Part 1: The Problem is Growth Party? Fuck That!
Don’t let the right wing economists steal reality from us. All that people value must be reckoned with when we assess growth and prosperity, whether or not it can be neatly counted.
The major political weakness of neoliberalism is that it is the economics of slow growth. Great on re-distribution up, which is why it is so popular with elites, but it slows economic growth even when it is not pushing austerity. But we leftists don’t exploit this weakness! Among the reasons for the preceding are that, like most citizens, leftists have been propagandized into misunderstanding economics, ignoring economic history and making right-wing or just wrong background assumptions that have no basis in reality.
Case in point is David Lindorff’s tragically subtitled — “The Problem is Growth” — piece in Counterpunch of a few days ago. (‘Tragic’ because only the left will lead us out of neoliberal hell, and a left that is anti-growth will fail.) Lindorff asserts baldly — in a piece whose actual title is also pretty ridiculous, “What’s Wrong with America” — that “economic growth … is a threat to life.” He comes to this conclusion in the usual way, from the global warming, pollution, overcrowding angle.
But Lindorff’s background assumption, about the meaning of “economic growth,” is wrong: he has assumed that it must mean increased factories, cars, buildings and similar. That is not true. Economic growth for real human beings means an increase in whatever individuals give economic value to. Do I value a pollution-free environment? Yes. Then for me an increasingly clean environment represents economic growth. Do I value a more egalitarian distribution of income? Yes. Then for me an increasingly egalitarian society represents economic growth.
Economic value and growth, then, are about what we value, or more specifically what each of us values aggregated together. That’s a real, human GNP. Yeah, it’s not something that is entirely measurable, but so what, that’s sometimes how reality goes. Mainstream economists nonetheless blithely and absurdly assert that economic value (and therefore economic growth) consists only of money and whatever else can be counted. But that destroys any real human meaning to the terms ‘value’ and ‘growth’ just to make economic growth, and by implication prosperity and even happiness, measurable. It isn’t, they aren’t.
If we understand economic value, and therefore growth, in the only way that makes sense to human beings, then left economics can and should be about economic growth and fairly shared prosperity. That, of course, doesn’t mean we support polluting, warming and destroying the planet. No, instead, economic growth and prosperity are for us to define in any way we like, subjectively and democratically. I sure hope and believe most people find great value in a clean and non-warming planet.
Hope I’ve disposed of the ‘Lindorff Objection’. (Of course, I may have done so here, but it is still out there …) But if I haven’t, let’s talk about it in the comments!