "solidarity markets" avoid re-creating exclusionary dynamics of currently dominant market structures?

  • When might engaging the state prove dangerous to a movement seeking to build real, grassroots power and agency? In what ways can the state be transformed and in what ways might it always carry oppressive potential? How do we avoid an either/or binary – that is, engage the state while also maintaining autonomy and critical distance?

Extract below taken from: Solidarity Economy in Europe: an emerging movement with a common vision, by Jason Nardi (Solidarius Italia / RIPESS Europe coordinating committee)

Differently united: networking the “glocals”

Through the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) movement, we want to go from protest to building alternatives. We want to do it together with the resistance movements, but we want to show that there are concrete, working alternatives, multiplying everyday, spread all over the Continent and linking up together. Examples of these alternatives include:

• Solidarity consumer groups and community supported agriculture

• Ethical banks, mutualistic and sustainable finance and local currency

• Workers cooperatives, recovered factories, co-working and social enterprises

• Co-housing, home exchanges and Right to the City initiatives

• Transition towns, De-growth initiatives, Zero Waste citizens' organisations

• Re-publicizing the Commons (water, essential services, etc.)

• Renewable energies, organic farming, slow food, local production chains

• Shared means of transportation, “smarter” cities

• Fair trade - both north/south and “domestic”

The list can go on – and in fact, every day there are new initiatives in this direction. These are not merely alternatives to the capitalist economy. These alternatives are transforming people and communities. Some of the alternatives are historical. Fair trade, for example, has been practiced in Europe for many decades now. Financial alternatives such as ethical banks, community banks and local currency have been developed since many years. A lot of consumer groups recognize themselves as a movement that supports agriculture and solidarity economy.
There are groups in the Degrowth and Zero Waste movements devoted to educating people on environmental justice and sustainability. There are movements that campaign to re-publicize essential services that have been privatized. A huge campaign on returning water conservation & management from commodification to commons is spreading wide in Europe. We also have renewable energies, organic farming, slow food, and a lot of different emerging initiatives, although their adoption by people is still numerically marginal.
The difference from the past is that, slowly but surely (though not easily), these myriads of often very localised initiatives and practices are linking and networking together, starting to create a greater picture and common vision. And trying not to repeat the errors of the past.

That is where they differ from apparently similar forms of alternative economic enterprise: from social business to capitalist cooperatives, from “green” for profit economy to various forms of para-State or private welfare and socially responsible enterprises and corporations. All of these might be more careful and less speculative in their practices, but are substantially following the same economic model that Solidarity Economy is trying to change.

Social economy vs Solidarity Economy

It is very common for the social economy to be conflated with the solidarity economy. They are not the same thing and the implications of equating them are rather profound.

The social economy (Diagram 1) is commonly understood as part of a “third sector” of the

economy, complementing the “first sector” (private/profit-oriented) and the “second sector”

(public/planned). While exact definitions of the social economy vary, a common definition is that it includes cooperatives, mutuals, associations, and foundations (CMAFs), all of which are collectively organized, and oriented around social aims that are prioritized above profits, or return to shareholders. The primary concern of the social economy is not to maximize profits, but to achieve social goals (which does not exclude making a profit, which is necessary for reinvestment).
Some consider the social economy to be the third leg of capitalism, along with the public and the private sector. Thus, advocates of the social economy push for it to be accorded the same legitimacy as the public and private sectors, with a corresponding level of support in public resources and policy. Others, on the more radical end of the spectrum, view the social economy as a stepping stone towards a more fundamental transformation of the economic system.

Diagram 1

The solidarity economy (Diagram 2 below) seeks to change the whole social/economic system and puts forth a different paradigm of development that upholds solidarity economy principles. It pursues the transformation of the neoliberal capitalist economic system from one that gives primacy to maximizing private profit and blind growth, to one that puts people and planet at its core. As an alternative economic system, the solidarity economy thus includes all three sectors – private, public and the third sector. The solidarity economy seeks to re-orient and harness the state, policies, trade, production, distribution, consumption, investment, money and finance, and ownership structures towards serving the welfare of people and planet.

