The Puzzle of Post-Growth

Last week I received two emails, which felt like obtaining the two pieces missing from a 2000 piece puzzle sitting before you. The first was an issue of the bliss of the spam, a casual newsletter from radical curator Dalia Maini, and the second a shared article by economist Niko Paech.

In the latter, Paech outlines perspectives on a post-growth economy, and how that provides a lens to contemplate the future in the context of the corona crisis. In the former, Maini provides a call to precariats to contemplate what they want from worker-life going forward. Paech’s, a call for radical reassessment of our consumerist lives. Maini’s, a call for radical reassessment of what it has meant to work, attempting to make a living from your hopes and dreams. Together, they frame a future that is less dependent on work as provisional of being. Together, they pose a recalibration that disconnects the notion of livelihood from circumstances that extract more than they give.

Post-Growth

Paech is one of the main voices of the so-called post-growth economy, particularly in the German speaking world. In March he released his latest book All You Need Is Less, co-authored with dharma teacher and founder of the German Buddhist Union, Manfred Folkers. In the book (currently only available in German, though with an English title), the two contemplate Paech’s post-growth economy alongside the millennia-old teachings of the Buddha – predominantly ‘the middle way’ (put simply, ‘the middle way’ is a path that transcends and reconciles the duality that characterizes most thinking). The duo’s middle way is a provocative settlement between the growth drivers of capitalism and a reflection on the virtues of a consumerism-free life. A “culture of enough”, as they call it. “Because only with a ‘satisfied contentment’ can the great crises of our time can be solved”.

“People have never been richer, freer, more educated or more problem-conscious than they are today, and they have never lived more ecologically irresponsible – this is how Niko Paech criticizes the Western affluent society. For him it is clear: If this double standard becomes normal, we will not only drift into not only an ecological, but also post-civilizational disaster. Instead of expressions of concern, Paech therefore recommends withdrawing excessive mobility and consumption demands: throw off ballast, avoid the delusion of increasing, seductive comfort offers are left behind.”

This means looking at industrial infrastructures as well as personal lifestyles. It’s a proposed economic model that mediates global production with sharing systems, slashed consumerist lifestyles, as well as the now-apparent psychological growth limits. And as economist Dani Rodrik reminds us, models are “attempts to shed light on one aspect at a time of social reality.”

Maini’s aspect is the needs and wants of today’s precariat – now highlighted as the bearer under the unbearable weight of exploitative business models. “May one day our bodies all be waged as blessed mirrors of the complexity of the universe”, she cries.

The Intertwined Status

To begin understanding a post-growth future, we need to start with the model of production we have currently. Namely, the division of all goods and their production into several unique highly specialised processed – which are moved around the world as costs are compared. This model, which Paech describes as “a type of brigadeiro sky economy”, has been exceptional for minimising costs, but catastrophic when crisis hits. When an element of that network fails, the entire thing collapses since countries have become deeply dependent on global interlacing.

We see this around the world with the scarcity of medical supplies, particularly in Europe and the US. The food supply chain is another example. “The economy has become a global house of cards, and when only one element is removed, everything falls apart.”[1]

Rather than a pure advocation for return to regional production, Paech’s post-growth proposal is based on combining three possibilities for the supply of goods: The global, industrial and highly technological economy, the regional economy and the micro-scale supply by people themselves. Paech articulates, “The suggestion is to dismantle the intertwined globalized industrial society, not to the zero point, but until we reach enough that, even with less production, we have a good supply.”

Frugality is key, emphasises Paech. “More and more people are dulled in the middle of an avalanche of consumable opportunities because they lack the attention to do all this without stress. So frugality can also be seen as a release from abundance.” Our former hyper-consuming selves need a severe evaluation on how to simplify our lives. Paech has multiple advices: learning to repair (fixing broken technologies, mending clothing, teaching handicrafts in schools), beginning to share (having one printer, washing machine, lawnmower, between neighbours), and general lessening (having an energy-efficient flatscreen TV vs. hanging onto an older TV but using it less frequently). Humans will need to forfeit the consumerist creature comforts we have become accustomed too – but, a life with less travel and less goods need not equate to less fulfilment.

“… civil society has started to learn that a modest life can also bring joy. In Europe, we are very stressed and have reached the psychological limits of economic growth, that is, we are no longer able to make the most of all the well-being that we can buy, as we lack time. Now we have a mandatory break that we do not want, but that shows many that it is good not to work 40 hours a week, that it is much more important to have rest. It may be that, after the coronavirus crisis, the disposition to live a sustainable, modest life with less travel and consumption and more time for friends and neighbors grows.” – Niko Paech

Alleviating the Biosphere

Naturally, the environmental crisis is an equal player in dismantling the pre-crisis economy. Unsuccessful attempts to solve it through technology have highlighted the need for a radical dismantling. To use a dull word, it’s unsustainable. Lifestyles that are ecologically ruinous, currently immunised against change by shifting the responsibility tech and politics-wise, also cannot go unaddressed. If we persist with our current practises of existence, we cannot expect the environment to magically improve.

