No country has ever successfully sustained economic growth without an initial period of:
1. Primitive accumulation
2. Urbanization
3. Industrialization
4. Export-led Growth
5. Agricultural expropriation
6. Labor repression
7. Stock accumulation
8. Mechanization
I don't say this as an endorsement, by the way, more so as a caution against naive thinking.
Psst: Foreign credit, aid & exports contributed more to the period of rapid Soviet Industrialization than their expropriation of their peasantry, indeed, their net surplus fell, despite the rapid industrialization, and movement of the peasantry to cities.
In other words, if they'd done everything exactly the same, but DIDN'T repress or forcibly industrialize their peasantry, they'd have industrialized at the same as or faster rate, and wouldn't have also resulted in mass death & forced movement, just a thought.
You had the Trotskyist & Bukharinite factions, literal sworn enemies who hated each other, agreeing with each other for once, and begging Stalin (or those around him, more accurately) to stop, and return to the previous laxity of a kind of pseudo-NEP.
Also, we need to distinguish several kinds of growth.
The 'best' kinds of growth result from a mix of:
1. Labor-saving productivity growth
2. Static & dynamic returns to scale & scope
3. Invention
4. Innovation
5. Specialization
6. Cooperation
7. Throughput/land-saving productivity growth
8. Mechanization/automation/routinization
The second 'best' kind of growth is that which, due to the accumulation of intermediate goods/produced means of production (i.e. capital as stock, not as social relation), and through the increased deployment of natural resources & population, incomes rise.
This kind of growth doesn't result in increased, efficiency, indeed it often lowers it, from the perspective of the economy, but by gathering stocks in one place, it causes them to be easier accessed in aggregate--this is true for agriculture, cooking, fossil fuels etc
The problem is that this kind of growth has definite limits, and is almost intrinsically polluting, wasteful, ecocidal, & extractive. However, from the perspective of poverty, etc., it's still 'technically' better than nothing. That said, it's vastly sub-par to the first kind.
The third kind of growth is growth of the economy, w/o actual changes in stocks & flows, i.e. marketization, financialization, commodification, enclosure, monopolization, etc., here more things (social, cultural, ecological), enter the 'economy' but often no 'real' change occurs
The fourth kind of growth is nominal growth, due to rises in or changes in metrics, distribution & sectoral allocation. Obviously this isn't growth at all (although, where rigidities exist, this can result in actual growth/contraction thru Keynesian style effects).
The fifth kind of growth, to be distinguished from the first 2, is merely the addition of new stocks to the economy (land, labor, capital, etc). This is different from number 2, because it's purely linear, and the stock capacity itself remains unchanged.
The inclusion of 3-5 in estimates of GDP highlight why it's a bad metric. Besides number 5 these aren't really 'growth' at all, even technically considered. Number 5 is 'growth' but it amounts to saying 'using more resources makes more stuff', which is, like, ok lol
It should be obvious that degrowth aims to reduce 3-5, par simpliciter. Indeed, even a good faith neo-classical economist or Marxian would be somewhat forced to admit 3-5 are neutral or bad. Stiglitz does, for example, as does David Harvey.
The real dispute occurs for number 2 though. This stock/capacity augmenting growth, doesn't merely entail adding more stocks/flows to the economy, but increasing access to other stocks in general. Again, this often *costs* efficiency from the economic perspective.
Here's the thing. Most of what we call growth in history is number 2. It took agriculture literally thousands of years, arguably until about 2k years ago, at the earliest, for it to turn from a net loss (growth types 3-5), to a stock/capacity augment of growth type 2.
It took fossil fuels more than 100 years to surpass water based power, and thus turn from growth type 3-5 into growth type 2.
The vast majority of Soviet growth during the early/mid 20th century, as well as growth in the colonial metropoles (US, UK, Aus, Can, NZ, Fr, Germany) in the 19th & early 20th centuries was growth type 2.
Efficiency did not always rise, and while the rate of stocks/flows increased, more important was that the *rate of the rate* of stocks & flows increased, not merely more land/labor/energy/capital/goods, but more ability to use those in the first place.
It is perhaps arguable that some extended period of growth type 2 is necessary as the condition of possibility for a post-industrial, socialist society, even an anarchist one--although, I don't think this morally justifies primitive accumulation whatsoever.
However, degrowth is definitely committed to the scaleback of this type of growth, because using more stocks & sinks, throwing ever more resources, at an increasing rate, at the economy, is NOT sustainable, but ecocidal, inequitable, extractive, etc.
If I were smarter, I'd figure out a way to decompose all GDP growth stats into these 5 categories (on top of the normal stats used such as nominal vs. real, inflation, etc), and I'd map them over time. Green GDP is a start at this. Felipe/McCombie have done their part too.
Robin Hahnel emphasizes that when one says 'infinite growth isn't possible on a finite planet' one means growth of throughput, i.e. growth types 2 & 5 (3&4 are only pseudo growth anyway). But even he fails to distinguish types 2 & 5 from each other.
Authcoms & MLs equate growth with growth type 2, and labor under the fantasy that it is the path to development. This they share with extractivist & modernist liberals, and industrialist development economists.