What distinguishes the solidarity economy movement from many other social change and revolutionary movements in the past, is that it is pluralist in its approach - eschewing rigid blueprints and the belief in a single, correct path; the solidarity economy also values and builds on concrete practices, many of which are quite old. The solidarity economy, rather than seeking to create utopia out of thin air and theory, recognizes that there currently exists a concrete utopia, a utopia in action. It is rooted in the practices of participatory democracy and promotes a new vision of the economy, an economy that puts people at the center of the system, an economy that values the links, the relationships rather than the goods.
Diagram 2

Thus the solidarity economy explicitly has a systemic, transformative, post-capitalist agenda. The social economy is a sector of the economy that may or may not be part of a transformative, post-capitalist agenda, depending on whom you’re talking to.

Surfing the Financial Crisis

Since the manifestation of the global financial crisis in 2008, there have been huge debt crunches, bank failures and bailouts (with public funds), and State bankruptcies. Unemployment rose from 8.3% in 2007 to >25% in 2013 in Spain, and from less than 10% to >40% in Greece. Similar patterns are happening in many other countries. Poverty has been increasing in Europe: there are more poor, and these are more poor than before.

In the past, people believed the Margaret Thatcher's saying that “that there is no alternative.” But now we have an alternative. It is so obvious, so evident even to the common citizen that we cannot continue to promote and live in an infinite growth model of the economy, which is destructive and raises poverty and inequality levels.

The crisis has taught us that we are all on the same ship. People are now much more aware of what they’re consuming, how it is produced, the costs and impact of delocalisation and “competitive” large scale international trade. They perceive themselves more and more as citizens, not just as consumers, and understand their power in shifting from an unhealthy and unsustainable consumption, to a co-production where they have an active role and a relationship with who makes what they use. They are empowering themselves as they come to realize the possibilities of organizing the economy in a different way.
Fair trade, organic farming, renewable energy production, consumer groups / cooperatives, are growing - though slower than in the past. True, they are not exempt from the economic crisis and can be overwhelmed by it (especially if they mimic the competitive model), but they’re much more vibrant. And the main lesson learned is that by networking together and cooperating in a more holistic way, the crisis can become a real opportunity to have more people join in and take part of the re-creation of a different economy, which responds to the needs of individuals and communities, and not to the greed of profit makers and exclusive private interest. In this sense, the ship can split in many smaller ships, which are bridged together and are able not just to survive the wreckage of the crisis, but surf and thrive by the active mutual initiative that solidarity economy represents.

Social Solidarity Economy in the EU

Now here it becomes a bit tricky: in fact, we don't have (yet) a clear measure of the diffusion of Social Solidarity Economy. Since it is not a sector of the economy, but a different way of doing economy, it cannot be measured through the official statistics and is therefore still for the most part “invisible”. In many countries, if we take as a basis the numbers related to the non-profit or third sector, we get an average of between 5 and 10% of the working population. Sweden, Belgium, France, Holland and Italy: between 9% and 11.5% of the working population is involved in some SSE enterprise.

Workers in SSE enterprises have increased in the last 10 years from 11 millions in 2002-2003 to 15 millions, or 6.5 % of the working population of the EU. This number does not include all the informal ways and the mixed forms of SSE practices and initiatives (from self-production, co-construction, to barter, social currencies, time banks, etc.). Community- supported Agriculture groups, Solidarity Consumer and Producer Groups are multiplying in many forms: from a few hundred in the end of the 1990s and only in two-three countries, to tens of thousands in 2014. These numbers are still very sketchy and incomplete, and mix social economy (both traditional and innovative, from social business and green economy) with the more radical – and informal – solidarity economy. And they ignore the role of virtuous local public administrations, who promote different forms of social solidarity economic enterprises and initiatives.

Text below taken from: Global Vision for a Social Solidarity Economy: Convergences and Differences in Concepts, Definitions and Frameworks, RIPESS, February 2015

The Social Solidarity Economy is an alternative to capitalism and other authoritarian, state-dominated economic systems. In SSE ordinary people play an active role in shaping all of the

dimensions of human life: economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental. SSE exists in all sectors of the economy—production, finance, distribution, exchange, consumption and

governance (see Diagram 3 below). It also aims to transform the social and economic system that includes public, private and third sectors, which we explore in detail below. SSE is not only about the poor, but strives to overcome inequalities, which includes all classes of society. SSE has the ability to take the best practices that exist in our present system (such as efficiency, use of technology and knowledge) and transform them to serve the welfare of the community based on different values and goals.

