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Crisis and no end? Re-embedding economy into life and nature

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Abstract

There is no end of the crisis in sight – this is also openly recognised by apologists of the system. Even more, the long nightmare of forcing Greece during the fist half of 2015 onto its knees, using banks instead of tanks shows both, the contempt for mankind by established superior powers when it comes to defending their interest in the Hobbesian war and the human tragedy that follows suit on the side of the victims, that, on to of their hardship have to bare being blamed for the atrocities. Important is to develop a more detailed and radical analysis, allowing a change of the structures that are underlying the current situation. One point in question is that the European tragedy had been and is part of a global drama. Looking at some central statements of major players, it will be shown that a central problem is not the analysis of key benchmarks, but the discussion of main paradigms as growth, nationality, statehood and the like which are by and large still taken as “eternal givens”. A radical shift is needed, aiming at a proactive re-interpretation of the future, taking issues of the mode of living and the environmental into account.
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1
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Crisis and no end? Re-embedding economy into life
and nature
Peter Herrmann
Scientific Committee of EURISPES, Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies, Via Cagliari, 14- 00198 Rome,
Italy
Abstract: There is no end of the crisis in sight. Even more, the long nightmare of forcing Greece onto its knees during
the first half of 2015, using banks instead of tanks, shows the contempt for mankind by established superior powers
when it comes to defending their interest in a Hobbesian war, irrespective of subsequent human tragedies.
A more detailed and radical analysis is needed, allowing a change of the structures underlying the current situation.
One point in question is that the European tragedy was and is part of a global drama.
The discussion of main paradigms as growth, nationality, statehood and the like have to be at the heart of any debates,
questioning their validity. A radical shift is needed, aiming at a proactive and provocative re-interpretation of the future.
Keywords: political ecology, structural crisis, societal change, globalisation, five giant tensions, social quality
*Correspondence to: Peter Herrmann, Scientific Committee of EURISPES, Institute of Political, Economic and Social Studies, Via Cagliari,
14- 00198 Rome, Italy; Email: herrmann@esosc.eu
Received: July 22, 2015; Accepted: October 9, 2015; Published Online: November 23, 2015
Citation: Herrmann P, Crisis and no end? Re-embedding economy into life and nature. Environment and Social Psychology, vol. 1(1):
xxxx. http://dx.doi.org/10.18063/ESP.2015.01.003.
1. Four Theses as Introduction
The four theses are stated as follows:
(i) Discussing the current crisis remains trapped in
old tracks often looking at the glass, asking if it is
half-empty or half-full, at the end being oriented on
re-establishing a status-quo ante. However, when
talking about a structural crisis, the question must be
whether the glass is actually completely broken. Thus
the debate on the crisis cannot be reduced on looking
at the dramatic consequences, in particular the ‘social
costs’. The point in question is the crisis of North-
American hegemony and its accumulation regime,
related living regimes and national and international
regulatory mechanisms and the related modes of life.
(ii) If the crisis of the hegemonic system (Mah-
nkopf, 2010) is seen as a matter of power of ideas, it
should also be emphasised that neoliberalism reflects
a one-sided interpretation of objective conditions and
not simply a matter of well-meaning values. Recog-
nising that hegemonic strategies reflect objective con-
ditions allows elaborating sound counter-propo-
sals beyond re-discovering limits of growth and
claiming new morals. A courageous utopia derives
from analysing the objectively given conditions of
productive forces and real potentials.
(iii) ‘Limits to growth’ are not simply negative con-
stellations; it is necessary to consider the wider con-
text, allowing to understand the limits of growth in the
context of the related ongoing limits to limitations. We
are talking about increasing inequalities, much more
extensive than usually issued: It is still the question of
the (lack of) access to basic resources; these are global
problems, increasingly returning to the countries of
the hegemonic centres.
(iv) Politics are always made for an uncertain future
risks should not result in paralysis nor should they
lead to excessive adjustments. The orientation has to
include matters of the mode of living which are al-
ways located in and are part of the environment.
Crisis and no end ? Re-embedding economy into life and nature
2 Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1
The underlying thesis is that global capitalism
reached near-to-complete hegemony. Thus, various
advantageous factors that existed previously, that of-
fered main push and pull factors for capitalist devel-
opment, ceased to exist. Against this backdrop, the
contribution elaborates a structure-oriented crises
analysis, making it necessary to look at the processes
of rebalancing the world order. This leads to a further
step inproposing the emphasis of varieties within the
one capitalist world, an understanding standing
against the notion of varieties of capitalism. Though
this leads to uncertainties within the ruling classes,
which are then addressed, the contribution will later
outline some unresolved tensions. Proposals will be
presented on this basis, allowing for moving beyond
crisis management strategies.
