A canary in the coalmine – Editorial
von Webmaster HW · Veröffentlicht · Aktualisiert
From May 15th to May 17th, I had the privilege of attending the „Beyond Growth“ conference at the European Parliament in Brussels. I agree with those who call it a historic event. You can read why I think so in the article in this issue. When Ursula von der Leyen referred in her opening speech to the Club of Rome’s legendary 1972 report, „The Limits to Growth,“ which called for a turnaround in economic activity, my first thought was, „That’s hypocritical!“ Of course, it was clever of her, and also fitting, to use that reference to open a conference aimed at showing ways out of an economic mode programmed for infinite growth: „Beyond Growth“. The reference to this work, to which the scientists Donella and Dennis Meadows contributed significantly with their research and simulations, seemed obvious. But it felt wrong to me when a representative of conservative politics appropriated this groundbreaking work. The President of the EU Commission has always approved – and continues to approve – decisions that have led the world over the past 50 years to the threatening situation we find ourselves in today.
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One of the conclusions of the Club of Rome at that time was: „Our present situation is so complex and is so much a reflection of man’s multiple activities, however, that no combination of purely technical, economic, or legal measures and devices can bring substantial improvement. Entirely new approaches are required to redirect society toward goals of equilibrium rather than growth. Such a reorganization will involve a supreme effort of understanding, imagination, and political and moral resolve. We believe that the effort is feasible and we hope that this publication will help to mobilize forces to make it possible.“
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In the following 50 years, all the forces were mobilized to increase global economic growth more than tenfold. With the associated „burning“ of resources that had taken millions of years to create. Meanwhile, anyone who dared to speak of economic equilibrium was pilloried or simply ignored by economists and politicians.
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Helmut Creutz would have been 100 years old these days. He spent the last decades of his life collecting data and visualizing it in extraordinary graphics. In his work, one can find a major reason why the economy is condemned to perpetual growth. He showed that despite enormous efforts, economic output can „only“ grow linearly, even though growth rates are measured as if they were exponential. This way of measuring has the consequence that an annual constant growth, e.g. of 10 units in relation to the initial value of 100 in one year, leads to a lower percentage rate, because another 10 units in the second year lead to a growth of only about 9 % (10 in relation to 110). In the prevailing economics one speaks then, painting the devil on the wall, of declining economic power. Helmut Creutz looked for a reason for this anomaly and found it in the development of financial assets. Their growth is derived from economic performance and did not proceed like economic growth limited by human performance, but much more strongly.
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While the world economy has grown tenfold since 1972, financial assets have grown fifty fold over the same period. A financial investment does not care about the state of nature or the performance of people. Whatever offers the highest return is the jewel in the portfolio of private and institutional investors, regardless of the damage it causes. In order to meet the trend of the time, the emerald is considered a symbolic jewel for further „green“ capital growth, without changing the principle of exponential growth of monetary assets in the slightest. To make matters worse for humanity, this wealth is unevenly distributed and does not even ensure a materially balanced society. In the monopoly of capitalism, money and power are concentrated in the hands of a few at the end of the game, while nature and the climate are destroyed and social cohesion dissolves. The call for „limits to growth“ fades into the muck of the economic and monetary system. It doesn’t help if you hold this warning up to the sky in written form like a bible and still feel compelled to act against it with your decisions.
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I would venture a comparison with the canary that miners took with them down to the mines. The little feathered friend was considered an early warning system, falling from its perch as soon as the colorless, odorless nitrogen oxide spread through the tunnel, displacing oxygen and potentially killing the miners. The melting of the Earth’s glaciers and ice sheets, the droughts and floods, the extinction of animal and plant species by the millions, and much more, do indeed frighten people and seem to warn them. But they still do not leave the maze of the tunnel of the economic system, because they cannot or do not want to believe that there is anything beyond the ruling system. They continue to believe that salvation can only be found underground in capitalism.
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I witnessed the more than 2,000 young people in Brussels, their will, their knowledge and their involvement in organizations, companies and local connections. They sat in the seats of power and decided: We want a no-growth economy!
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This gives me confidence because I know that this goal is achievable if the existing system is overcome. The insights of Helmut Creutz will play a role in this. His basic ideas about liberation from the growth pressure of capital returns, leading to social and ecological equilibrium, have been developed further and – as you will see in other articles in this issue – are reflected in the various socio-ecological models of society and the economy.
Yours sincerely Andreas Bangemann
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