Tag Archives: cuts

Reclaiming the language of austerity

Reclaiming the language of austerity:  an ecological, people’s recuperation of the cuts discourse.

We’re all in this together.
Yes we really are, because we all depend on the ecosystem to make our life possible on the surface of the earth.  Nobody can buy their way out of the crisis and in the end, nobody can make the crisis hurt some and not others.  The ecological crisis makes us equal again and it requires action for and by all.  That isn’t to say that some should not lose more than others: the millions living on less than £5 per day have nothing to give up and a lot to gain  from a fairer and sustainable system but those who consume disproportionate resources will lose that privilege, and justly so.

How do you sell austerity?  Because it is a kind of austerity that is needed.  We have to reduce drastically the throughput of resources, reducing the exhaustion and extinction of the and the production of their polluting end products to levels that are consistent with the rate of replacement or substitution (inputs) and safe absorption (outputs).  But that kind of austerity does not mean that people should endure poor housing, that old and disabled people should not get enough help and care, that people should work for longer, or indeed that people should be unnecessarily idle.  By and large, these things have nothing to do with the necessary, real, ecological austerity but everything to do with the strategic austerity imposed by the rulers of a system that forces people to pay for the failures of a false economy disconnected from the real real economy that provides food and air and water, the conditions for life on earth.

We’ve been living beyond our means
Oh yes, the system has.  It has squandered its resources on the production of horrible trinkets, trinkets that break or decay very quickly, trinkets that offend against the harmonious living in community with one another and with the earth’s systems.  It has wasted its resources to produce millions of tons of effluent which has meant we are beyond the safe operating limits of the natural systems that sustain human life.  And while doing this it has condemned millions to poverty, exclusion and fear, increasing want as it increases false needs.  But we have not been wrong to expect comfort, fairness and freedom from want, illness and idleness.  To construct a system that satisfies these needs is not to live beyond our means; it is to live fairly in accordance with them.


A follow up to the NEF Green Deal pamphlet: The Cuts Won’t Work

NEF has published a follow-up to the summer 2008 New Green Deal paper:  The Cuts Won’t Work

I like this report – it very effectively debunks the current hegemony of the supposed need to make savage cuts in public spending, and it makes the connection again between the crisis caused by the bursting of the credit bubbles and the need to decarbonise energy and the economy.
But like the New Green Deal it remains essentially a Fabian document – telling truth to power as if this will create the needed change. There is no theory of action, no praxis. It is essentially Utopian sustainability.
Secondly, it fails to address the argument (of Tim Jackson and others) that sustainable growth is a chimera because it is no possible to de-link resource throughput from growth. The document is arguing for (a green) Keynesian stimulus to get growth going again. maybe that speaks to those in power, but it leaves a big question – can there actually be a green ‘business as usual’?
The root of this second problem is the accumulative core of capitalism. Capitalism works on the accumulation (growth) of capital) extracted as surplus value together with the energy and other subsidies extracted from the natural world. It is this motor that has faltered in the present conjuncture – because the previous fix – financialisation of the economy had burst. What we see now is a combination of the internal and external contradictions of capitalism.
This is difficult to say and be heard since the whole world system (pretty much) is addicted to capitalist growth as an engine of wellbeing. NEF does a good job in problematising this, but it does not reach deeply enough into the root causes of the problem. Consequently it has neither an adequate diagnosis of the problem that needs to be fixed nor a convincing praxis or theory of action. Not that I’m saying this is an easy thing!
For an essay length exploration of these connected issues see my article:
But  thanks anyway NEF for doing what you do. Just because it can be criticised doesn’t mean it should be rejected out of hand – I’m just trying to suggest (very roughly) where you need to amend the model and carry out new lines of work to take it further.