SSE movements must be careful to avoid being coopted in their values by non-SSE

perspectives. SSE seeks systemic transformation that goes beyond superficial change in which the root oppressive structures and fundamental issues remain intact. Examples range from corporate greenwashing to strengthening the welfare state while ignoring underlying structures that maintain or intensify inequality.

The actors of SSE should not romanticize ourselves as "being good". We should actively recreate our aspirations, and learn to prevent the reproduction of sexism, racism, homophobia, classism and other sources of discrimination and oppression.

Diagram 3


Social solidarity economy is an ethical and values-based approach to economic development

that prioritizes the welfare of people and planet, over profits and blind growth. We re-affirm the values expressed in the RIPESS Charter which includes:

We put human beings, and their dignity, culture and full development at the center of our

efforts. We are committed to the construction and promotion of projects aimed at building

capacities for the individual and the collective development and well-being of people. For

this reason, we promote the unrestricted respect, full exercise and interrelatedness of the

civic, political, economic, social, cultural and environmental rights recognized by the

various charters and international human rights instruments.


We believe that the world, with its diverse societies, work and living environments, and

organizations, should be built in a participatory manner, based on the respect for the right

of individuals and peoples to decide on their own development. We understand politics as

a framework for horizontal relations between persons and social collectives in their quest

to satisfy their common needs. We promote participatory democracy based on the

participation of citizens in political decision-making at all levels of the public space. We

also advocate an economic democracy based on the capacity of people to make

decisions about subjects which concern them as workers, consumers, producers and

reproducers, as well as on the public character of decisions relating to what is produced,

how it is produced, why it is produced, and how profits are redistributed or invested.


We emphasize solidarity as an element that allows us to recognize ourselves in relation to

others and to be concerned about their well-being. This implies mobilizing resources and

establishing relations with other social collectives and movements in an effort to form an

extensive network of people and organizations geared toward building a fairer, more

democratic and equalitarian world.


We are a network open to the range of practices of solidarity in the economy, which

emerge from different realities and sectors. In this perspective, we aim at establishing

dialogue based on the respect for ideological differences and the quest for consensus.


We recognize and value the capacities and knowledge of individuals and groups to solve

their problems and decide on their own projects. In our intervention, we seek to assert the

grass-roots development, promoting organizations and associations to overcome common

problems and openness to ever greater endeavors.

We promote respect for ethnical and cultural diversity, and sexual identity. We also

promote and respect the diverse expressions of entrepreneurship in responding as best

as possible to existing reality. We encourage the diversity of social solidarity economy

players of all sectors of society to be represented and able to defend their interests,

particularly women and the social groups marginalized by the current system.


We promote innovation and the originality of concepts and discourses with an eye to

encouraging the construction of innovative and critical practices and experiences that

contribute best to social change. We also promote the adoption of appropriate

technologies that respond to the particularity of problems, with the resources available in

different cultures and contexts.

Sustainable development (editors: we would replace that with sustainable degrowth)

We affirm our will to promote sustainable development, while protecting the environment

and biodiversity, and favoring more harmonious man-nature and spirit-body relations, in

which the resources offered us by nature are rationally used to satisfy the needs of

people, while respecting the balance of ecosystems. We therefore question the current

neoliberal model of economic growth that threatens life on the planet.

Equality, equity and justice for all

We take our stand as part of the fight against all forms of discrimination and domination.

Especially, discrimination and oppression against women, children, young people, elderly

people, indigenous peoples, the poor and the disabled, must be eradicated.

Respecting the integration of countries and people

We oppose any type of economic, political and cultural domination of the North over

countries of the South. We push for the alternative proposal of integration based on

cooperation and complementarity among Northern and Southern countries, with an eye to

the globalization of solidarity.

A plural and solidarity-based economy

Faced with a neoliberal economic model that excludes persons and peoples, and reduces

the motivations of economic activity to the quest for profit and self-interest, and so

postulates the uncontrolled market economy as the only creator of wealth and

employment, we propose the validity and action in favor of a plural and solidarity-based

economy. We propose and work for an economy that combines and balances logics of

accumulation, redistribution and reciprocity, expressed in a democratically regulated

market, an equitable reassignment of resources by a participating State, and the

affirmation of practices of mutual benefit in the framework of a society and a culture of


Buen vivir and the Rights of Mother Earth

SSE embraces the concept of the Rights of Mother Earth which is embedded in the buen vivir

