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With a plan against the climate crisis
by Philip Broistedt and Christian Hofmann
Thursday Sep 2nd, 2021 5:20 AM
Quality and enjoyment would be the new maxims, and the true wealth would be free time. Admittedly, a change in consciousness would remain necessary, and many a convenience in lifestyle would have to be abandoned in favor of the ecosystem. However, the standard of living could be raised significantly through free time and leisure.
With a plan against the climate crisis
In the face of ecological catastrophe, even bourgeois scientists are problematizing the destructive consequences of the market
By Philip Broistedt & Christian Hofmann in ak - analyse & kritik
[This article published on 3/31/2020 is translated from the German on the Internet,]

It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism - this slogan has become a common saying in leftist circles. But the speed with which this saying should gain threatening topicality should have amazed even most pessimists. The time window in which it is theoretically still possible to avoid the irreversible tipping points of the ecosystem by radically reducing greenhouse gases has become small. If this is achieved, the world will continue to turn dutifully; the consequences for humanity, on the other hand, are likely to be dramatic.

The dominant discourse, apparently more beholden to capital than to the world it haunts, still has really only two more or less coherent offers to the rising demand to solve the problem: market-based approaches, which in some form always amount to pricing, and the idea of shifting all responsibility onto consumers. Given that the real driving force behind the ecological catastrophe is the pursuit of maximum profit, these are unpromising approaches. For the compulsion to accumulate capital does not happen by chance or by a few bad guys and stock market speculators. Rather, the compulsion of capital to assert itself on the market against others, i.e. to become cheaper and more productive, is rooted in its very nature. Under penalty of its own demise, every capital must exploit itself, grow, increase production and in the end displace other capitals. There is no escape from this. The hopes for ecologically conscious consumers or green growth misjudge the effectiveness of capital as a social relationship and its inherent compulsion to suck an ever greater maximum out of people and nature at minimal cost.

English war economy as a model?
The compulsion to accumulate leads even the best technical innovations ad absurdum. This could already be seen impressively in the case of biogas, which is promoted by the state with good intentions: Monocultures, soil erosion, cleared rainforest and corn shipped across the ocean - as is so often the case, there is not much "eco" left in "bio". E-mobility is likely to suffer a similar fate in the near future. If its use is not rationally planned for the benefit of people, but subjected to the laws of profit maximization, here too production will be expanded and over-expanded to such an extent that it will ultimately cause harm. Technology is not neutral, but its action and effects are closely interwoven with the society that uses it. Similarly with consumption. Families might use subsidies to buy a small e-car as a second car, even though they previously owned only one. Or reallocate money gained through energy savings to an additional flight for a short vacation (rebound effect). Ecologically a disaster, but in the spirit of this social order a rational behavior.
So it is all the more gratifying that the destructive effects of the market are at least slowly being discussed in public. Fridays for Future activist Luisa Neubauer, for example, has noted in her book "From the End of the Climate Crisis" that "the road to doom is paved with well-intentioned, market-based instruments." Although Neubauer, who was ennobled as "German Greta" by the Süddeutsche Zeitung, is still organized in the Green Party, she essentially maintains this fundamental criticism in her book and even brings Adorno into play for it: "No sustainable life in a non-sustainable society"! What she lacks is a fundamental idea of what a sustainable society could be based on. There is a bit of regulatory policy, but little else.

On the other hand, Ulrike Herrmann, economics editor of the tageszeitung and actually a self-confessed Keynesian, has gone further. In several commentaries, she has chosen the economic steering function of the British state during the Second World War, which was born out of necessity, as a model. For her, this wartime economy was "capitalism without a market. The factories remained in private hands, but the production targets were set by the state." Since the "task for society as a whole" is "similarly large" today, the state could or should be used again, as the government did in London at the time, Herrmann said. Positively one must emphasize that with such a disposal power of the state already drastic interferences are demanded into actually also Keynesianern*innen holy, bourgeois property right.

But not only the Green Neubauer and the Keynesian Herrmann have serious doubts that the climate crisis can be solved on the basis of the "free market". Two of the most renowned German climate researchers, Stefan Rahmstorf and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, have already spoken out in this regard. In their short and readable overview work "Der Klimawandel" (Climate Change), they let the readers know that mankind must drastically change its course with regard to greenhouse gases. Otherwise, the only alternative would be "reduction measures that can actually only be realized within the framework of a (global!) war economy. Even if the two leave it at this one sentence, the train of thought is obvious: The amount of greenhouse gases that mankind is still allowed to blow into the atmosphere without reaching the tipping points is a fixed quantity. Keeping this amount as low as possible through planning is difficult on the basis of competition and the profit motive.

