Development Against Freedom and Sustain
edited: Wednesday, November 22, 2006
By Debal Deb
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, November 21, 2006
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Excerpted from Capitalism Nature Socialism 17: 49-70.
Socialism envisages a sustainable, socially just society, where both intra- and inter-generational equity are established. Strong sustainability, endorsed in the (eco)socialist view, contends that money cannot buy the right to deplete the natural world; it reiterates Marx’s contention that: "Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like bona patres familias , they must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition." This responsibility toward future generations contradicts the standard view, which systematically discounts the future.
Senian economics has enhanced the neoclassical notion of fairness by incorporating democratic values. But in the context of sustainability, Sen’s theorization of justice, freedom and democracy is marked by his negligence of the issue of environmental justice. Sen's emphasis on democratic principles for operational justice and freedom fails to recognise that in all existing democracies, all social institutions are usurped by the power elite, and perpetuate inequalities in wealth and control over resources.
An economy that considers unlimited development as freedom of counterfactual choice is unable to ensure an INCLUSIVE FREEDOM to encompass intergenerational equity. The freedom of the community must take precedence over the freedom of individuals as well as that of guilds of vested interests. If the community is not free to exert this power, it is not based on a mutually agreed system of social governance, which is the essence of democracy.
Inclusive freedom of society is necessary to ensure intergenerational social and environmental justice, which would remain elusive in all democracies in practice until the capitalist growth model is replaced with a zero-growth economy. Development can become sustainable only if it replaces quantitative growth and associated intergenerational injustices.
Neoliberal individualism isolates individuals from the social matrix, including traditions and accountability relations. Sustainability cannot be achieved in democracies upholding rights to private profit where freedom is truncated and generational equity is nonexistent. Sustainable development can only be possible in a society where the individual’s instrumental freedom is replaced by inclusive freedom,
which thus ensures intergenerational rights.
Inclusive freedom can only prevail in a vibrant civic democracy where a communitarian ethic opposes and transcends the market. Civic democracy obviates expropriation of the majority by a privileged minority, because class privilege itself disappears when the community is given higher priority. The Amish society provides a contemporary example, where consumerism, the most prominent sign of market advent, is defeated by community restraints on
individual ‘‘freedom’’ to own more than others.
A vibrant community is like a rich ecosystem in which individual species interact in different ways to create a level of complexity that shapes the dynamics of each component species. The conscious participation and interaction of all members constitute a community, including its institutions and customs. Volitional acts of individuals for the benefits of the community - acts based on mutual accountability rules - ensure a functioning vibrant civic democracy, which is the prerequisite of
establishing a system of generational equity and freedom. Models of civic democracy are found in many traditional indigenous societies, because neither market systems nor planned economies have inbuilt features that guarantee participatory democracy, whereas indigenous cultures often do.71
Reinstatement of the community is anathema to the individual (entrepreneurial) freedom to exploitation and profit and restores ‘‘all the guarantees of existence’’72 to
the poor. In Marxian as well as modern ecosocialist thinking, the community life and harmony with nature count as the governing factors in realizing total, integrated, free humans in a free society. As Pepper73 has shown, Marx embraced a view of "spontaneous, cooperative fellowship as a ‘natural’ state, given the appropriate mode
of production, where people will see society as qualitatively more than just the sum of its individual parts*more than the wills or desires of individual people."
In a civic democracy where inclusive freedom prevails, the expropriation and
alienation of labor would become unfeasible, because producers are reunited with their means of production - that is, they identify themselves as the organic agents of production to satisfy their own social needs. Workers would not produce commodities for the sake of feeding the market but chiefly to satisfy the organic needs of the individual. Objects of conspicuous consumption like fur coats, designer garments and diamond-studded DBTEL cell phones would be rendered unnecessary,
because they would no longer impart any privilege or status to the individuals
owning them. Leisure, which is currently dominated by commercial sports, video
games and TV, would be redefined by freedom from the global consumerist ideal.
A free society does not give everybody freedom to have or do everything; it merely disallows some to do something that restricts the freedom of others. Individual freedoms ought to be truncated in order to ensure the counterfactual freedom of society, and thus to ensure social equity. This constitutes inclusive freedom, which can incorporate the counterfactual freedom of individuals and preclude social injustices without imposing legal statutes: It would eliminate social evils ranging from smoking in public places to gender discrimination and environmental harm from industrial activity, because it would abrogate any rights of individuals and cliques to acquire any privilege over the community. Inclusive freedom of the community would not only disallow economic, political and legal advantages to the privileged few, it would also disallow behaviors that may erode the
rights and entitlements of future generations. Inclusive freedom would empower citizens to stop growth by strengthening apparatuses of democracy. Unless development is defined in terms of inclusive freedom to stop the exploitation of nature and humans (including future generations) by industry, it is not sustainable.
The ecological ethic of indigenous cultures that is reinvoked in ecosocialism seems to be an anathema to the fundamental principle of neoclassical economics - that of profit-maximizing rationality. Because homo oeconomicus is a consumer who is
wont to maximizing utility and pursuing shortsighted individual interests, critics have pointed out that logically, he cannot have any interest in sustainable development. ‘‘Furthermore, Public Choice theorists have shown that interests in common welfare, such as maintaining a democratic constitution or sustainable development, cannot succeed in political processes but lead always to sub-optimal and critical results.’’74 Nevertheless, the human drive for political freedom and justice is pervasive. Democratic institutions encourage this drive to flourish and bear fruit, while a totalitarian regime seeks to abort it. But even when democratic institutions are in place, a neoliberal state cannot nurture democracy in the long run, because
quantitative economic growth always engenders new forms of inequalities, subjugates community interests, and dispels the future productivity of nature. This is the reason why ‘‘industrial-communications-police bureaucracies’’ intimidate citizens in accredited democracies and why these democracies often fail to redress environmental injustices.
Functional civic democracy promulgates sustainability, because it upholds
functional responsibility toward future generations. A commitment to intergenerational equity necessitates sustaining the resource base intact for undiminishing future welfare. This valuing of the future is ‘‘irrational’’ in neoclassical economic theory, which is subservient to the capitalist mode of production. The principal tool of capital by which "future environmental problems of immense size can be made
simply to fade away" is discounting,75 which "leads ultimately to a disenfranchising of future enerations."76 Positive rates of discount and profit are the two interlinked wheels of development, which do not allow imagination of alternative modes of operation or social organization. To establish a sustainable society, a complete reversal of the understanding and processes of destruction of both the natural and
human world is required. This requirement can be fulfilled in a zero-growth economy, where average rates of discount and profit will shrink to zero. Sustainable society - a society that is oriented toward "enoughness, not moreness" - will mark the end of quantitative growth, the beginning of the qualitative growth of the economy, and true equality and sustainability for all.
Web Site: Capitalism Nature Socialism, Volume 17, Number 3, September 2006, pp. 49-70
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