(living well) paradigm and draws heavily on indigenous visions of humans living with respect for and in harmony with Mother Earth as opposed to having simply a utilitarian relationship. It must be clear that buen vivir is not a “model” to be generalized. Its expression changes from

community to community, culture to culture, nation to nation. Nonetheless, its different

expressions tend to be firmly related to, and rooted in, key elements (both material and

immaterial, measurable and unmeasurable), such as: community bonds, culture, access to land, access to means of production and infrastructure, high levels of participation and effective involvement of community about their future, food sovereignty, peace, gender equity,

biodiversity, healthy environment, etc.
Growth & Degrowth

SSE questions the assumption that economic growth is always good and states that it depends on the type and goals of the growth. For SSE, the concept of development is more useful than growth. For example, human beings stop growing when they hit adulthood, but never stop developing.

SSE should engage in the advancement of indicators that shift the emphasis away from growth and towards development and buen vivir. SSE needs measures that can lift up the value of not only physical resources (eg. land, water) but also non tangible assets such as happiness, mental, workplace and social wellness, indigenous knowledge, non-monetized work, and so forth.

Development must prioritize the environment, and the redistribution of power and wealth

between rich and poor. SSE seeks to create economic development that is equitable in its own right, as opposed to economic development that generates great inequality even if it is

subsequently lessened through re-distribution.

Rural development is of particular importance for the welfare of these communities, in addition to being critical to reducing forced migration. For example, the state should protect SSE initiatives such as community forest management in Nepal and India from big corporate


In their concern for an approach and practices that go beyond growth as the dominant

framework, SSE and the degrowth movement share some potential grounds for convergence.

However, degrowth is a concept that warrants further discussion within the SSE movement in

order to develop a clearer shared understanding.

b) Degrowth approach to the topic
Extract below taken from: D'Alisa, Demaria, Kallis (2015), DEGROWTH, A vocabulary for a new era, Routledge, London, Introduction
Degrowth signifies, first and foremost, a critique of growth. It calls for the decolonization of public debate from the idiom of economism and for the abolishment of economic growth as a social objective. Beyond that, degrowth signifies also a desired direction, one in which societies will use fewer natural resources and will organize and live differently than today. ‘Sharing’, ‘simplicity’, ‘conviviality’, ‘care’ and the ‘commons’ are primary significations of what this society might look like.

Usually, degrowth is associated with the idea that smaller can be beautiful. Ecological economists define degrowth as an equitable downscaling of production and consumption that will reduce societies’ throughput of energy and raw materials (Schneider et al. 2010). However, our emphasis here is on different, not only less. Degrowth signifies a society with a smaller metabolism, but more importantly, a society with a metabolism which has a different structure and serves new functions.

Degrowth does not call for doing less of the same. The objective is not to make an elephant leaner, but to turn an elephant into a snail. In a degrowth society everything will be different: different activities, different forms and uses of energy, different relations, different gender roles, different allocations of time between paid and non-paid work, different relations with the non-human world.
Degrowth offers a frame that connects diverse ideas, concepts and proposals (Demaria et al. 2013). However, there are some centres of gravity within this frame (Figure 1). The first is the criticism of growth. Next is the criticism of capitalism, a social system that requires and perpetuates growth. Two other strong currents in the degrowth literature are, first, the criticism of GDP, and second, the criticism of commodification, the process of conversion of social products and socioecological services and relations into commodities with a monetary value.
However, degrowth is not limited only to criticism. On the constructive side, the degrowth imaginary centres around the reproductive economy of care, and the reclaiming of old – and the creation of new – commons. Caring in common is embodied in new forms of living and producing, such as eco-communities and cooperatives and can be supported by new government institutions, such as work-sharing or a basic and maximum income, institutions which can liberate time from paid work and make it available for unpaid communal and caring activities.
Degrowth is not the same as negative GDP growth. Still, a reduction of GDP, as currently counted, is a likely outcome of actions promoted in the name of degrowth. A green, caring and communal economy is likely to secure the good life, but unlikely to increase gross domestic activity two or three per cent per year.

Advocates of degrowth ask how the inevitable and desirable decrease of GDP can become socially sustainable, given that under capitalism, economies tend to either grow or collapse. In the minds of most people, growth is still associated with an improvement, or well-being. Because of this some progressive intellectuals take issue with the use of the word degrowth. It is inappropriate, they claim, to use a ‘negative word’ to signify desired changes. However, the use of a negation for a positive project aims precisely to decolonise an imaginary dominated by a one-way future consisting only of growth. It is the automatic association of growth with better that the word ‘degrowth’ wants to dismantle. For degrowthers it is the unquestionable desirability of growth in the common sense that needs to be confronted if a discussion for a different future is to open up (Latouche 2009). Degrowth is a deliberately subversive slogan.