But it is growth type 1 that is the best kind (and it itself is a hybrid category, but these 5 categories are each coarse grained). And, in my opinion, degrowth doesn't refer to type 1 (tho some, indeed many, might disagree).
Growth type 1 has been the vast minority of growth in all settled societies, as it is the hardest to achieve--getting more & more kinds of stuff with fewer labor AND less energy/resources/land/waste.
Indeed, I bet if we plotted this curve, we'd see it as flat & small, but positive, for the first 160,000 years or so of human existence, rising around 40k years ago, where it would increase at a slow rate until about 5-10k years ago.
Then, you'd see a sharp collapse in it, and it would go to zero or negative. Here it would remain until probably the Roman era or so, where it would become small & positive again, fluctuating around that until about 100-200 years ago.
Then, it would become slightly more positive in 36-54 year blips, and 0 to negative blips, in sequence in different countries (accounting for diffusion from country to country stabilizing the pattern).
For example, most growth in the US, UK, etc from 1750 to 1870 or so was growth types 2-5. Indeed even most industrialization & mechanization was growth type 2--high rates of rates of stock access (oil, land, natural resources, slave labor, extracted goods, etc).
However, from 1870 to 1914, 1945-1968, and 1992 to 2007 or so probably had small but positive growth type 1 rates--indeed, they may have actually been more than small during a few of these years, but quite large.
Growth types 2-5 are the ones that require exports, primitive accumulation, labor repression, etc., growth type 1 does not, although it does probably require a form of industrialization & urbanization, understood in purely quantitative, technical senses, not as social ideologies
Also, note that because I am talking rates & rates of rates, a small but positive rate of growth type 1 (or type 2 for that matter) becomes very big very quickly in absolute terms
So, for nomadic forager hunter gatherers we’re talking rates like .00003% a year or something (I can find the actual number if you want), but over thousands of years that’s actually absurd.
Because were talking labor & time saving, but non extractive, stock depleting or accumulative growth here, which means that it’s almost akin to a ‘free lunch’ so to speak.
Here’s the thing, without the forced transition to agriculture, human migratory, seasonal, growth & other patterns would have eventually caused us to cover the earth anyway.
Before the transition to full, year round, settled agriculture, we had more provisional, temporary forms of settlement & agriculture for literally 10s of thousands of years 30-35k). We’d use an area up, then leave it alone & to somewhere else until it refreshed and the Came back.
This is different enough from the forced settlement & agriculture which came after (which lead to massive falls in life expectancy, massive rises in labor/energy/land use, and inequality) that I don’t even think they’re of the same type tbh.
Analogous to this process was the trial & error of knowledge of climate, seasons, language, communication, Art, craft, artisanship, ecology, husbandry, masonry, woodwork, took use, hunting, gathering, cooking, child rearing, etc
This is why, for example, the masonry, wood working, stone cutting & bricklaying of classically remained craftsman until 150 years ago is actually MORE efficient, stable than the modernist architecture & engineering which followed it.
Barring a mass cataclysm, such as a spontaneously generated (for lack of a better word. Most dangerous diseases are zoogenic & unintentionally anthropogenic/iatrogenic) pandemic or a meteor, this would have continued for a long time.
Mass abandonment & forgetting could have occurred but bc this was accumulated via decentralized trial & error over large numbers of people, its unlikely it would be lost everywhere at once.
This would have continued slowly until we covered the earth. We’re talking an avg migration of .14 miles a year, & 1.00018 pop growth a year. & 1.000075 real income growth a year or so.
Basically absent the forced transition to agriculture, then between 2000 years ago & 3000 years from now (not long in human scale) we’d have covered the entire world anyway.
And our population would be anywhere between .2 & 3 billion (My ranges are so large because the rate of acceleration of growth is highlyvariable).
Because growth depends on population size & density & is self-reproducing, by this point gdp per capita would be anywhere between $500/person & $10,000 a person. (Its an absurdity in using dollar terms to describe these things but cest la vie)
Which is to say, we’d be as ‘rich’ as anywhere between the mid 1800s & 2005, with much less population, and vastly lower ecological destruction.
In reality, the ‘lock in’ where migration, seasonality, climate, settlement, population growth, density, and ‘growth’ would have occurred much earlier & then would have spiraled. The key issue tho is that agriculture & food gathering would have grown proportionally to pop growth
So we’d eventually end up with dense living ‘cities’, ‘agriculture’, and energy use, but we’d have used foraging, water, air, animate, bio, and other powers to their fullest efficiency, as with our buildings.
The usage of growth terms, let alone dollar amounts is absurd here, and, furthermore, this kind of speculative counterfactuals border more on science fiction than science but alas.
The point is, had we let trial & error, migration, development, seasonal settlement & foraging, and biofuel take its marginal course, we’d eventually had ended up with dense livable settlements, high population & high real ‘income’ but low throughput & land
We may have eventually ended up w fossil fuel & high throughput agriculture & construction but only after a longer period of prolonged low throughput, high utility development, with much more ecological ‘slack’ to spare.
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