As hopeful as it may make one feel that, in the face of dramatic developments, the first bourgeois are now taking aim at the market and anarchy in production, these thoughts would still have to be sharpened. One would almost like to reverse the young Marx's critique of Hegel here: After all, it is not enough that reality pushes itself to thought; a "reasonable" thought must also push itself to realization. Leaving aside the question of what role the existing state could play in immediate measures that are undoubtedly necessary - the approach of Hermann and the two climate researchers falls decidedly short in the long run. For they leave the commodity as an elementary form of this society just as unconsidered as its constituent preconditions.

Crux: the utilization of value
This is not about Marxological know-it-allism, but about the casus knacksus. After all, the compulsion to strive for profit, which is meanwhile incompatible with planetary boundaries, is nothing other than the "utilization of value." At this point, therefore, one cannot avoid asking oneself what value means. Value, however, is rooted in commodity production, i.e. the autonomous and independent production by private owners for others to exchange on the market. The commodities, which are traded on the market, represent as values the labor of the socially necessary labor objectified in them.
Capitalism is the unfolded market society in which production is directed towards the profit of capital. The needs of people inevitably serve only as a means to another end - this, by the way, also in the case of supposedly sustainable organic products. The goal and measure of production remains solely the increase in capital, the profit. Exactly here lie the roots for the growth compulsion and the commodification, of becoming a commodity, which should be brought into the center of the discussion. To make this concrete, let's take the study "2030 coal-free" by the Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology from the fall of 2018, commissioned by Greenpeace, in which it was conscientiously calculated that energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in Germany could be largely avoided as early as 2035.
The coal phase-out, which serves as the guiding instrument in the study, is indeed a question of political will - even if it is difficult to counter lobby interests and clientelism. But the study's fundamental miscalculation is to leave out the growth imperative. For example, it assumes that both freight traffic volumes and conventional electricity consumption will not grow any further after 2020. It would be nice! The stated "fundamentally changed mobility behavior" is not likely to simply fall from the sky either, certainly not in the society of performance terror in the hamster wheel - the "exploitation of value" sends its regards.

Rational planning of production
If one wants to put a stop to this, it must first be fundamentally worked out that work does not necessarily lead to value. Rather, it is only certain social conditions under which work becomes value-creating. It is the society based on the division of labor with its private production for the market, i.e. production for others, in which - as in Herrmann's case - the "factories are in private hands". Under these conditions, products of labor acquire value because they must be represented as commodities on the market in money as the measure of value. As long as these conditions are not overcome, the compulsion to maximize profit remains at least latently present and will break through again and again as an "invisible hand" - and be it behind the back of legislation.

In the last instance, this state of affairs can only be eliminated by rational planning of production on a social basis. (see ak 653) To this end, we have proposed a draft, based on Marx, in our book "Goodbye Capital". If the means of production belonged to society, it would be possible to plan rationally with the available labor and natural and man-made resources. Products would then no longer be produced as commodities and planned labor would no longer be a source of value. Finally, a general labor-time accounting system could measure directly the labor time worked, instead of going the roundabout way via the market and the value ratio. What would have been technically difficult in earlier times is a viable possibility today, based on the digital revolution. (see ak 648) After all, almost all work steps in every department are recorded with hair-trigger precision. Thanks to all-encompassing digitization, stamp cards, barcodes and scanners, a current average value of the working time required can be given for almost every product. Even today, these figures are meticulously recorded in order to calculate production. However, the focus is always on production for the highest possible profit. In a future society, however, the average working hour would be the basis of social accounting. Everybody produces for social needs and can receive products to the extent that he/she has contributed to the social wealth by directly measured working hours.

Only in such a society it would be possible to talk about "sustainability" at all, because the earth would no longer be property and the metabolism between man and nature could be regulated rationally. The vicious circle of "faster and faster, more and more" could finally be broken. Everyone would work, but less. A number of activities would be eliminated, for example the legions of salespeople, brokers, asset and investment advisors. Quality and enjoyment would be the new maxims, and the true wealth would be free time. Admittedly, a change in consciousness would remain necessary, and many a convenience in lifestyle would have to be abandoned in favor of the ecosystem. However, the standard of living could be raised significantly through free time and leisure. Such a perspective is likely to meet with a more positive response than the attempt to pass on the costs of the ecological catastrophe to the lower classes or to talk of a "war economy".

Published in ak 658, March 2020
Philip Broistedt and Christian Hofmann write on assoziationinfo. They will soon be publishing "Goodbye Kapital" with Papy Rossa.
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