Of course some sectors, such as education medical care, or renewable energy, will need to flourish in the future, while others, such as dirty industries or the financial sector shrink. The aggregate result will be degrowth. We prefer also to use words such as ‘flourishing’ when we talk about health or education, rather than ‘growing’ or ‘developing’. The desired change is qualitative, like in the flourishing of the arts. It is not quantitative, like in the growth of industrial output.
The degrowth transition

A degrowth transition is not a sustained trajectory of descent, but a transition to convivial societies who live simply, in common and with less. There are several ideas about the practices and institutions that can facilitate such a transition and the processes that can bring them together and allow them to flourish.

Grassroots economic practices

Eco-communities, online communities (see digital commons), communities of back-to-the-landers, cooperatives, urban gardens, community currencies, time banks, barter markets, associations of child or health care. In the context of the crisis and as conventional institutions fail to secure the basic needs of people, there is a spontaneous proliferation of new non-capitalist practices and institutions, in places like Argentina, Greece, or Catalonia (Conill et al 2012).

These grassroots practices share five features. First, there is a shift from production for exchange to production for use. Second, there is a substitution of wage labour with voluntary activity, meaning a decommodification and de-professionalization of labour. Third, they follow a logic whereby the circulation of goods is set in motion, at least partly by an exchange of reciprocal ‘gifts’ rather than in search of profit (see anti-utilitarianism). Fourth, unlike capitalist enterprise, they do not have a built-in dynamic to accumulate and expand. Fifth, they are outcomes of processes of ‘commoning’; connections and relations between participants carry an intrinsic value in and for themselves. These practices are non-capitalist: they diminish the role of private property and wage labour. They are new forms of commons.

They are also examples of degrowth in a more restricted sense. They have less carbon content and material throughput when compared to the State or market systems offering the same services. True, per unit of product they might be more inefficient due to a lower degree of specialization and division of labour. An alternative organic food network, for example, might require more workers per unit of product than an agri-business (though also less fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels).
This is not necessarily bad as far as unemployment is concerned. Decentralized cooperative systems of water or energy production might provide less water or energy output per unit of labour and resource input. However, they are likely to be more environmentally benign precisely because their unproductiveness limits their scale (an inverse Jevons’ effect): less efficient per unit, smaller as a whole.
Alternative practices of commoning are a source of innovation for renewing public services, averting their privatization. Cooperative health or school systems need not replace public health or education. The otherwise escalating costs of public education and health can be reduced by involving parents in the education of the children, or by developing neighbourhood networks of doctors and patients offering preventive health checks and basic first aid. Preventative health care based on intimate knowledge of the patient is much cheaper than high-tech diagnoses and treatments (these can be reserved for special cases). User-involvement is generally cheaper and more democratic than the expensive outsourcing of public services to private, for-profit providers. Degrowth therefore can bring an improvement, not a deterioration, of public services.

The future of degrowth

The future of degrowth is open. Research is still necessary to support foundational degrowth claims, claims that are firmly established within the degrowth community, providing its shared premises although they are far from being accepted by academia and society at large. Such claims include: the impossibility of dematerialization through technological advance and the inevitability of disastrous climate change if growth is to continue; the entry of developed economies into a period of systemic stagnation, partly due to resource limits; or the hypothesis that an abandonment of growth will revive politics and nourish democracy, rather than animate catastrophic passions. More research can help us understand how people and nations adapt to the lack of growth, why some grassroots practices succeed while others collapse or get incorporated into the mainstream, or how, and under what conditions, new welfare institutions will produce the outcomes their advocates claim they will.

The political question concerns the social dynamic, the actors, the alliances and the processes that will create a degrowth transition. This question is not just intellectual. Social change is a process of creation, impossible to predict in advance. What academic studies of degrowth can offer are arguments and narratives to animate the politics of transition. The ideas outlined in this entry have already done that. However if degrowth is to remain a concept that is alive and does not stale, there is no reason for these to remain the only narratives. We can use the ‘raw material’ of the degrowth vocabulary, and constantly create new imaginaries and arguments that escape false dilemmas such as ‘austerity versus spending’. This is what we attempt in the last chapter of this book where we frame a new thesis, grounding degrowth in dépense.

