TOP 2013-05-29

Growth is Counterproductive

One of the most urgently necessary components of the revolution is the rekindling of community. Another is learning how to participate in our communities, to accustom ourselves to the empowering processes of autonomy and self-government. Capitalism, on the other hand, is by nature antithetical to these developments, seeking to destroy community and render each person incapable of governing their own life. This is a direct consequence of capital’s inherent and cancerous need to grow, forcing the monetisation of every sphere of life, such that nothing is held in common. The state, as an ally of capital, supports and benefits from this same destruction of community. It is significant, then, that we are today witnessing a constant repetition of the rhetoric of growth on the part of politicians, and it is correspondingly important that the people not be deceived by this rhetoric: growth is neither necessary nor inevitable nor even, in most cases, desirable. Growth entails the destruction of the commons and the dissolution of community. Politicians want us to become ever more disorganised, more fragmented and more submissive – they need us this way, lest the state’s power be threatened.

Let’s consider some examples. We need carrots for a meal we would like to cook. If we buy the carrots from a shop, then money is exchanged and the total national consumption of goods and services increases, GDP goes up and the economy is that much closer to being healthy. If, however, we know how to grow our own carrots and we do so, then GDP doesn’t go up, and the economy is correspondingly weakened. So it is better that we do not know how to grow our own food.

We need a table at which to eat. Again, we could buy this from a furniture shop, and this would be good for the economy. If, however, we have a friend or relative who is a carpenter, and he or she is willing to make a table for us and give it to us for nothing, on the understanding that we are friends who help each other out, then GDP is not increased, and God forbid that everyone should be in this fortunate state, for the economy might stagnate. So it is better that the craft of furniture-making is reserved for professionals in profit-making industries.

We need somebody to look after the children while their parents are away. The parents should, of course, pay for a childsitting service provided by the market; this increases our overall consumption, as measured in monetary terms, and helps the economy. If, however, the family has grandparents, aunts or uncles, or neighbours who are willing to look after the children for them, perhaps on the understanding that later, they would gladly do the same favour for others, or even just because they see the care of the family’s children as part of duty to their kin, then no money would need to change hands and therefore it wouldn’t register on the GDP. So it is better that we are estranged from our relatives, and that nobody should have time to take care of children unless it is their profession.

We would now like to trim a hedge outside our house. It would be most beneficial to the economy if we purchase a hedge-trimmer, preferably the most expensive one we can afford, and then cut the hedge with it. If however there were a shared toolshed used by all of the neighbours in our village, and if we could simply take out the shared hedge-trimmer, trim our hedge, and then take it back to the shared toolshed, such that no money changes hands, then this does not help the economy to grow at all. So it is better that everyone has their own personal tools, and that factories spend hundreds of extra hours manufacturing them for us. To be on the safe side, it is also best that we are estranged from our neighbours, just in case they might offer to share something with us.

Something is wrong with our computer and we need to find a solution. It would be better for the economy if we took the computer into a shop and paid a professional to diagnose and fix the problem. It is bad for the economy if we have a friend or relative who is very good with computers, somebody who we can call up and get informal technical support from when we need it. It is similarly bad for the economy if we join an internet forum – that is, a forum that exists for people to exchange computer-related tips and support for their mutual benefit, not for money.

We would like to go to a nearby city in order to attend an agreeable concert, but public transport at late hours is sadly lacking. Suppose there are many other people going to this concert from our town – shall we organise a car pool, help each other out with fuel costs and travel together? Certainly not. It is far better for the economy if we each individually drive there and back to the concert, or else book our own taxi, each paying our own fees and travelling separately. The additional cost to the environment can either be ignored or ‘offset’ by buying a tree at a later date (so they might have us believe).

Conversely, we could look at the production angle rather than the consumption angle. If I start a hairdressing business, borrowing capital from a bank, charging for my service and making a healthy profit, then I increase the total value of the country’s goods and services – in other words, GDP goes up, the economy grows. If, on the other hand, everyone in the area happens to have a friend who is both capable and willing to cut their hair for free, then the hairdressing business is unnecessary. Everyone’s need of a hairdresser is satisfied, yet the total value of the country’s goods and services does not grow, GDP is the same, because the value of the country’s goods and services is only measured in terms of money.

One could multiply and add further detail to such thought experiments ad nauseam, but the central point is clear. If we aim for economic growth, then participation and community are defeated; conversely, if we aim for community and participation in our society, then economic growth is threatened. Growth favours a solution whereby a stranger, a professional businessperson, provides a product or service under their own control and for their own profit; what the revolution needs, on the other hand, is solutions where people get together to help each other and to meet their needs for their mutual benefit.

Because capitalism requires growth to survive, its modus vivendi is to the destroy the bonds of community, to dismantle all of the community-focused ways of living and working that humanity has otherwise followed for millennia, and to transform this energy into capital for the sake of its own survival, turning collective labour and collective property into individualised labour and private property which can be bought and sold on the market. The individualised and community approaches do not have any inherent material differences: only the relationships of labour and exchange are different. It is the job of the revolution to halt and to reverse this process, to turn private property back into its original, natural form, to rekindle community decision-making and community labour, and to reclaim privatised capital for its repatriation in the collective commons of humanity.

It may at first be hard to follow the ‘community-focused’ counterpart of each anecdote listed here, but that is the job of revolutionaries the world over. We will do this because we must seek to live in the revolution even before it has transformed society. The more people who live in the revolution now, the stronger our movement becomes. The longer we spend living in the revolution, the stronger the revolution becomes. And when we finally spend more time living in the revolution than we do with our minds closed and our souls surrendering to assault and decay, that is when we can say that the revolution has succeeded.