Savings for 99%

The authors condemn overproduction, not overconsumption. (Photo: 123RF)

GUEST BLOG. Moving away from capitalism is the main key to combating the environmental crisis and initiating a transition to a democratic society that satisfies needs while respecting environmental restrictions. This is the thesis defended by the book. For ecology by 99%: 20 myths about capitalism that need to be debunked published by Les Éditions Ecosociété. Interview with Frédéric Legault and Arnaud Thérilla-Cloutier, PhD students in sociology and members of the Ecological Transition Research Unit, about this “crash course in the self-defence of the capitalist economy and the political strategies to overcome it” that they wrote with Alain Savard.

In your book, you debunk 20 myths about capitalism, half of which are critical of the current system. What is the most pressing idea for deconstruction?

Frederic Lego – The main illusion that we are trying to destroy is the idea that we are able to reduce the ecological weight of the economy, human activity in the dynamics of the growth of capitalism. It is impossible to solve the ecological crisis by ignoring the material dimension of growth. In the words of Alf Hornborg, “All production is destruction.” To take this reality into account, we must inevitably shift the discourse from the morality of consumption to the morality of production. We must not only consume well, we must produce well.

Arnaud Thérilat-Cloutier — True ecological transformation is impossible without structural transformation: not only a few companies must change. Capitalism is organized in such a way that it systematically renounces social or environmental constraints. We must return the economy to its place, which should satisfy needs, and not create endless profits. This inability to set limits due to the undemocratic structure of the capitalist economy does not make the system viable in the long run. We see it today, we are in a critical situation because of this lack of restrictions, so we must find means to limit ourselves.

Frederic Lego (Photo: courtesy)

Your flagship proposal for overcoming capitalism is democratic economic planning. How could such a plan be realized and in what time frame?

ATC – International climate agreements are already a form of planning as they try to limit the environmental behavior of companies through international political consultation. In a certain way, politics is trying to limit the economy to a planetary framework with democratic problems known to us.

FL – The basic principle of planning is to return power to the people who are affected by decisions. At the moment, this power is concentrated in the hands of a few actors. The decline in growth must be planned so that the reduction in the production of goods does not lead to a social crisis. If it is simply planned from above, by big business and governments – because the capitalist economy is planned by these entities – it is obvious that the most disadvantaged social groups will suffer from this economic reorganization.

There may be different stages of democratization of our economy. For example, to circumvent the incentives for growth and competition, one step would be to illegitimate private ownership of the means of production, i.e., illegitimate the legal unity of enterprise for profit. IRIS published a note on this matter. This will be the nationalization of the entire economy. Another step could be to add powers or, for example, to strengthen existing ones, such as the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, which could be given enforcement powers.

It is impossible to name the date of exit from capitalism for several reasons. First, we should not underestimate the ability of C capital to restructure in the face of crises, as we saw after 2008. Secondly, we face powerful adversaries, such as fossil industries, whose interests run counter to the transition. So the question of how soon we can create a different economic model comes down to the question of how long it will take to get rid of the fossil fuel industry. It should also be said that planning is difficult to imagine at the scale of one country, given the overlapping dimension of economies.

Arnaud Terilla-Cloutier (Photo: courtesy)

You emphasize that the transformation of the economy can be inspired by the principles behind existing models such as cooperatives. What inspires this model and how can it be used for a social-ecological transition?

FL – We need to think about this on a national scale. The co-op should be the main organizational structure for businesses in Quebec, and ideally in a broader sense. These can be cooperatives in the strict sense of the word: no boss, only employees running the business. This can also take the form of solidarity cooperatives with community members or from other companies to sit on boards of directors. Thus, we would limit the competitive dimension of the economy, the incentives for growth, and profit maximization, because there would no longer be individual incentives to maximize those profits.

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