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Moving towards sustainable food production systems within the degrowth paradigm – William Mitchell – Modern Monetary Theory


I read an interesting report these days – The economics of food system transformation – Posted on January 29, 2024 – Council on Food Systems Economics (FSEC) – “a joint initiative bringing together 21 commissioners from 19 global institutions”. This topic is very relevant to the research I’m currently doing as part of my upcoming book on degrowth and capitalism. This also relates to my life experience, which I will briefly mention.

As I read the FSEC report, I was reminded of the early contributions of Austrian-French intellectuals— Andre Goz —I spent a lot of time reading this book when I was a graduate student.

André Gorz has written extensively about the industrial nature of capitalism and how it is shaped by the conflicting class ambitions of labor and capital.

He supports worker self-management and works to develop practical strategies for workers to maintain control of the workplace.

In that work, I used his ideas in my own earlier work on labor processes and so on.

However, in the early 1970s, following the release of 1972 – club of rome – Report – limits to growth –Andre Goelz has also made valuable contributions that I think should point the way forward for progressives.

Research by the Club of Rome concluded that resource constraints ultimately reduce the ability of an economic system to grow.

I was too young to really understand what was going on in the ecological space at that time, between our youth committed to the anti-war movement and the struggle against colonial imperialism, and between the continental structuralists who embraced postmodernism and those who embraced Marxism. the struggle between. They prefer more nuanced Marxist frameworks, such as the existential Marxism of Jean-Paul Sartre.

So while I had a copy of “Limits to Growth” shortly after it came out, it didn't take center stage in my mind.

But I was aware of André Gorz’s views on the subject, which were influential in the emergence of the so-called “degrowth” literature.

André Gorz introduced the term “décroissance” in a 1972 debate published in his magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.

His perspective differs from that in The Limits to Growth in that he places ecological challenges squarely within the context of the feasibility of the system of capitalist accumulation.

I will write more about how this perspective offers progressives a tantalizing alternative to the Green New Deal narrative that dominates most progressive activism on climate change.

The Degrowth movement reflects André Gorz's décroissance lineage,

The Green New Deal (GND) movement is more consistent with the “sustainable development” approach that emerged after the Brundtland Report in 1987, which argued that economic growth could continue with regulatory controls in place.

In other words, these movements are not part of a critique of the viability (or desirability) of capitalism and market allocation through profit inducements.

I unequivocally reject the concepts of sustainable development and joint GND.

In 1972, André Gorz wrote:

Given that material sources on our planet are not inexhaustible, is global equilibrium compatible with a capitalist economy?

He thus channeled “extreme” thinking into a more substantive critique of forms of production under capitalism, and in doing so established a lineage in degrowth thinking that still exists today.

I will be writing more on these topics over the next few weeks as I gather all my thoughts on the topic.

But André Gorz also wrote in 1972:

The profit economy must be replaced by an economy of decentralization and distribution. Only in “humanized” integrated communities can the adjustment of production to needs and the need for resources, as well as concern for protecting and caring for the environment, be based on collective decision-making rather than on bureaucratic and police restrictions. The free movement and self-determination of relevant producers at municipal and regional levels take precedence over salaried work and market relations. Ultimately, ecologists provide scientific support to all those who view the current order as barbaric chaos and reject it.

This appeal to human agency (and existentialism) in Marxism also exemplifies how John-Paul Sartre's thought evolved as his work became more political and less literary throughout his life. Way.

In this article, Andre Gorz rejects the “profit economy” and advocates moving towards a “decentralized and distributive economy” in which “human-scale integrated communities” produce on demand and protect the environment .

Decisions are made collectively rather than by authoritarian bureaucracies.

He was therefore an early advocate of localism, a degrowth strategy that would require highly decentralized food production and distribution mechanisms, which reminds me of the report I quoted at the beginning.

The report reads:

… Recent evolutions in food systems have exacerbated and continue to exacerbate some of the most critical challenges facing humanity, notably persistent hunger, malnutrition, the obesity epidemic, biodiversity loss, environmental damage and climate change. The economic value of human suffering and harm to the planet is well over $10 trillion per year, exceeding the contribution of food systems to global GDP. Simply put, our food system is destroying more value than it creates.

They note that discussions around food production and food security are often ignored or downplayed in proposals to combat climate change.