Solidarity economy and degrowth

by iliosporoi network,

The crisis is no longer simply a credit one and financial. It is structural, environmental, and social; it is a crisis of values, morals, politics, culture and aesthetics. The recent credit/debt crisis imposed dramatic solutions and rendered the texts of the first political ecology theorists to resemble self-fulfilling prophecies. While the global GDP has quadrupled since the 1970s, social and economic inequalities are greater than ever, environmental problems have swelled up dramatically despite all proclamations about sustainable development, while capitalism continues to rampage and produce structural crises which result into real human casualties, not mere numbers. Economy and the financial system continue to produce debt and to perpetuate the worship of money, aiming to drive us spend more than we have or need and to exist simply for consuming (Graeber 2011).

The experience of the last 20 years has proven that "sustainable development" cannot be ecologically sustainable, since it continues to deplete resources and has neither improved prosperity nor quality of life, nor has contributed to isonomy and equality.
The degrowth and solidarity economy movements and practices go hand-by-hand in the European South countries, especially Spain and Greece, since they offer a substantial alternative not only to tackle the severe impacts of the multifaceted crises, but also because they give people the chance to create another world right here, right now.
The essence of degrowth, which is frugal abundance according to Latouche, is not something new to people and societies. From Diogenis and his clay pot until the pro-industrial communities, people lived within a communal economy of sharing, mutual aid and cooperation. Since the “industrial revolution” and even until the first theoreticians of degrowth and political ecology (Gorz, Illich, Bookchin and Castoriadis) people always found ways to be self-sufficient and live with dignity, even with few possessions. With the emergence of the neoliberal -free market- capitalism that was built upon mass consumption, technocracy, urbanization and surplus production this condition changed. Modern societies seem detached from their humanity and the natural environment, trapped in the fetishism of growth and capital accumulation.

Degrowth, just like Solidarity Economy, is a new narrative, a vehicle for the radical transformation of society and the economy. They are an ensemble of ideas, practical solutions and policy proposals, a path towards social justice, prosperity and sustainability which has detached the meaning of life and freedom from the notions of consumerism and rampant materialism. This does not simply mean the greening of industry and the economy, green technologies and green jobs, but rather the radical transformation of production and consumption patterns, the radical reform of democratic institutions and social structures, the elimination of social inequalities and the safeguarding of rights, individual freedoms and inter-generational justice.

It means to achieve progress without growth, to focus on qualitative indicators of prosperity and not on factitious growth rates, while at the same time pursuing a deep and wide application of democracy in our societies. It means to strive for variety and to respect diversity, to apply solidarity and cooperation in order to deconstruct the structural immorality of neo-liberal capitalism, individualism and competitiveness and the dominating relations they impose, so that we can find again the path to harmony with our natural world and ourselves.
Degrowth and Solidarity Economy by definition can only function critically and detached from neo-liberal capitalism, "free markets" and "free trade", the unequal distribution of resources and the abuse of rights and freedoms. They can only be opposed to violence, war, poverty, racism and nationalism. Solidarity economy practices are a daily revolution, the creation of another world here and now, a realistic utopia based on the principles of sustainable degrowth that places up-front concepts such as cooperation, solidarity, need reconstruction, symbiosis, offering and sharing. It is the creation of a new anthropological type (Kolempas and Billas, 2012) who will again give importance to small, inherent human values such as joy, vision, dignity, quality and meaning of life. That is, a redefinition of well-being.
Degrowth is a concrete utopia according to Latouche (2010), an ensemble of applied utopias (nowtopias), and solidarity economy is degrowth in practice. In that framework, degrowth offers the political framework so that solidarity economy is not implemented merely as a painkiller for the impacts of the capitalist crisis, within the same system, but rather as a foundation for the transition to another socioeconomic system, socially fair, ecologically sustainable, resilient and self-sufficient.

Localization of production and consumption; cooperative economy; mutual aid, autonomy and self-sufficiency; direct democracy; multiculturalism and respect for diversity; the protection of individual rights and freedoms; conservation and preservation of natural resources; the protection and safeguarding of public goods (eg water, coasts, forests); decentralization; agro-ecology; non-dependence on nuclear energy, oil and mineral resources; the use of cycling and the depreciation of private cars; energy autonomy based on renewable sources both at home and community levels; self-management of health and alternative therapies; opposition to mining and large infrastructure projects, (i.e: nuclear power plants, waste incineration plants, dams, highways); reuse, recycling and local-decentralized waste management; minimization of the production and consumption of meat; protection of the rights of animals and those of Mother Earth; are concrete degrowth transition proposals discussed and applied within the ecological movement for decades.