2. Crisis or What? Proposal for a Long-term,
Structure-oriented Assessment of the Crisis
Crisis analysis, even on the political left, ignores too
often that the current situation is not simply one in
which economically strong countries stand against
economically weak countries. Instead, we are facing a
complex, relational field of tensions: those at the top
standing against those at the bottom, class struggle
from above simultaneously on the national and the
international level, often veiled by managerial and
technical explanations and by supposedly religious
questions. Another point to be seen is that the intensi-
fication of the class struggle within the EU is part of
rebalancing power on the global geopolitical level,
namely the aspirations of establishing global domina-
tion within a new unipolar world-order.
On the side of capital we do not find a uniform
picture. One question is — again — whether the entire
ruling classes are really winners and what roles the
different ‘margins’ play though there is one ruling
class, this is by no means a homogenous block.
1
An
important question is concerned with the different po-
sitions within this class details are certainly of
great importance when it comes to the assessment and
the subsequent and proposals for developing ‘policies
for the future.’
2
Of course, even structural crises are nothing ex-
traordinary, but more the norm of capitalist develop-
ment. However, we are currently experiencing a far
more complex constellation, which will be briefly
looked at in the following, mentioning at least some
key issues.
The proportion of variable capital (simplified ‘la-
bour costs’) of the total capital is decreasing (tendency
of the organic composition of capital to fall). This is of
course a contradictory process, since the ‘servicialisa-
tion’ suggests a different pattern: services are inher-
ently labour-intensive and here rationalisation is lim-
ited.
3
In any case, the ‘inner colonialisation’, as al-
ready mentioned especially by Rosa Luxemburg, is
also a matter of a further shift in the composition of
capital. In addition to the proportions of constant and
variable capital, we have to look more closely at the
qualitative character of the respective shares. It be-
comes clear, especially in this instance,that the analy-
ses made for industrial capitalism have to be revisited,
without discarding them completely.
Another socio-economic aspect (being result and
cause) needs to be taken into account. Looking at the
development of income, we can generally assume a
tendency of an increase of the overall amount of vari-
able capital, going hand in hand with a decrease of
income (notwithstanding the enormous growth of
wealth, i.e., the concentration of high income in the
hands of a ‘relevant minority of the population’).
4
At
the same time we see a shift in the structure of quali-
fication as the actual qualification is lowering
5
; this
1
Actually at least Marxist class theory never saw classes as homogenous in the strict sense.
2
German history gives apt evidence for how dramatic such differences can be and even if the historical process had always been complex and
contradictory, an important facet of the truth is that German fas cism was mainly a result of the representatives of heavy industry, whereas light in-
dustry favoured at least initially other internal and external strategies. We cannot really compare the current situation with that of the 1920s and then
the 1930s, but we are surely standing at a crossroads where the decision has to be taken going beyond looking for mechanisms that are limited by
solely aiming on overcoming the current crisis.
3
When looking at the wider context, such as the debate about quality of development, it is interesting that rationalisation changes always ‘content’ as
well often the provision of more or different services is a consequence of shortcomings of earlier service provision.
4
The reference to the one percent is a little bit misleading: though the statement is in principle correct, i.e., correct in highlighting that there is only a
small number exercising control it lets us overlook that the number of rich and very rich people is increasing. Still, even if taken literally we find
actually a frightening figure here too. According to an OXFAM-issue briefing titled Wealth: Having It All And Wanting More (Oxfam, 2015), ‘in
2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the
planet. Almost all of that 52% is owned by those included in the richest 20%, leaving just 5.5% for the remaining 80% of people in the world. If this
trend of an increasing wealth share to the richest continues, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people in just two years, as
shown on Figure 2, with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016.’ (Oxfam, 2015, page 2)
5
This is not necessarily reflected in the degree obtained.
Peter Herrmann
Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1 3
also means the decrease of available employment on
the upper echelons of the qualification scale. In other
words, there are more jobs at the lower end of the
qualification ladder than in the middle or at the top.
Then, the worsening of the overall situation appears
to be an improvement for those who are traditionally
marginalised. As wrong as it is to say that the rising
tide lifts all boats, it is also as correct to say that one
may feel better if the boat is sinking than one does if
one is thrown overboard.
3. From Europe to the World
6
Looking at the overall balance of the composition of
capital, we see a change of the patterns of the interna-
tional division of labour: the rich global north is not
anymore standing simply against the poor global south.
Instead, we see two lines: The rich global north still
stands against the poor global south.
7
At the very same
time wealth and poverty in the north and in the south
are emerging not least in qualitative terms in new
ways (Draibe, 2010). This is not simply a question of
new inequalities; importantly (and largely not ana-
lysed) we face a shift in the capital structure. In simple
terms, as far as the centre-periphery theory was more
than an analytical tool and reflected in actual fact, at
least partly, the distribution of different departments
across space
8
, we are today dealing with a system, that
is characterised by a mix on both sides. This means
that within national economies and also on the global
scale, some borders are blurring.