 “Dismantling the economy does not mean that we will be poor, but that we will start to focus and remember what really makes us happy.’
– Niko Paech

Central is the role of paid work, and its decrease. With less-excessive (in all senses of the word) lifestyles, we will spend less, and thus need less. Paech: “The more money I save, the less I need to work and the smaller the savings can be. When people only need to work 20 hours, there are 20 valuable free hours left that can be used to produce things and food, alone or in community, to repair objects, or even to organize common use.”

Changes in Scale

As the scale of our lives changes – less travel, less throw-away goods, less complicated schedules running here and there – along with the scale of production, the post-growth economy suggests psychological changes in scale too.

In a recent interview with the Creative Independent, author of How To Do Nothing, Jenny Odell relays how her scale of attention has retracted during the confines of quarantine. ‘I’ve been consoling myself, thinking, “Well, if it gets worse and I can’t go on these daily walks…” There’s this side entrance to my apartment, and it’s basically just ivy back there. But there are a couple of trees and weeds, and you can see into the neighbor’s backyard, and there are birds back there, and bugs… I feel like when we say “scale of attention,” I think that can shrink down to become really small.”

Personally, I find this proposal of a psychological simplification very exciting. Because it does not suggest a deprivation, but a clearing. It is attractive to imagine the overwhelming scope that array of contemporary opportunities have provided, becoming protracted. We can imagine it as employing new practices of examination, as opposed to old ways of overwhelm or surface-skimming. For example, really reading that one book on the table instead of skirting the endless free (illegal) downloads. Or roaming deeper into the garden, travelling deeper by imagining how it feels to be the creeping ivy, swapping places with the bird calling from the tree and imagining where she migrated from over the seasons, using these to fulfil former means of travel.

As well as attention, a psychological simplification can also extend to the scale of connection. Writing monthly letters to friends instead of instant messages. New time for deep talks with flatmates in place of former quick-conversations amid the haste. And abridged obligations; putting our hands up less in favour of greater focus on what’s already at hand. We can consider a global reduction of industrial production also at the scale of reducing our own production; the invisible incessant pull to be productive may fall away once it finds natural satisfaction in the gardens we are tending, linen we are mending, and communities we are cultivating. It’s Dalia’s proposition to find less satisfaction of the self in spirit-draining trivial work (recognisable to anyone writing commercial social posts for a living) in favour of what else touches us as rewarding on a different level.

Gangs and Effects

Months ago I wrote a premonition for post-corona life that imagined the rise of Neo-Gangs, congregated around practical know-hows that allowed more co-reliant ways of life. Paech acknowledges it can be the arising of niches that spurs a post-growth model to form.

“But one thing must be clear: The change in a society not only starts from its political leadership, but can also develop in the niches. If a certain part of the population finally gets serious about sustainable living instead of just talking about it and seeing responsibility for politics, which in turn is chosen by the same people, it would not be without effect. Cultivating sustainability exemplified by new practices confronts the rest of society and puts them under pressure to justify themselves. We cannot avoid this controversy. It is the last chance.”
– Niko Paech

It alludes to another scale I would like to call into the conversation as our point of departure: the scale of effect. Michel Foucault taught that ‘People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.’ We should be weary of expecting the scale of effect to be immediate. We have become attuned to equating only speedy results with success. Post-growth living will not be visible as instant change. It will take radical commitment to the long game to implement its ways, to sense its expansions, as well as experience its rewards.

[1] https://www.explica.co/coronavirus-crisis-exposes-vulnerability-to-globalization-says-economist/

 

Niko Paech and Manfred Folkers’ All You Need Is Less can be found here.
Below is Dalia Maini’s ‘Chant of Action’ (scroll down for the Italian version), and you can sign up for future issues of the bliss of the spam by sending an email here.

 

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 

“DEAREST BBS💕,
Happy MAYDAY to all.

We feel a bit weird, since we don’t feel represented by this workhorse society, we are currently unemployed, nevertheless we are hard workers.
Anyway, we are splendid.

This morning The New York Times welcomed us with this: 

“The world’s poor: The wave of unemployment brought by virus lockdowns could help send at least half a billion more people into poverty this year in the first global increase since 1998, the World Bank said”.

FUCK YOU WORLD BANK
Which ‘world’ are you providing for?

We welcome you dearest three huggers, dog lovers, muffin eaters, broken-hearted, depressed by society, starved by unemployment,
excluded by judgments with this chant of action:                

 

May one day our jobs celebrate us and not vice versa,
While we learn from sparkling water how we can bubble up.

May one day our jobs sustain us,
While we express ourselves as multiple value holders.

May one day our jobs be organs of encouragement,
For us being hard workers and hard idlers. 

G U I L T – F R E E

May one day our jobs nourish us too,
Pretending dignity for everyone.

May it be that one day our jobs could be
Socialising for hours in a playground, and point to kids how to see mighty openings in dark gaps. 