The political proposals of degrowth, including those of Solidarity Economy offer a realistic yet revolutionary alternative for exiting the multifaceted crisis, in response to the TINA (There Is No Alternative) austerity doctrine, which the neo-liberal ideology is spreading. Proposals such as: less working hours but work for everyone, guaranteed minimum income, local currencies and local non-profit micro-finance institutions, small self-managed cooperatives and banks, barter exchange systems, taxation on advertising and ad restrictions from public spaces, transformation of road infrastructure into cycling, walking and open spaces, regulatory and tax incentives to discourage over-consumption of disposable products and under-consumption of multipurpose products, re-distributional and ecological taxation, de-commercialization of politics and strengthening of the active and direct involvement of citizens in decision-making (International Conference on Economic Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity, 2010), might seem radical to some but are more than feasible for many as they are widely applied all over the world.

At a practical level, the movement of degrowth gave a new impetus to the ecological movement, and was expressed radically through the development of many bottom up initiatives including those that consist solidarity economy. Initiatives which are offering everyday alternatives against the growth imaginary, which go beyond the crisis and the market economy: Eco-communities and eco-villages, reclaiming of agricultural land, occupation of inhabited buildings, co-housing, producer-consumer cooperatives, communal self-managed farms and orchards, permaculture and organic biodynamic cultivation, seed banks and seed exchanges, labor collectives, ethical banks, self-managed social centers, local exchange networks of products and services without money, time banks, alternative educational and cultural structures, public assemblies and participatory budgets at community level, are tested proposals which compose a multiform and diverse puzzle of alternatives in response to the multiple crises we are experiencing.

All of the above constitute everyday cracks upon the imaginary of capitalism (Holloway 2010) which we must multiply if we wish to change the world without taking Power (Holloway 2002), according to the imperatives of degrowth, autonomy and ecology. We must think about bottom up democracy, collectively, like in the struggles against the privatization of water or against gold mining, or simply as a daily struggle in order to live with dignity. The world is full of these cracks, as well as, full of important challenges ahead such as climate change, reduction of biodiversity, nuclear pollution and the depletion of natural resources.
With Degrowth and Solidarity Economy practices we can overcome the crisis, which is a result of unsustainable growth that signals the failure of “economism” (Kallis et al. 2009) and to seek a radical transformation at the individual and collective levels in order to reduce the pressures upon human societies and ecosystems. We have to overcome the imaginary of growth, passing from the macro-economics of markets and surplus trading to the solidarity- cooperative economy of natural resources, from the debt crisis and the neo-feudal memorandums, to a self-organized, egalitarian society, a re-distributional, decentralized economy, and self-managed local structures, aiming to self-sufficiency, well-being, ecological balance and freedom. As it has been nicely said, degrowth and ecology does not mean a return to the past and primitivism, but a return to a utopian future which we envision and anticipate, a society of equality, isonomy, ecological wisdom and sharing.

Degrowth and Solidarity Economy are not a panacea, nor they are an easy and quick procedure. Yet, this is a different, creative way to change our lives for the better, to experience the reasons why one deserves to live freely and hope for a better future with dignity. We have a historic opportunity to plant the seeds so that the utopia of today will become the reality of tomorrow.

In Greece during the crisis

In Greece unemployment and poverty have mowed down the population, reaching unprecedented levels, while the environment in the mercy of the fiscal crisis and the austerity memorandum, has been sacrificed on the altar of privatization and development with “fast-track” procedures. Even the concepts of "sustainable development" and "green economy" have been tactically removed from the vocabulary of politicians, apart from very few exceptions.