The shifts of the income and of the capitalstructures
are closely interwoven; the income gap is growing,
and actually takes a form of a pair of scissors with
asymmetrical blades. At the same time the capital
structure appears in new forms:
(i) Continuously increasing concentration and
centralisation,
(ii) Emergence of an ‘entrepreneurial reserve
army’, i.e., a ‘stable pool’ of small and me-
dium-sized enterprises on which large interna-
tional enterprises establish their ‘empires’,
(iii) Emergence of a group of ‘new freelancers’;
though highly diverse, their economic and life
perspective is generally characterised by pre-
carity and/or the fact that people belonging to
this group lost the links to traditional forms of
social integration and securitisation,
(iv) The group of the old small and medium entre-
preneurs in very different positions, which re-
mains an essential part of the overall structure.
Of course, the role of banks, or generally speaking
the financial sector, is significant until recently a
macroeconomic equilibrium, understood in very broad
terms, had been possible by shifting costs in time and
space. This is a process in which banks played an im-
portant mediating role, maintaining at least the ap-
pearance of such equilibrium (one could use the
metaphor of banks being the doors which kept light
out of the darkroom). However, with the given excess
money, which cannot be profitably invested, the fi-
nancial sector does not continue to be a facilitator;
instead it is a quasi-autonomous sphere.
9
We also see massive shifts in the sphere of con-
sumption. The increasing importance of loans needed
to finance the consumption of private households
characterises as well the gradual preparation and fac-
tual emergence of financialisation. At the same time
we see an underlying shift of major significance in
which wage labour is further decoupled from the so-
cial process. As much as the importance of the various
departments of the overall economic process shifts
towards the financial sector, the perspective of living
and working shifts to a secondary level of securitisa-
tion; what had been initially a matter of financing
consumption, becomes increasingly a matter of circu-
lar (re)production.
4. Variety Within the One Capitalism
These patterns are not fundamentally new, and it has
to be noted also that we are talking about nationally,
regionally and globally contradictory tendencies. We
may say that the new character is given by the fact of
an intensification of the individual aspects new is
surely the more determined and overt character of
the bonds. It is essential that the previously existing
conditions, establishing at least seemingly equilibria,
6
Of course a crucial distinction as the EU is not Europe, though it frequently claims to be the only relevant geographical European region.
7
leaving aside that part of this global south is geographically located in the east.
8
Department I: production of means of production; Department II: Production of consumables so far we find this in the work of Marx’s classifica-
tion; Department III, following Luxemburg: financial services; I think a Department IV should be added, this can be seen as non-mediating service
9
In this context it should not be overlooked that the end of Bretton Woods meant by and large the loss of control over monetary and fiscal policy. This
means also a shift in the control, the ‘strong economies’ losing some of their power, the ‘weak economies’ gaining some control. However, this has
to be qualified by emphasising that this shift is taken back again by imposed austerity commitments which mean a return to violent dispossession.
Crisis and no end ? Re-embedding economy into life and nature
4 Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1
do not exist anymore; in other words, the supposed
normality was actually exceptional.
Central are (i) the ending of spatial and temporal
asynchrony thus limiting the possibility of exter-
nalising problems, (ii) a relatively high degree of
alignment of the composition of capital, thus limiting
the ‘varieties of capitalism’, and (iii) the perverting
pressure on the ratio of the different types of income';
mass incomes are not sufficient to ensure sufficiently
profitable demand
10
. High incomes are above a
threshold that is convertible into purchases,
11
but at
the same time this particular section of high incomes
increases immeasurably, expressing a further point,
namely that these private incomes are in tendency in-
creased to an extent to which capital is converted into
private assets. On the other hand, because of the lack
of resources, the lower and middle income groups are
coming under further pressure to make ends meet.
They are ‘balanced’ by (small) loans, which at most
warrant some short-term mitigation of the pressure.
But problematically it increases the weight in the me-
dium- and long-term perspective, not least by the ac-
cumulation of loans and interest.
Against this background, two aspects are of par-
ticular importance when it comes to the analysis of
crises and considering the further development. After
the first most disturbing though ‘focussed’ shock,
triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the
situation became increasingly confused. What was
initially seen as a tip of the iceberg named ‘general
global crisis’, had gained increasingly different faces,
which were often discussed independent from each
other or even posed against each other. Though un-
doubtedly many important points were made in the
analysis of individual aspects, they frequently resulted
in false incrementalist conclusions.
