Economics – headlines

November 7, 2013

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

How economic growth has become anti-life

Vandana Shiva, The Guardian
Limitless growth is the fantasy of economists, businesses and politicians. It is seen as a measure of progress. As a result, gross domestic product (GDP), which is supposed to measure the wealth of nations, has emerged as both the most powerful number and dominant concept in our times. However, economic growth hides the poverty it creates through the destruction of nature, which in turn leads to communities lacking the capacity to provide for themselves.

The concept of growth was put forward as a measure to mobilise resources during the second world war. GDP is based on creating an artificial and fictitious boundary, assuming that if you produce what you consume, you do not produce. In effect , “growth” measures the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.

Thus nature’s amazing cycles of renewal of water and nutrients are defined into nonproduction. The peasants of the world,who provide 72% of the food, do not produce; women who farm or do most of the housework do not fit this paradigm of growth either. A living forest does not contribute to growth, but when trees are cut down and sold as timber, we have growth. Healthy societies and communities do not contribute to growth, but disease creates growth through, for example, the sale of patented medicine…
(1 November 2013)

Guilt-free consumption

Staff, Trendwatching
Building on our recent Trend Briefings on CLEAN SLATE BRANDS and DEMANDING BRANDS, and bringing together various strands of the HUMAN BRANDS and BETTER BUSINESS mega-trends, GUILT-FREE CONSUMPTION (GFC) is a compelling answer to the current, epic quest for more aware, more ethical, more sustainable consumerism.

Fueled by a pervasive awareness of the conflicts between their consumerist impulses and their aspirations to be ‘good’, experienced consumers are increasingly wracked with guilt. The result? A growing hunger for a new kind of consumption: one free from worry (or at least with less worry) about its negative impact, yet that allows continued indulgence.

1. Divided Self

One of the Big Human Needs is to consider oneself ‘good’. And human beings feel good about themselves when they live according to their most deeply-held values and aspirations….

Yet mature consumers are ever more aware that the desires and impulses they experience – and worse, that they constantly act upon and satisfy inside the consumer arena – often run counter to these values and aspirations.

…2. Next: The Guilt Spiral

It’s this tension – between the values that consumers hold, and the pervasive awareness that the actions they take run counter to those values – that manifests itself as the potent, nagging guilt trip that haunts many consumers today…

…3. Absolving Guilt

To become a GFC brand, brands need to first understand the various kinds of guilt currently tormenting ‘aware’ consumers. Three* types of consumer guilt:…

…SELF: Guilt about what one brings on oneself.

SOCIETY: Guilt about what one causes, directly and indirectly, to other people (and other living creatures).

PLANET: Guilt about one’s impact on the environment at large…
(November 2013)

How to protest in the age of austerity
Richard Seymour, The Guardian
So much for a winter of discontent. The etiolated state of the British left in 2013 gives us no right to expect any such climax. All the seasonal metaphors – red-hot autumns, summers of rage, even democratic springs – have eluded us.

Why is the landscape so bleak? In 2011, things looked different. The election of a Tory-led government in the UK and a spate of Tea Party Republicans in the US initiated a sequence of austerity programmes – prompting direct conflicts between governments and organised workers. And this seemed to fuse with a heterogeneous series of global struggles, from Middle East revolutions to strike action in Greece to the indignados in Spain and the Occupy movement.

The militancy was short-lived. As far as the UK goes, the strikes of 2011 look like a blip. In 2012, the days lost to strike action fell from 1.4m to 250,000, one of the lowest rates of action on record. As for the US, the disputes such as the one in Wisconsin were far more politically salient than anything else. The rate of industrial action in the leading capitalist economies since the credit crunch has not been merely low: it has been at historic lows. The disruption to the flow of profit is minimal: less than 0.005% of working time is lost to strike action each year in the US, for example. No wonder corporate profits have been at historic highs. Meanwhile, in the same economies, the movements largely collapsed or deflated, or were swept up by violent police intervention.

…However, there is one notable trend that stands apart from the general picture of decline that I noted above. That is the ongoing rise of protest and social movements. The proportion of Britons who have taken part in some form of protest action against the government has more or less consistently risen, almost doubling between 1986 and 2003. This is part of a global trend registered by the World Values Survey (data here)…
(22 October 2013)

Six reasons why our stock markets are no longer fit for purpose

John Fullerton and Tim MacDonald, The Guardian
Today’s stock markets are primarily about speculating on the future prices of those shares, largely disconnected from real investment or what goes on in the real economy of goods and services. It’s time for investors such as pension funds to reconnect with businesses in a long-term relationship through a new investment architecture.

Rise of short-term speculation

Stock exchanges were originally conceived for the public interest and had a clear public purpose: to allow companies to raise equity from a large pool of investors and to provide a market for investors to later sell their shares in those companies. The promise of a liquid market lowered the cost of that equity to enterprise thereby increasing economic growth and, theoretically at least, shared prosperity.

…Market flaws…

Six factors have combined to make our equity capital markets no longer fit for purpose:

1. The privatisation of stock exchanges, destroying their public purpose mandate and instead making the growth of trading volume their single-minded goal and high-frequency traders (computers programmed to trade) their preferred customers.

2. The unrestrained technology arms race in computing power combined with the adoption of technology-driven information flow spurring the rapid acceleration of trading volume, which at critical times can be highly destabilising.

3. The misguided ascent of "shareholder wealth maximisation" (at the expense of all other stakeholder interests) in our business schools, board rooms, and the corporate finance departments on Wall Street.

4. The well-intended but equally misguided practice of using stock-based incentives, and stock options in particular, as the dominant form of senior management compensation, which incentivises them to focus only on short-term results at the expense of the long-term health of the enterprise, people and planet.

5. The misalignment of interests between short-term focused intermediaries and real investors such as pension funds whose timeframe should be measured in decades.

6. Regulators’ lack of courage and confidence to counter the trader-driven paradigm and institute substantive structural reform such as a Financial Transactions Tax and other reforms that would penalise excessive speculation while incentivising long-term productive investment….
21 October 2013)

The global economy sinks under its debts as the real cost of energy rises

Tim Morgan, City A.M.
ALTHOUGH the economy is improving, this is turning out to be “a recovery, but not as we know it”. Britain may be getting better off, but people keep getting poorer, as the costs of essentials continue to grow much more rapidly than incomes. Yet far from being a uniquely British problem, this is a worldwide phenomenon.

When you consider the “richer economy, poorer people” conundrum, it might occur to you that there are in fact two parallel economies, not one. This is precisely the point made in my new book Life After Growth.

On the one hand, we have the “real” economy of energy, resources, labour, goods and services. On the other, there is the “financial” economy of money and debt. Money, of course, has no intrinsic worth, so any value that money possesses derives from its role as a claim on the output of the real economy. Together, money and debt constitute a quantity of “claims” on the real economy of today and tomorrow. That’s fine if – and only if – we do not create claims that exceed the value capabilities of the real economy.

(24 October 2013)

You can see a sample of the book here.

Tags: austerity, consumption, financial economy, global economy, inequality, real economy, social movements