Already since 2010 and as a response to the economic, social and environmental crisis and the neo-liberal shock doctrine (Klein 2007) being tested in Greece, all around the Greek territory hundreds of movements and citizens' initiatives have been sprouting up like mushrooms, aiming at reclaiming life, common goods, free and creative time, as well as, the productive processes. These movements offer valuable inspiration and optimism, while demonstrating clearly that another world already exists and is not just feasible (Iliosporoi, 2013).
Beyond the dictatorship of capitalism, private banks and neo-liberal markets, local communities and affinity groups are taking matters into their own hands and get self-organized within the framework of an economy that does not depend upon money and profit. They redefine their needs, reduce consumption, exchange and share, self-manage their subsistence and energy needs, localize production and are becoming more self-sufficient and autonomous. They learn how to be better off by consuming and owning less, working less and having more free time for a simpler and more enjoyable life, emphasizing on interpersonal relations and civic participation.

In modern Greece and Europe what we need is a catholic “change of narrative”, a change of the collective imaginary and a paradigm shift, and now it is a historic opportunity to achieve this, by learning from our mistakes which led us to the current crisis. We need to develop a collective outlook beyond the crisis by exploiting the opportunities arising from it, in order to achieve radical changes in economy and the society. An alteration of the collective imaginary regarding growth and consumption is necessary in order to avoid further degradation of social prosperity and the depletion of natural resources. We have to overcome the obsession with continued economic growth (GDP) and to focus on everything that substantially improves living conditions and reduces inequalities, i.e: to have a satisfactory job but work less hours in order to have enough free time and spend quality time with our beloved ones within a friendly and sustainable environment. We must invest upon a cultural and institutional decolonization from economism and the religion of growth, to invest in nature and the alteration of our consciousness, to take matters into our own hands.

The way forward...

Extract below from: D'Alisa, Demaria, Kallis (2015), DEGROWTH, A vocabulary for a new era, Epilogue: From austerity to Dépense
[…] for us, the current socio-ecological crisis urges to overcome capitalism’s senseless growth through the means of a social dépense. Dépense refers to a genuinely collective expenditure –– the spending in a collective feast, the decision to subsidise a class of spirituals to talk about philosophy, or to leave a forest idle – an expenditure that in strictly economic sense is unproductive.
Practices of dépense “burn” capital out and take it out of the sphere of circulation, slowing it down. Such collective “waste” is not for personal utility or for the utility of capital. It aspires to be political. It offers a process through which a collective could make sense of and define the “good life,” rescuing individuals from their illusionary and meaningless privatized lives.

In the degrowth society that we imagine, dépense will be brought back to the public sphere, but sobriety will characterize the individual. This call for personal sobriety is not in the name of financial deficits, ecological limits or moral grounds; ours is not the Protestant call of the supporters of austerity. Our claim for sobriety is based on the premise that finding the meaning of life individually is an anthropological illusion. Consider for example those rich individuals who after having it all get depressed and don’t know what to do with their lives. Finding meaning alone is an illusion that leads to ecologically harmful and socially unjust outcomes since it cannot be sustained for everyone. The sober subject of degrowth that we envisage, does not aspire to the private accumulation of things because he

or she wants to be free from the necessity to find the meaning of life individually.

People should take themselves less seriously, so to say, and enjoy living free from the unbearable weight of limitless choice. Like the pianist in “the Legend of 1900” the sober subject knows well not to desire a piano with limitless keys. Like the pianist, he or she will always prefer a limited vessel, to the limitless city. The sober subject finds meaning in relations, not in itself. Liberated from the project of finding individually the meaning of life, he or she can be devoted to a daily life centered around care and reproduction and participate to the societal dépense democratically determined. A nthropologically, this subject of degrowth already exists. It is the subject of the nowtopians and eco-communities. It is to be found among the back-to-the-landers who work the land, or the city dwellers cultivating urban gardens, or occupying the squares. The open question is how it can spread and replicate; but this is a political question, not an individual question. The pair personal sobriety-social dépense is to substitute the pair social austerity individual excess. Our dialectical imaginary is “political” in the deep sense of the term.

A degrowth society would have to build new institutions to choose in a collective way how to dedicate its resources to basic needs on the one hand, and different forms of dépense on the other. The political does not end with the satisfaction of basic necessities; it starts there. The choice between collective feasts, Olympic games, idle ecosystems, military expenditures, or voyages to space will still be there. The weight on democracy and on deliberative institutions will be more intense than now that the dogma of growth and continuous reinvestment has evaded the difficult questions of what we want to do once we have enough. The political economy will be interested in the sacred again. And the economy of austerity, for the most and private enjoyment for few will give its place to an economy of common feast for all sober individuals.

c) Alternatives: Proposed methods or alternatives to address the topic within degrowth

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