5. Paradise Lost – Emerging Uncertainties
Amongst the Ruling Classes
There had been, and still is, the simple statement that
‘in the season of resurrection, it’s fitting that he’s with
us once again bearded, prophetic, moralistic,
promising to exalt the humble and cast down the
mighty from their thrones. Yes, that’s right; Karl Marx
is back from the dead’ (Douthat, 2014). So indeed:
‘Marx is alive’ (Günther, 2008)and the suggestion that
‘Karl Marx is going mainstream’ (Jeffries, 2012) is not
really surprising. Still, the general optimism of main-
stream economics and the recourse to the traditional
means of ‘modern market economies’ had been indeed
increasingly under pressure, while this did not result
in a principal transformation of thinking. Still, it is
worthwhile to highlight some recent examples.
(i) The International Monetary Fund (IMF) high-
lighted in January 2014 the dramatic worsening of
inequality, stating that “high income inequality can be
detrimental to achieving macroeconomic stability and
growth”.
(ii) According to the German Spiegel magazine
(Böcking and Dieckmann, 2014), the leading German
economic research institutes left behind, to some de-
gree, the otherwise prevailing affirmative role, posi-
tioning themselves against policies of strict fiscal
consolidation.
(iii) We find as well a critique from another side,
namely a review from Christine Lagarde, who can
surely be seen as somebody who represents an or-
ganisation that carries a lot of responsibility for the
political and economic failures, before the proceed-
ings of the annual meeting of the IMF and the World
Bank:
Lagarde (underlined) that public investment is in
the longer term also good for state budgets. This
could be not only growth-friendly but also friendly
when it comes to the development of debt. ‘The mem-
bers have to show a much higher financial commit-
ment, directed towards increasing today’s growth and
tomorrow’s growth potential’. Lagarde writes in a
strategy paper on the occasion of the event. (Spiegel
Online, October 9, 2014)
Of course, one must wonder, reading in the same
article that
Finance minister Schäuble (...) intends to look at
the possibility of strengthening German investments.
(iv) Earlier we read that the IMF outlines the dan-
ger of a new economic crisis.The following reasons
were given:
a risk of stagnation within the Eurozone …
[the risk emerging from] geopolitical crises such as
the one in Ukraine and in the Middle East …
A possible overheating of the financial markets …
… especially in large economies under-investment
and too little is done for the demand.
10
The core of the process is of course not securing demand as matter of satisfying needs.
11
‘Too rich to spend it all’
Peter Herrmann
Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1 5
[the] urgent need for structural reforms. (Spiegel
Online, October 7, 2014)
(v) All these reflect the discussions at various levels.
Thus we see that Marco Buti, EU Director General of
the DG Economic and Financial Affairs, welcomes the
reader of the European Economic Forecast for fall
2014 with the clear and disillusioned statement:
After just a year of moderate growth, the momen-
tum of the EU economy began to slow in spring 2014.
In the second half of this year, GDP growth in the EU
is set to be very modest, while in the euro area it will
almost stagnate. Among the largest Euro area member
states, we see growth increasing in Spain where un-
employment remains very high, growth coming to a
stop in Germany after a very strong first quarter, pro-
tracted stagnation in France, and contraction in Italy.
(Buti, 2014)
(vi)Even if it is indeed too late and the damage is
immense; and even if ‘we have known it for a long
time and also talked about it’, it is remarkable that
self-criticism has reached the top actors (only) now:
The International Monetary Fund’s internal watch-
dog has criticised the fund’s call for austerity in 2010.
The move reopens a heated debate among policy
makers about the merit of raising taxes and cutting
public spending after the financial crisis.
In a review of the IMF’s response, the independent
evaluation office praised the fund’s international
lending role but attacked the policy advice it gave in
2010 for governments to start cutting their budget
deficits. (Harding, 2014)
[15]
One has to add that such self-criticismhas reached
once again, and such late insight is not historically
unique and thus we may tend to push them aside.
Still, it is more appropriate to try turning it into some-
thing positive. The underlying investigation is cer-
tainly sufficiently supported by the results of various
evaluations. The report stems from the Independent
Evaluation Office of the IMF (2014).
These and other various comments on the economic
development, economic policy and the indicated un-
certainty should not be underestimated. Although cur-
rently the spectre haunting Europe seems to be largely
invisible, the devil stands behind every corner.
6. The Continuity of Crisis Analyses
Hans-Werner Sinn, looking at the ‘sacred cow’ of the
growth-oriented competition, is clear:
Competition is one of the fundamental conditions
under which the invisible hand can act whereas mo-
nopolies and oligopolies exploit consumers and re-
strict output. (Sinn, 2014)
To ensure this supposedly indispensable competi-
tion, even government intervention is accepted from
this unexpected angle:
The left uses the term neoliberalism as an insult.