Importantly, the report argues that “transforming the global food system into one that is inclusive, health-promoting and environmentally sustainable” will bring huge benefits in the form of better health outcomes and reduced climate damage.

They estimate that this transformation will bring “benefits worth $5 to $10 trillion per year, equivalent to 4% to 8% of global GDP in 2020.”

They admit:

…negotiating change among many different stakeholders with unequal power and varying prospects for transformation is a huge challenge

However, looking at the positive side:

Evidence shows that embracing equity and inclusion is key to making transformation politically feasible and, therefore, successful.

So I think you'll understand.

You will find that only the word “profit” is mentioned twice in the 117-page report.

In one example, they write that “corporate power and the nature of institutions are often intertwined,” but “despite the concentration of power in food systems, increasingly diverse interests are emerging.”

They claim they can bring “stakeholders” on board to achieve this transformation.

This includes promoting “green business entrepreneurs” and identifying “new business opportunities… that can change the way vested interests view innovation”.

All of the policies being advocated appear to be aimed at changing the incentives resulting from market changes driven by subsidies and taxes.

I think this is a significant flaw, and consistent with a major progressive theme, which is that climate initiatives can be achieved through market mechanisms—manipulating the price of carbon-intensive products and subsidizing desirable production.

In general, progressives seem to have been attracted to this kind of “market-style” thinking. Everything must be regulated through the price mechanism. This is a neoliberal framework.

Markets are constantly being corrupted and “rigged” by the wealthy in their favor.

A non-neoliberal framework is one that rejects market logic and uses the regulatory and legislative capacity of the state to carry out illicit activities and functions that are unnecessary for the well-being of the people and that threaten to undermine our prosperity.

This is also my view on eliminating carbon-intensive industries – regulating them to make them disappear, rather than cleverly enacting carbon taxes or trading schemes.

I will return to this idea shortly.

The report also states that “increasing global meat consumption is incompatible with the 1.5°C climate and land targets agreed by the 2023 Kunming-Montreal Convention on Biological Diversity” and explicitly supports major dietary changes.

However, they are not advocating for the promotion of vegetarianism or veganism, but believe that as climate-damaging meat products are taxed, the market will change eating habits.

Therefore, the author is firmly in the “reform capitalism” camp and believes that this reform of the price distribution system will work.

Those who want to reform the EU share the same hope, even though neoliberalism is deeply embedded in the EU's legal structure (the treaties), which is virtually impossible to change.

I refuse reform if the core of the problem is rotten.

In this sense, I belong to the camp of Andre Gorz – “The profit economy must be replaced by an economy of decentralization and distribution”.

The root of the problem underpinning the market system is that private profit is privileged in our resource allocation decisions.

In other words, I don’t think we can achieve large-scale transformations in food production and distribution within the power structures of capitalism.

Like André Gorz, I think the future is in cooperatives operating on a local scale in production and distribution.

As a final reflection, I was involved in an experimental development project on the coast of Victoria, Australia, which transformed a degraded dairy farm into what was described as “Australia's most sustainable residential area”.

A typical developer would build over 950 houses on purchased land and fill it with roofs and concrete, but our estate is only allowed to build around 220 houses, with over 50% of the land used to restore water systems, flora and provide security Assure. Environment of local fauna.

All houses are passive and must meet high energy efficiency requirements.

It was a fantastic experiment and a feature of the east end of the estate was a large co-operative community farm.

This photo of the farm is of what it looked like in its early stages.

It is now fully operational, providing food security for residents and donating large quantities of food to various local needs (hospitals, nursing homes, schools, etc.).

It's completely organic and highly productive.

Farm community members own individual plots of land, and there are other plots of land farmed by our employed farmers, increasing productivity and continuity of supply.

The farm meets the requirements for food production laid out by André Gorz in 1972: local, cooperative, based on need rather than profit, while also protecting the environment.

In my opinion, every approved housing development should be required to have similar food production capabilities.

in conclusion

In my view, the FSEC report is part of a long line of progressive opinions that reforming the capitalist system is the way forward, while retaining its basic features – the pursuit of profit, market incentives, etc.

I agree with Andre Gorz that the degrowth paradigm is incompatible with the ongoing nature of capitalism and that we should pursue initiatives that undermine this mode of production.

That's enough for today!

(c) Copyright 2024 William Mitchell. all rights reserved.



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