Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
Below comes an incoherent heap of ideas and arguments, but if this is a brainstorming, it might be alright :-)

Regarding 1), I think this would be a wrong approach. On one hand, we are progressives, thus we don't need past examples - our proposals could (and in my personal opinion, should) be of something new. At best, we could praise single measures, rather than a whole country.

I will treat 2) and 3) together. This will be rather long. (Special note to DeAnander: my treatment will start like a conventional approach, but at the end - I hope in your eyes too - move much closer to what you emphasized.)

First, when I denied the importance of demographic structure in the present voes, I didn't say where I think the cause lies, now I do. I think the issue is technology. If a big new technology goes economical, it will create a lot of jobs and growth, until 'the market is saturated'. In capitalism (but to some degree in an idealised socialism too), from this point on, companies can try marketing, product improvements - and rationalisation of production, which inexorably leads to loss of jobs.

Now, a 'big new technology', in my eyes, was f.e. the steam engine, the railway, electricity, cars. Each of these transformed the economy and society in a fundamental way: not simply replacing some older technology in a more efficient (and resource-wasting) way. Compared to these, mobile phones are nothing, and even personal computers aren't much. That is, in short: I think we're struck in technological progress.

But, I think there would be rather good directions to head for. You guessed it: I am mainly thinking of alternative energies. I note there are already more jobs in wind and solar in Germany than in the entire supply chain of coal and coal-fired power plants! Alternative energies like wind and solar wouldn't only replace fossil fuel wasting electricity production as we have it today: the end result would be a highly decentralised, but strongly interdependent system.

Something qualitatively different from both the libertarians' and neoliberals' mad individualism and the centralised statism of classic social democracy and socialism - with corresponding social effects. Among them, specifically, the rural population would regain importance, and much of the third world would gain something that benefits the domestic population and can be sold to the North without a situation of exploitation and depletion.

Now, consider that each of the 'big new technologies' I listed were successful not on their own on a free market, but benefitted from heavy pushing by the state, or other communal instances. This precedent should serve us as both a model and an argument against the market fundies.

I'll go further: I recommend a specific measure. It is one actually applied, with success, even copied elsewhere (tough most often by hollowing out the basic principle). But, also one whose lasting success would need people's good understanding of its basic principle and their defense of it against propaganda from opponents. It is the German law on feeding electricity from renewables into the grid.

Instead of giving state subsidies, this law makes the purchase of such electricity obligatory to distributors, that at a fixed price, thus distributing the extra costs among users. The fixed price is above market price, but decreases over the years, thus limiting the extra costs. The result is a separate market for alternative energy, where producers don't have to compete with say gas turbine producers, but do have to compete with each other - resulting in development which makes these technologies cheaper. (If someone objects to the capitalist element in this, I refer back to the passage on decentralised-interdependent production.*)

On a more general note, to close this part off, I think a sustained effort to transform the economy can in itself generate more jobs (and GDP growth), including a sustained effort to get a self-sustaining economy, one not living off fast depleting fossil resources.

But, I have to address two more issues. One is productivity. I think a new leftist economic manifesto should argue hotly against the current productivity fetishism. First, the obvious point should be made that two half as productive men doing the same job for half the pay is not worse in any way for a company, even if average productivity is less. What matters for a capitalist company (and a socialist company interested in upgrading its machines) is workers' product per pay - that is, in effect, profit; so all of the talk about productivity would be a distraction, save for tax and tributes issues (these costs can depend on the number of workers in a nonlinear way).

Now applying the above principle may lessen the number of jobless, but not change, just shift social problems. But, in my observation, the current productivity fetishism results in a lot of totally silly decisions even from an economic point of view: companies fire old 'unproductive' guys with experience, and then lose much money when systems break down and no one knows why; companies hire young hotshots but pay exorbitant sums to them, much more than the productivity gain; big companies rationalise away specific kinds of jobs, entrusting the necessary tasks to others or machines, but the others would often have to do their original and new tasks at the same time, while customers are put off by inflexible automats; and so on.

The second issue is: what number do we consider the measure of progress? In today's neoliberal consensus, GDP. Some people criticise various different ways to measure GDP. There are many who argue for GNP. Others reject such measures entirely. I'll do neither, but suggest something rather vague (at least in my mind, don't know if others tried to attempt to quantify this).

In the nineties, it became normal to measure the prowres of a company not merely by the real profit it made, but add the change in its value (i.e. stock market value, assets' auditioned value). Yes, this led to the bubbles of the nineties, but this got me thinking. What if we somehow add the change in value of life in general to GDP? The increase and decrease of estate prices, house prices? The decrease of public health? The increase of stress and discomfort of due to noise? The decrease of natural resources? The decrease of pleasure from seeing nature? The decrease of good arable land?

I will not address 4) - I have some thoughts on this, but rather weakly formed.

* If anything good can be said of any part of capitalism, it is that competition can bring technological improvements. Even in the nominally socialist, in practice state capitalist (= production was non-profit and the means of production were nominally owned by The People, in practice by the Party cadre) Soviet Union, the competition of design bureaus - say, MiG vs. Suhoi - was employed to push development (tough of only stuff we don't welcome).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 24th, 2005 at 08:01:46 AM EST

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