They are starting from the assumption that
neo-liberalism is the doctrine of deregulation of the
economy and the suggestion of the state as night
watchman. This is not correct. ... It comes from Alex-
ander Rüstow, who declared in 1932 at the annual
meeting of the Association for Social Policy the end of
the old liberalism and demanded a new liberalism
with a strong state that would establish a solid legal
framework for enterprises. (Sinn, 2014)
In fact, maintaining the old terminology and con-
cepts prevents us from recognising the largely
changed conditions, as well as the orientation on new
perspectives. In addition to the various truncations of
the analysis focusing on one, though often impor-
tant aspect and neglecting the relational character it
is obvious that the simple indication, credited to Ein-
stein, namely that ‘we cannot solve our problems with
the same thinking we used when we created them’,
was simply ignored. The following aspects are central.
6.1 Hegemonic Systems
Usually debates are focussed on securing national
competitiveness and growth. However, adherence to
the principle of nationality should be even for conser-
vative economic policymaking obsolete. Globalisation
has today, both with regard to its extent and to its
character, reached a level that requires a shift in
thinking. ‘We Are One World’ is no longer just an
ideological demand for the recognition of the rights of
‘the other’. The current stage of interconnection re-
quires rethinking of the concept of globalization
the conventionally associated understanding of cen-
tre-periphery relations has become in some ways
questionable, even though massive imbalances con-
tinue to exist. In addition to re-aligning the world or-
der we have to take into serious consideration the
changing character of semi-peripheries, the develop-
ment towards a unipolar world, and also at the same
time the tendencies towards a multi-polar world, the
orientation on regionalisation as a mechanism dis-
carding efforts of domination, the attempts to establish
counter-hegemonies, etc.
Crisis and no end ? Re-embedding economy into life and nature
6 Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1
6.2 Growth-mania
Growth is apparently still unquestioned. This is true
even if one includes the report by Sen et al.,presented
in 2009 by the Commission on the Measurement of
Economic Performance and Social Progress (website
as referred in references section) . The report empha-
sised the need to consider not only the growth rates of
GDP, but also other factors, namely ‘quality of life’
and ‘sustainable development and environment’, as
matters of societal progress. These were placed along-
sidethe ‘classical topic GDP. Thus GDP growth re-
mains unquestioned and universal while additional
factors are only considered as side-aspects alterna-
tives are seen, but remain underdeveloped within the
debates on immediate actions Herrmann and Fran-
gakis (2014) briefly discussed on this from a perspec-
tive of political economy).
This confirms two concerns. We cannot speak of an
end of the crisis and there will be no way out of the
crisis as long as the underlying mechanisms are not
challenged, namely the reduction of complex political
and economic relationships on an understanding of
society as mechanical settings, suggesting that con-
sumption equals prosperity and welfare and require
more growth of commodity production, more wage
labour, quasi-automatically resulting in more prosper-
ity. Both the suggested chain and the suggested per-
ception of wealth and prosperity are not fully grasped
in this understanding.
6.3 Disembedding
The new, structural dimension of the crisis refers es-
sentially to the disintegration of the different areas.
Economy and economic activities are established as
relationship of capital and as such this social construct,
anchored in power relations, is forcefully separated
from the metabolic process between humans and the
rest of nature. This aims arguably on enforcing an ar-
tificial equilibrium. As such it is removed from com-
plex social relations and vice versa; social relations
are redefined and only valued as much and as long as
they are geared to maintaining this utilitarian circular-
ity. Or one may say that since capitalist relations are
social relations, their current socio-political form ex-
presses a complete perversion. Even competition takes
on a new, further perverted form and transforms itself
into infantilised, egomaniac, autistic, irrational
hominem solvi.
Karl Polanyi pointed to the complex relationship.
According to him, we are not simply dealing with a
predominance of specific economic interests. Rather,
it is a relational process, i.e. the totality of politi-
cal-economic orientations and the redefined founda-
tions:
The market pattern, on the other hand, being re-
lated to a peculiar motive of its own, the motive of
truck or barter, is capable of creating a specific insti-
tution, namely, the market. Ultimately, that is why the
control of the economic system by the market is of
overwhelming consequence to the whole organization
of society: it means no less than the running of society
as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being
embedded in social relations, social relations are em-
bedded in the economic system. (Polanyi, 1957)
This is another expression for a tendency of chang-
ing the meaning of the economic process itself. The
very principle of capitalist accumulation and this is
the only driving force of such new market economy
is generating profit. Neither the luxury consump-
tion nor the general improvement of the living condi-
tions stood at the centre, at most they had been ‘nec-
essary by-products’. It has to be noted that does not
necessary mean that this consumption has to take
place locally but rather the opposite is advantageous
export always implies the possibility of keeping
wages (i.e. potential purchasing power) low. In short,
capitalist accumulation is the basis for a multi-layered
development:
(i) Shifting production from demand- to supply
orientation,
(ii) Shifting from local to external demand, i.e. the
emphasis of foreign trade,
(iii) shifting from production of consumer goods to
provision of services,
(iv) increasing inner colonialisation (Marx, 1887).