May it be that one day we can name jobs that don’t have labels yet,
A necessity to feel ourselves as commoners.

May one day the common job be
To create rooms for everyone and everything 
To amplify who THE MANY are. 

May one day our bodies all be waged as
Blessed mirrors of the complexity of the universe. 

May one day our jobs be hyper-diverse,
And contrast the mono-cultural imagination governing
the capitalosphere.

May one day our jobs
Will be our tools
For becoming auto-determinate subjects
And building of infrastructures where
affective and social realities can interweave with
material, economic and legal realities.

We hope we all can wake up very soon with this earth’s news: The lockdown has brought the revocation of worldwide public debts and the consolidation of a plan for universal income and social empowerment. By the end of 2020 the rate of poverty will be flattened while social well being has risen, contributing to a planetary shift as never before seen… the Common Assembly stated.”

 

___________________________________________________

 

CARISSIMI BBS💕,

Felice 1 Maggio a tutti.

Ci sentiamo un po’ strani visto che non ci sentiamo rappresentati da questa società di cavalli da soma, siamo al momento disoccupati nonostante gran lavoratori.

In ogni caso siamo splendid*

Questa mattina il New York Times ci ha dato il benvenuto così:

“I poveri del mondo: L’ondata di disoccupazione portata dalla chiusura totale causa virus potrebbe far si che mezzo miliardo di persone finisca in povertà dove quest’anno si era visto il trend contrario dal 1998, ha affermato la Banca Mondiale”.

FOTTITI B A N C A M O N D I A L E

A quale mondo stai provvedendo?

Vi diamo il benvenuto carissimi, abbracciatori d’alberi, amanti dei cani, mangiatori di muffin, cuori spezzati, depressi dalla società, affamati dalla disoccupazione, esclusi dai giudizi con questo canto d’azione:

Che un giorno i nostri lavori ci celebrino e non vice versa
Mentre impariamo dall’acqua come essere frizzanti.

Che un giorno i nostri lavori ci sostengano
Mentre noi ci esprimiamo come portatori di molteplici valori.        

Che un giorno i nostri lavori siano organi di incoraggiamento
Per noi che siamo gran lavoratori E gran cazzeggiatori

SENZA SENSO DI COLPA

Che un giorno i nostri lavori ci nutrano
Con la pretesa di avere dignità per tutti.

Che un giorno i nostri lavori possano essere
Socializzare in un parco giochi e indicare ai bambini come vedere nelle rotture più scure, potenti aperture.

Che un giorno si possa chiamare lavoro ciò che non ha ancora un’etichetta
Ma è necessario a farci sentire portavoce del comune.

Che un giorno il lavoro del comune sia
Creare posto per tutti e per ogni cosa
Che amplifichi chi sono I PIÙ.

Che un giorno i nostri corpi possano essere tutti pagati
Perchè santi specchi della complessità dell’universo.

Che un giorno i nostri lavori possano essere hyper-diversi,
E contrastare l’immaginazione mono-culturale che governa
La capitalosfera.

Che un giorno i nostri lavori siano
I nostri strumenti
Per diventare soggetti auto-determinati
Per costruire infrastrutture dove
realtà affettive, sociali possano intersecarsi con 
quelle materiali, economiche e legali.

Speriamo di poterci molto presto svegliare con questa notizia dalla terra: La chiusura ha portato all’annullamento del debito publico mondiale e al consolidamento di un piano per il reddito universale ed emancipazione sociale. Verso la fine del 2020 il tasso di povertà sarà appiattito mentre lo stato di benessere aumenterà, ciò contribuirà ad un’ orientamento planetario mai visto prima, afferma l’Assemblea del Comune.

 

About the bliss of the spam

The bliss of the spam is many things explained occasionally and casually in many ways, especially:

the joy of being forgotten /missing out on purpose/going out poorly dressed/the right to stay in silence/melting in tears at work/speak a shitty english/ have multiple souls/have sex every night, but a broken heart/read poetry while cooking/being poor but with a lot of friends/ water your plants with the pee of your cat/being bold and shy/inventing every month a new word/be the storm/share your tools/don’t share/think about the others/hate yourself/being kind and gentle/bother everybody /rise your hand/ take a risk every day/close yourself in the room/care a lot/don’t give a fuck/R A N D O M N E S S/shape a path to joy/don’t walk on it/rethink what joy is/synthetic freedom/un pezzo di pizza /being unproductive/feel the excitement /being super depressed/read 3 books per week – no idea who wrote them /being in crisis/coping with the outern spread crisis of everything/a blue monday/too many addictions/recognize the structures/recognize the models/recognize they are made up/recognize you can imagine the opposite/recognize you are not alone/recognize you are part of the spam 

to read all the previous chapters click here.

 

 

Jess Henderson

Jess Henderson, founder of No Fun and Outsider, is an independent writer and research based in Zürich and Amsterdam. Their book Offline Matters: Radical Strategies for the Creative Worker (Amsterdam: BIS Publishers, 2020) comes out in September.