Transition Project: the Society of Post-Growth – G. Stoll & S. Tuschen

Sustainable and equitable development without the pressure of growth
(Bread for the World & Misereor in cooperation with the magazine Welt-Sichten
Dossier No. 3 (2015)
(Translated from Spanish by O. L. Castillo)

Key pieces of debate on economic and social change

(Authors are Dr. Georg Stoll and Stefan Tuschen, who are responsible for Global Policy and Future issues of Misereor)

postgrowthIn times of low unemployment and low gas prices, thinking about the post-growth is suspicious. But finding ways to help that economy, politics and civilization itself are freer from its dependence on growing demand, is a much deeper issue than just overcome the changing cycles of conjuncture. On the horizon new models and approaches on economy are emerging, but on the way to this horizon there are some pendant tasks should be addressed; some of them are indeed enormous.

The most emblematic product of the growth ideology: a car. In January, a newspaper front page announced: “German cars, valued as ever.” Audi, BMW, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, all these brands increased their sales, primarily in the US and China, “despite a slowdown in growth” as mentioned in the same article. Another article reported as the national importance matter, that three out of four cars produced in Germany are exported. In 2014, the number of new individuals cars registered in Germany, only slightly exceeded the figure of one million and constitutes “a new negative record”. If to this figure is added the two more million new industrial and service cars registered during 2014 in Germany, the balance ends in a growth of three percent. The types of cars with better sells are Road Vehicle; 540,000 units were sold last year in Germany (compared with 15,000 electric cars). Road Vehicles represent 18 % of the automotive market. Forecasts predict that by 2020 a third of the cars sold will be Road Vehicles. The same newspaper that provided this information also mentioned the clear message from one of the directors of Volkswagen: “The world wants Road Vehicles, Road Vehicles will then have”.

In this scenario, the German government aims to decrease carbon emissions by 40 percent over the level of emissions in 1990 by 2020. The newspaper indicated that the ministry of transport and traffic plans to promote electric cars and concept of shared cars (carsharing), for example, by reserved parking areas for them. In a less prominent place of the same article, it is mentioned that three quarters of carsharing customers, besides being users of this service, continue to maintain and using his private vehicle. Business consultants forecast is that in the medium and long term consumers will manage to use two instead of one car: the small electric car for the city and SUV for the family during the weekends.

However, this backward and forward perspective would not be complete without taking a look at the issue of employment in the automotive industry. Their sales figures, according to an article in the newspaper FAZ January 10 (2015), are encouraging, as they have allowed 784.200 people are employed in this branch with permanent contracts, which means an increase of 23,400 jobs compared to last year. However, later the newspaper disclosed the concerns of the automotive guild: increased energy costs, rising wages and the introduction of minimum wages for retirement age at 63 years; all this, according to the union “threat to Germany as a place of industry.”

Similar scenarios are found in the press giving coverage to other branches of industry and services. From the chorus of those voices some tunes indicate where the Germans are perceived about the public perception of growth and post-growth.

1. A growth economy remains as the most important indicator for political and industry success, at least for the opinion media. Efforts to incorporate complementary and alternative indicators in the language of political companies, have had no effect in practice. Sales growth, earnings and GDP are not for questioning or reinterpretations. At times, the term ‘growth’ are added some adjectives as inclusive growth, or green growth (quite misleading as too generic) or ‘sustainable’ growth. The question that does not arise in the media world is whether the pervasive desire for growth could conflict with other interests of society, such as caring for the environment or a greater gap between rich and poor because the treatment of these cases are stigmatized as topics culture and entertainment.