Taken together, this means that the process of ac-
cumulation is increasingly reflexive financialisa-
tion is a blatant expression. Production and the as-
sociation with real life, i.e. real people’s needs and
problems in everyday life appears nearly as a dis-
ruption of the self-referentiality of the financial sys-
tem.
12
Pleas for green growth, a new green deal, social
investment, local currencies, etc., are against
this background and are highly problematic as they
leave the conditionality of capitalist accumulation
12
On the question of Reality becoming unreal see e.g. Herrmann (2014b)
Peter Herrmann
Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1 7
unquestioned.
Marx highlights the connection between the politi-
cal-economic dimension, the juridical control over the
entire process of work/labour and the socio-cultural
dimension by highlighting the complexity needed
when discussing the right to work, stating ‘the first
clumsy formula … transformed into the droit à
l’assistance,the right to public relief … The right to
work is, in the bourgeois sense, an absurdity, … . …
Behind the right to work stands the power over capi-
tal; behind the power over capital, the appropriation of
the means of production, their subjection to the asso-
ciated working class and, therefore, the abolition of
wage labour, of capital and of their mutual relations.’
(Marx, 1850)
6.4 Prosperity as Happiness
Despite and because of these extreme shifts and
divides as evidenced by massive inequality, retrench-
ment, restructuring and undersupply, we are facing a
debate on lifestyle issues, well-being, quality of life
and the like.
It has to be emphasised that these debates are in
many instances moving into dangerous directions. As
much as growth is over-emphasised, we see paradoxi-
cally a tendency to portray life as matter of good luck,
suggesting that we all possess enough and the decision
about lifestyle would be simply a private affair, de-
pending on subjective sensations and free personal
decisions. This notion does not change if it is linked to
some calls for a new enlightenment for a wider under-
standing of rationality. It is equally problematic to
refer to an ‘imperial mode of living’ (Brandt and Wis-
sen, 2012)without embedding its definition into a
thoroughly understood framework referring to the ob-
jective development of the productive forces.
The process of disembedding and attempts of
re-embedding concerns the entire economic process
and all economic relations, not only the question of
consumption. Thiscalls for responsibility as cure. As
much as relations of capital are social relationships,
such move would only mean to ‘reverse’ the perspec-
tive, resulting in the definition of social relationships
as relations of capital. This is not the topic of the pre-
sent contribution.
13
One factor that is frequently ne-
glected is the availability and utilisation of the exist-
ing productive forces. Therefore it would be wrong to
emphasise a ‘new modesty and refer to the necessity
of changing values and expectations. It is important to
think about ways of exploiting the existing potentials
in different ways. This refers in particular to the fol-
lowing societal pillars:
(i) Socio-technical potentials,
(ii) Social redistribution of the existing private
wealth,
(iii) Institutional redistribution of wealth from the
private to the public sphere,
(iv) Opening new legal dimensions, namely the
right to self-determination of production
14
,
(v) Control of banks, especially emphasising the
commitment to sustainability and the link to
the productive process.
Again, the following has to be considered all
these aspects have to be taken in conjunction and they
have to be understood in the overall context. An im-
portant building block for further reflections is the
four-in-one perspective presented by Frigga Haug. It
involves ‘to redefine time, wealth and labour in new
ways’.
The aim is not to arrive magically at new
labour, but to redistribute the work that does exist.
This means that we move towards distributing all
human activities the sphere of employment, the
sphere of reproduction, the sphere of personal
development and the sphere of politics between all
individuals in the same proportions. We start from a
hypothetically working day of 16 hours. Within this
time span, the four dimensions of life have ideally four
hours each. This is not mechanically designed,
measured with a stopwatch, but serves as a sort of
guideline. (Haug, 2014)
7. Crisis Management or ‘Abolition of the Cri-
sis’
The perversion of both, the crisis and the limited
readiness to search for more ways that are more radi-
cal can be shown by a pun:
13
It should be noted that this is different to the common understanding of social capital.
14
Brandt (2014) talks about the assertion of the 3
rd
generation of human rights , but fails to recognise that this 3
rd
generation is defined as a matter of
protection; however, a new development requires developing rights that are guaranteeing effective self-determination. Discussions in Latin America
about the relations between humans and nature/natural environment and the rights of indigenous people are of great interest it is in many instances
about new dimensions that cannot be fully grasped within the framework of the commonly accepted Western legal doctrine.
