Alain Lipietz talk

At the DPU “The crisis of the “liberal–productivist” model of development: a regulationist analysis, an ecologist response.” 20 May.  My rough notes.  NB an audio recording is now (later) available here as a podcast and there is a text in English on Alain’s own website here.

[Was economist at CEPREMAP, then elected as a green for the Paris region, the EuroParl… Says he was always connected with spatial issues, and naturally came to political ecology.]

Talk about the present crisis and its ecological dimensions.  It is a “major crisis” in regulation – school terms. Characterises Fordism as a period when capitalism was pushed by demand, by demand especially for cars and housing….  and when it came into crisis in 70s… we wondered why it hadn’t happened earlier, since C is such an unstable mode of production.  Basic problem is how to organise labour and do we take advantage of the know-how of the workers, then we’ll be dependent on these workers.  If we can get rid of their knowhow we are free from the workers… but it is expensive… to implement Taylorism fully and de-skill the workers.  Productivity grew 6% pa in 20s.  But who can buy the new commodities? Pay the workers well was the answer, and they will then be the consumers. A rather perfect vision of a mode of regulation.

This mode of regulation had been very national in its institutional forms. When in late 60s and early 70s international circulation, this regulation f wages couldn’t be managed any more(tho to some extent it worked a bit longer within the Common Market. Nations gradually cut wages and tried to seel their products to other countries… but of course it was unstable. There were various solutions but the worst one had victory – Latin American dictatorships, then Thatcher and Regan.  It turned out to be a victory for Taylorism (though we hadn’t known that would be the outcome) and alternatives like Piore and Sabel, 3rd Italy, South Germany, Japan, Sweden had enable some countries to keep their position in the world. UK, France and many other countries took the other path, towards aggressive Taylorism, but this enables the spreading-out of labour across the world, with conception in a few core placed.  Many southern countries including Asian Dragons accepted this, then the collapse of communism propelled other countries into this model…  So now impossible to organise the growth of wages because of the competition from cheap-labour countries.

So this was a reversion to pre-1914 regime for labour. China and India experiencing the Gatsby period! The regime is very creative, insecure, unplanned, with huge risks, prone to herd behaviour among investors. The growth fuels the growth.

Then in late 80s the ecologic problem emerged – a surprise to mainstream and regulation economists. Lost since Malthus and Ricardo, this concern with resource constraints. Nature can’t offer its free resources fast enough for accumulation, so owners of resources collect growing rent which in turn slows accumulation.  This constraint was recognised, startin Rio 92, with Johannesburg conference, and mostly failed attempts to manage the resource and ecological problems.

Let’s think about the 2006-  crisis.

W fall >> debt because people used to growing consumption and system only works if workers have a house, a car, food

P grow, Investors have no idea where to invest.

State revenues fall >> public debt.

(cf Minsky. Credit crunch arises from the debt)

Very like 1930s. As Polanyi said: Stalinism, Social Democracy or Fascism were the only solutions.

So what sort of international state would we need to implement Keynesian solutions?

[“Productivism” = forms of production which uses resources withut attention to depletion etc.]

Prices for food and for energy increase a lot, so workers have to chose between food, energy, and paying debts. This is what hit US. Surprised that US workers risked their houses before they risked their cars.

Energy- most people still depending on biomass (wood and other stuff); >>competition for land.

fossil >>  limited reserves and global warming problem

and nuclear >> dangerous + links with bombs.

Shift of elites from vegetable diets to meat needs 10x land and is happening now in China, India and elsewhere. Our animals in Europe are fed on soya from south which worsens situation. Droughts resulting from global warming destroy food production regions. GRAIN estimates that the food chain accounts for 50% of greenhouse gas production.

Western people respond to rising food prices by eating less / worse. Thus symptoms like book in diabetes. This in turn effects state budgets…

Solution requires soltuion to both problems: energy triangle and food problem.

Energy problem requires demand reduction:  combination of…

1. wear jumpers, share cars, (joyous austerity)

2. reduce primary energy per unit of final energy

3. renewable sources but among these biomass dodgy because of land-take

How do we do that in capitalism?  Austerity is bad for capitalism. But efficiency and renewables are good for capital accumulation.  Siemens for example is doing this. “Siemensism” maybe. But it needs state organisation. Insulation etc would be wonderful and would create lots of jobs à la Keynes.  In agriculture the spatial separation (animals in Europe but we can’t put the nitrogen back into Brasil where its needed to grow th Soya).  So in Europe we have to reorient agricultural policy to regain the balance of agric and stock-raising within Europe.

But there is no state to organise it all at global scale.  Without it there will be “national” solutions like in 1930s.  Very hard to organise even within Europe. And it calls for lots of skilled labour so that is a huge problem.

These are investment problems and how do we deal with all the debt (inherited from the old model)?

Spain: holiday building boom with its motorways > now 1m empty houses. (= number of homelesss). We could say WE WILL NOT PAY.  Problem is then you spoil your credit. Or you can do a deal with creditors (like Greek).  Answer is to extend the debt for a century (like Germany did with it WW1 reparations debt, which just ended 2010). Monetise the debt (I didn’t follow)

Selectivity of credit needs to be re-invesnted (abolished in Maastricht) so EIB could could use all its credit for green revolution.


Adriana Allen comments (i) very valuable to have such a joined-up analysis of all the crises; (ii) rare to find anyone who can do the regulation/economics and the ecology both;

AL: We are now in a position like 1932: solutions were clear (to Keynes, to Hitler, to Stalin) as they are now. It wasn’t clear in 1932 which strategy would win. (Polanyi)

We should think in blocks / continents: we could be self-sufficient in Europe.

Food problems might be resolved at a national or continental scale….

Energy NOT: it has to be global and a global deal is crucial…

Lots of scope for local initiatives, however,

EU agric policy debate characterised as Prince Charles (huge landed estates) v Austrian peasants.

Has been asked to revise Le Tribut Foncier Urbaine ! after 42 years

I asked a question about rent but stupidly used the word ‘rentier’ which triggered a response about he disappearance of the landed class in France…  Not the point: I should have phrased it better.

Remains confident that we could create a democratic regulation at continent scale. Complexity of negotiations between continental blocks is very very great.

Very good on difference between Eng and Fr word ‘regulation’.. We are good explaining a model that worked, why it stopped working.  We can’t explain how the next model will appear.

You cannot make sense of the tendencies to Fascism in Europe without paying attention to the total disappearance of “the worker” – the proud, strong worker. Extreme forms of Taylorism do this to people, and then they are scrapped.

Why does EU have energy permits/quotas instead of tax?  It’s because 1957 treaty made tax a unanimity q, quotas a majority q.


Author: Editors


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