POSTED: August 16, 2018
Economy | Politics & Enterprise | System Dynamics | Themes

Dialogues in Turbulent Times

CUSP at 2018 International Degrowth Conference, Malmö, Sweden
21-25 Aug 2018

Dialogues in Turbulent Times | CUSP at 6th International Degrowth Conference. Malmö 2018

CUSP researchers Simon Mair, Ben Gallant and Ellen Stenslie will be presenting papers at the 6th International Degrowth Conference for ecological sustainability and social equity in Malmö. The ‘Dialogues in Turbulent Times’ are built across two main areas: First, expanding the geographical and thematic scope of degrowth discussions, advancing debates in the Nordic contexts, as well as the Middle East, and covering themes such as welfare state, migration, war, technology and money. The importance of dialogues with critical social theories (such as anarchism, feminism, Marxism, postcolonial theory) and climate science will form the focus of the second strand of dialogues.

Apart from being a space for scholarly debates, degrowth conferences aim at promoting cooperation of various groups in the development of scientific, social and political proposals towards ecologically sustainable and socially just transformation. Combining solid scholarly, activist and artistic programmes, the conferences are designed to create an informal festival atmosphere, to involve a rich diversity of local and international groups, and to further the international degrowth movement.

Details about the diverse programme can be accessed on the conference website. Abstracts of the CUSP papers are listed below.

Mair, S, Druckman, A and T Jackson 2018. The Future of Work—Lessons from the History of Utopian Thought. 
Degrowth and the Chronopolitics of Work and Play,
22 Aug, 11am-12.30pm
In this paper, we aim to contribute to utopian visions of the future of work. One prominent modern utopia is luxury communism, which demands less work and freedom from wage labour. However, this utopian narrative relies on the demand for more production and consumption. Consequently, it is in conflict with the fact that there are environmental limits to economic activity. To interrogate the utopian vision of luxury communism and attempt to reconcile it with the reality of environmental limits we set it in its historical context. To this end, we explore the role of work in Cokaygne, a tradition of folk utopias dating back to the 12th century, and William Morris’s News from Nowhere written in the late 19th century. We argue that luxury communism is a form of Cokaygane because it demands more consumption and less work. However, within it at are strands of thinking that resonate with a more Morrisian perspective where work has meaning and should be reclaimed rather than done away with altogether. In particular we argue that Morris’s analysis of the relation between useless work and capitalist modes of production finds resonances with the idea that we need to repoliticise the process and outputs of work, ultimately reorienting the economy away from the production of value and towards the reproduction of life. Finally we suggest that the utopian vision of a life centred economy is both strengthened by and strengthens the concept of environmental limits, providing a basis for new utopian visions.

Gallant, B, Jackson, T and S Mair 2018: Technology, Plutocracy and Care: Baumol’s Cost Disease in a Post-growth Economy. 
Technology 2,
24 Aug, 11-12.30am
The future and purpose of work are vital concerns in the consideration of the post-growth economy. An economy of care, craft and creativity (Prosperity without Growth, 2nd ed, Jackson 2017) may have much to offer in terms of sustainable, good quality employment and greater material efficiency. But such a proposal cannot ignore the fundamental economic forces that are already shaping the future of work in the 21st Century. One such force is the rise of automation. The development of machine learning is currently extending the scope of automation into previously ‘safe’ occupations reinforcing the need to address questions about the intrinsic value of different forms of work. Another such ‘fundamental’ relates to the relative productivity of different sectors of the economy.

The economist William Baumol pointed out that industries with below average labour productivity growth (such as care, craft and creativity) will experience above average cost inflation, because wages will increase in proportion to average labour productivity growth across the economy. Hence, the very sectors that offer the most potential for sustainable, good quality work are liable to suffer from what Baumol called a ‘cost disease’ and find themselves either squeezed out of the market, struggling for finance or dominating an increasing proportion of the household budget. Despite numerous theoretical and empirical studies of the cost disease, little consideration has been given to these dynamics as the economy moves into a post-growth phase.

The goal of this paper is to redress this imbalance. Specifically, we explore the relevance of the Baumol hypothesis for a post-growth economy. We discuss the future of employment, quality of work, provision of care, and fiscal survivability of public services as technological development shapes the economy and determines the allocation of power. Through review the existing literature, we derive insight into the challenges and opportunities that Baumol’s cost disease raises for post-growth economies. By situating the Baumol hypothesis alongside socialist, anarchist and philosophical literatures on technology and work, we are able to highlight particular tensions between desirable future visions of work and the economic forces that will shape them in post-growth economies.

Stenslie, E, Humbert, A L and F Lyon 2018. Social Economy Growth for a Post-growth Vision of Sustainable Prosperity.
Community Initiatives 2,
24 Aug, 2-3.30pm
Environmental social enterprises and other social economy organisations present an alternative to ‘business as usual’, with a desire to enact environmental and social change. They apply a range of business models that represent ways of maximising sustainability and societal wellbeing in contrast to the dominant economic policy of maximising individual profit and GDP growth. Building on the concepts of post growth, degrowth and also sustainable prosperity (Jackson, 2017), this paper examines the role of social economy organisations in articulating an alternative to conventional businesses. These have primarily environmental and social objectives that overrides their commercial aims. In particular, we examine those parts of the social economy that have a core environmental objective or trading activity, thus representing a type of institutional super-hybridity.

Taking the example of the UK where there has been long tradition of these forms of enterprise, this paper provides a quantitative exploration of the types of environmental social enterprises in the UK and examines the extent to which these enterprises represent an alternative the prevailing business paradigm. We contribute to understanding both the social economy and post growth/de-growth thinking by analysing the types of contribution this part of the economy can make to sustainable alternatives not focused on growth in consumption of resources. Furthermore, we analyse how different types of SE have different ambitions to grow and scale up their impact to create sustainable prosperity (Vickers and Lyon, 2014). In this way, we reveal the conundrums within the growing movement to address growth for degrowth.

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