Crisis and no end ? Re-embedding economy into life and nature
8 Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1
Excessive cheap production and low fare trade, be-
ing a major feature of quantitative growth strategies,
are established on the strategies of sheep advertising
and ‘low fair production’. (Carvajal, 2006)
The obsession with growth is currently especially
strong in combination with the search for alternatives
to mainstream development. Looking at some exam-
ples may show the ‘perversion of contradictions’
or better to say the ‘dialectic of perversion’; it is pre-
sented as ‘green policies’ when sheep are used as
means to advertise growth. Even if the mentioned ar-
ticle in the New York Times is referring to advertising
for hotels, one should still think of the environmental
impact of travelling. Also, alleged ‘justice and redis-
tribution’ goes hand in hand with actual exclusion;
supermarkets with low-cost products secure
mass-consumption, itself subject to hugely problem-
atic working conditions, low wages and thus also a
matter of exclusion.
15
We witness the fission of the
global working class on a new level.
Going beyond individual responsibility of relevant
enterprises, the core of the issue is the overall struc-
ture which is still geared towards avoiding the real
issues. For instance, the chief executive of the Asso-
ciation of the German Textile and Fashion Industry,
Uwe Mazura, argues as follows:
Essentially, it is a question of sustainably improving
the social and environmental conditions of the inter-
national clothing industry and the lives of people in
the producing countries. We explicitly share this goal.
However, only very few factories of the medium-sized
German enterprises own the production plants them-
selves and utilise instead local producers for the fab-
rication of clothes. We are not the employer, but only
purchasers.(Siems, 2014)
Displaying exploitation as a kind of social benefit,
in this case of providing employment locally in the
countries in question, is nothing new. Diversification
and politics on corporate identity is known since a
long time. This is surely important for developing the
thinking about prospects further, not least as it high-
lights the need to think about new patterns of legiti-
mation.
As said, the economy towards service-provision
and the subsequent inner colonialisation reached a
new stage qualitatively. Though this is simply a matter
of furthering capitalist hegemony, we can also see an
existing potential for change. Probably it is not much
of an exaggeration to conclude that we have indeed
reached this crisis stage which Marx characterised
already:
At a certain stage of their development, the mate-
rial productive forces of society come into conflict
with the existing relations of production or this
merely expresses the same thing in legal terms with
the property relations within the framework of which
they have operated hitherto. From forms of develop-
ment of the productive forces these relations turn into
their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolu-
tion. ... No social formation is ever destroyed before
all the productive forces for which it is sufficient
have been developed, and new superior relations of
production never replace older ones before the mate-
rial conditions for their existence have matured within
the framework of the old society. (Marx, 1859)
Nearly reaching the state of complete global he-
gemony, the various advantageous factors of the pre-
ceding stages of a globally contested system (the de-
finitive bipolar world, system competition, the condi-
tions that allowed development of underdevelopment
etc.) ceased to exist as push and pull factors for capi-
talist development.
Thus, we may look at the current situation and de-
velopment in a more positive way. We are at a point
that allows us to understand the context of the devel-
opment of the productive forces and the relative stage
and forms of socialisation. The underlying theory
consists of several elements; on the one hand we can
detect a set of potentials, on the other hand we face a
set of necessities. Both will be briefly presented be-
low.
The basic thesis is that we are dealing with a seri-
ous aggravation of development and moreover of the
development model itself the term crisis in its
common understanding is too weak to actually grasp
15
The following quote provides apt evidence:
The specialist in research of trade, Weber, sees this in a similar way. He says ‘The price battle is being carried out on the backs of the producers’. And
it is done in a way that is not acceptable. ‘The working conditions are disastrous.’ For instance in Bangladesh, the main country for deliveries for the
low-price segment, (female) workers have to work seven days per week, twelve hours per day, Weber reports.
Without holidays and without maternity leave. The fact that the fashion is shifting major production capacities from China to Bangladesh has accord-
ing to the expert mainly two reasons: Firstly, there the wages are ten times lower than in the People’s Republic; on the other hand there are no sig-
nificant environmental regulations. Especially the latter is shamelessly utilised. (Bohmann et al., 2012)
A further important issue is in this context the question of street traders.
Peter Herrmann
Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1 9
this. This situation leads to real threats of internal and
external violence and social emergencies. It also
points out the need to elaborate and highlight existing
possibilities. The orientation on the status quo ante,
i.e., the unconditional restoration of the status quo
ante means to hope for solutions from those condi-
tions that are the very causes of the present difficul-
ties.
7.1 Potentials
The potentials can be put into a nutshell by highlight-
ing four aspects:
(i) There is enough for all.
(ii) Concepts and debates on well-being, buen vivir,
quality of life and many similar notions and concepts
indicate that all are frustrated.
(iii) The existing resources are sufficient to move
globally much further than simply securing existence.
(iv) We have more than needed to satisfy just the
needs and wants of a small group.