2. There are institutions and policy initiatives dedicated to the analysis and critical discussion of the socio-environmental, harmful impacts attributable to an economy (and its policies) oriented solely towards growth. But among those with the responsibility to govern, no one intends to dismiss economic growth or intentionally looking for economic contraction of certain branches of the economy and the productive apparatus in pro of the benefit of future generations or other countries and regions. On the contrary, the proposed policies go the other way and usually promise to make the conflict of interests between economic growth and ecological sustainability in a situation where everyone wins (win win). These dubious promises depend on the challenge of achieving sufficiently decouple economic growth from consumption of resources and the environment; therefore, it is not enough to speak of and theoretical techniques, but show alternative possibilities in the harsh reality of the economy and society. The Enquete Commission on “Growth, Wellbeing and Quality of Life” of the German Bundestag, analyzing the question of adequate decoupling over the past years, concluded that it has not managed to fulfill this task.

3. The number of economically active persons in employment plays a key role in the public perception; and usually it is seen inIs this the future close relation to the growth of the economy. “German manufacturing square” is used to press for policies friendly and advantageous conditions for business. But these conditions are no guarantee for more jobs and better wages; this is the experience of trade unions long ago. The picture becomes even more complex if issues such as migration for work, precarious employment or the huge domestic work and unpaid care are taken into account. The organization of work and employment in a society without the pressure of growth is one of the biggest challenges of a post-growth economy.

4. Without production consumption in vain. Therefore, for companies producing sounds the alarm when low acceptance of its products on the market – even when they are at a record level. So begins a desperate quest to create new products to saturated markets and seek new markets for existing products. This producer-consumer relationship is a solid foundation, but instrumented, when speaking of “consumer sovereignty” as the highest expression of individual freedom. “The world wants road vehicles, road vehicles will then have”. The good news for producers, and likewise for consumers, is that the universe of global clientele greatly expands thanks to the emerging middle classes, moving, then, towards the epicenter of this universe to countries with emerging economies. The other side of the coin shows the consequences of this phenomenon to the global ecosystem, as these issues are touched or questioned, they are evaded with envy arguments given the increased growth or the setup of an ecological dictatorship.

5. Alternative approaches or initiatives must deal with this constellation of expanding companies, with the consumerist attitude of the people, and the worry of losing their jobs. However, the number of people who think differently grows and spreads more and more places, but the strength of its potential for change is still uncertain. There is a risk that these initiatives achieve visibility and adhesion outside the orbit of affinity groups and pioneers of change and end up being absorbed by the prevailing dynamics of growth: a clear example is the distortion of the initiative of shared cars (carsharing) that is made for many in an additional option to the own car, rather than an alternative system.

6. At the center of public attention in the discussion about economic growth, the ecological, environmental and social impact in its global dimensions, are not present, but internationally and globally competitiveness. Disasters and scandals have occasionally embarrassed the dark side of the global production machinery, but quickly disappear into oblivion without achieving changes in perceptions. In this logic, the populations of other countries have interests in two directions: as cheap labor and potential as a consumer. This reduced and incomplete look creates a distance, a situation that leads to accept comparative advantages, growth where costs are to be borne by populations in other regions and for future generations; What is more, the rules generate a pressure in this direction. But societies in countries with early industrialization, as is the case of Germany, realize that they are no longer privileged subjects but who are or may become objects and victims of the process of globalization.

misereorAt the end of the 2008 financial crisis, it was talked that financial markets should serve to the existing tangible and economy, and the economy should serve humankind. Achieving those relations are channeled back into this simple and obvious logic is the main objective of the proposed transition to post-growth society.

A more sustainably Germany would have:

• Avenues as cycling trails
• Have Overcome selfishness and self-centeredness
• H & M chain-stores selling used clothing
• Local fruits instead of imported exotic fruits
• Reached a global understanding on economic, political, social, environmental and cultural issues
• Reduced consumption of meat
• Netto chain-Supermarket provided by vegetable gardens

About 20 young adults working as volunteers in Asia, Africa and Latin America for the Weltwaerts (Toward the World) program met in October 2014 in Aachen – Germany to exchange their experiences and worked on the question: what consequences would bring a global sustainability for life in Germany?

The result of a spontaneous brainstorm, were some key words that give us an idea of the required changes on economy, politics as in personal consumption and the values of society.


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