7.2 Necessities
The rupture between self-referential ‘economic’ sys-
tems and metabolism with nature creates increasingly
limits. Whether we refer to expected catastrophes, see
shock doctrines at work or use a more moderate
analysis, it is obvious that we reached the limits of this
type of economy. We need a fundamental reorientation,
objectively and urgently.
Intergenerational equity and justice is another field
requiring urgent attention. This is not only about hav-
ing borrowed the world from our children, but also
about the fact that pension systems, health care, edu-
cation systems, etc. are structurally characterised by a
short-term orientation, not offering financial or mate-
rial perspectives for the future.
The erosion of peaceful global relations may re-
main within limits that make a new world war
unlikely.
16
However, there are countless acute con-
flicts recorded
17
. In this context, equally relevant are
strives for re-regionalisation and re-nationalisation. At
the end, all these movements are attempts to escape a
‘perceived permanent conflict’ and they are an attempt
to regain power and control. As such they mark a
complicated relationship between different hegemo-
nies within and across borders of identity: nations
against nations, religions against religions, again and
again allowing the blurring of borders and the blurring
of the underlying core class interests (Poulantzas,
1975).
An increasingly urgent issue evolves around the
so-called principle of governance, new approaches
towards defining public and private, rights and obliga-
tions, formal and effective democratic rights, etc.
As burdensome and limited as many of the traditional
patterns of political regulation are, it must also be seen
that the suggested governance and stakeholder princi-
ples are by and large only the application of the ide-
ology of economic management in the political sphere.
In this light we face a massive threat on democratic
and rights-based features of (bourgeois) democracy,
which may then turn into patterns of paternalist poli-
tics, policies and polities and resulting forms of chari-
tability (Herrmann, 2010).
We have to go beyond worrying about the five giant
evils as presented by Beveridge (1942);instead, I pro-
pose focusing on five giant tensions: the overproduc-
tion of goods and the turn of goods into ‘bads’; socie-
tal abundance versus inequality of access; abundance
of knowledge and its misdirection towards skills; the
individualisation of problems and their emergence as
societal threat and the complexity of government and
the limited scope of governance.
When referring to the four normative factors of the
social quality approach, namely social justice (equity),
solidarity, equal valuation and human dignity (Van der
Maesen and Walker, 2012),we can easily see from the
earlier presentation that both conditions and needs are
present to further such project of social quality, not as
normative undertaking but by way of following needs
that are dictated by the system itself.
Conflict of Interest and Funding
I hereby declare that there is no conflict of interest and
gratefully acknowledge the generous financial support
16
Although we should be aware that a global escalation is not completely unthinkable
17
For a short overview:
Among the total of 414 observed conflicts the political scientists see 45 highly violent conflicts, i.e., conflicts that are characterised by the widespread
use of organised violence, and having serious consequences. Accoring to the experts, 20 of these conflicts can be classified as war due to their level
of intensity. This high level had been also reached in 2011; the ‘Conflict Barometer 2012’ reports 18 as number of wars.
Although Europe was not affected by war during the last year, the conflict researchers observed an increase in the number of violent crises. The scien-
tists saw the opposition conflict in Ukraine as well as newly emerging conflicts in Greece as examples. (Hartz, 2001); translation P.H.)
Crisis and no end ? Re-embedding economy into life and nature
10 Environment and Social Psychology (2015)Volume 1, Issue 1
from support from Zhejiang University Fund, Hang-
zhou, PRC.
Acknowledgements
For the inspiration for writing an earlier version of this
contribution, I am particularly grateful to Christoph
Mayer. The many discussions with colleagues from
the EUROMEMORANDUM group had also been an
important source. I also greatly appreciate the col-
laboration and friendship with Marica Frangakis, fos-
tered since the beginning of 2011 in Vienna, and fur-
thered during the Baron meeting in Mainz, 2012. I
also extend my thanks to James Galbraith and Victoria
Panova and the extensive conversation during the
2014 Sorrento meeting or more honest to say, the
long nights that had been going with it.
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Book
Full-text available
This book, edited by Herrmann and with contributions from Earles and Kratzwald, revisits, with fresh insight, key sociological, philosophical, political and cultural theoretical frameworks of relevance to contemporary globalised world. The book is thought‐provoking in its central thesis which posits that there is a tendency for the ‘re‐feudalisation’ of production and reproduction and where economics is enmeshed with all elements of social life.
Chapter
Full-text available
At a time of crisis, the question of growth is naturally attracting a great amount of attention. Fundamental questions as to the type of growth that should be pursued, the means to achieve it and its implications are increasingly discussed in the literature. In this paper we examine the concept of growth in relation to (i) its theoretical aspects; (ii) the current ‘growth’ debate; (iii) its implications and the European experience, with special reference to the Compact for Growth; (iv) the notion of a new Marshall Plan for Europe and (v) the need for a radical growth agenda.
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