Demolishing the Myth of Perpetual Growth

Life After Growth: Economics for Everyone

Leah Temper and Claudia Medina (2010)

Film Review

The purpose of Life After Growth is to challenge the perpetual growth paradigm in an era in which markets have taken the place of religion in determining major social values.

At present media pundits and policy makers champion continual economic growth as an unquestioned fact of life. In reality, it’s a fairly new phenomenon. Prior to the 19th century and the industrial revolution, all human civilization was characterized by a steady state economy in which both population and productive capacity grew very slowly.

The documentary argues that the urgent crises of poverty, inequality, shortages of water and energy and ecological destruction mean the time has come to explore better ways to design the economy other than infinite growth – especially as the latter is impossible on a finite planet.

At present a “healthy” economy is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 3% a year. At that rate, the size of the economy doubles every 23 years, as do carbon emissions and resource depletion.

Filmmakers also explore what the transition from a growth economy back to a steady state economy might look like. They do so by profiling a number of “DeGrowth” groups that have opted out of “corporate” society:

• The voluntary simplicity (aka voluntary simplicity) movement launched by Vicki Robin’s 1992 book Your Money or Your Life – where members vastly improve their quality of life by working 1-2 days a week, living more simply and consuming less.
• The Transition Towns movement – involving communities throughout the industrialized world collectively organizing to downsize their lifestyle and reduce their carbon footprint.
• The Catalan Integral Collective in Spain – funded by the civil disobedience of Enric Duran, in which he used credit cards to “borrow” 492,000 euros from 39 banks, an amount he couldn’t possibly repay. (See Spain’s Modern Day Robin Hood )
• Ecuador’s Keep the Oil in the Soil campaign – in which the president of Ecuador pledges to not to mine Yasuni National Park (one of the most biodiverse places on earth) for oil provided developing countries commit to replace Ecuador’s lost income.
• Bhutan’s decision to measure their country’s success through Gross Happiness Index (GHI) rather than Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
• The Church of England’s God is Green program dedicated to reducing Britain’s carbon footprint.

Spain’s Modern Day Robin Hood

Come Back: A Story We Wrote Together

Radi.ms (2014)

Film Review

Come Back describes how a coalition of Spanish activists used 492,000 euros expropriated from 39 banks to build a large anti-capitalist coalition that would form the basis for the Los Indignados occupation in 2011. The latter would inspire the international Occupy movement in September and October 2011.

Enric Duran, the individual responsible for the 492,000 euros in unpaid bank and credit card loans, first began planning his “financial civil disobedience” in 2002. The funds were used to finance a network of anarchist collectives and cooperatives which coalesced as the Catalan Integral Cooperative (CIC) in 2010. The CIC’s objective is to generate a self-managed free society outside the law, state control and the rules of the capitalist market. Over the past five years, the CIC has allowed member collectives to progressively construct practices that move them away from the capitalist system towards the world they want to live in.

Creating the Finance Network for Social Projects

In 2005, when Duran began his aggressively borrowing, he and others formed the Finance Network for Social Projects, which allowed self-organized collectives to bid for funding for their local projects through a centralized website. One project highlighted in the film was the 2006 Anti-Growth March. More a tour than a march, the project traveled to more than 20 communities throughout Spain, promoting the development local farming cooperatives, self-organized clinics and schools and other alternatives to capitalism.

The direct outcome of the Anti-Growth March was the Cooperative for Local Assemblies, a network linking local initiatives. In 2010, this would morph into the CIC.

The latter, involving roughly four to five thousand participants, is made up of 300 productive projects, 30 local nodes and econetworks, 15 or so communal living projects and 1700 collectives. CIC governance involves general assemblies and is based on a decentralized direct democracy model that supports the self-governance of autonomous projects.

Political Goals of CIC

Rather than trying to destroy the state, the goal of the CIC is to practice civil disobedience in ways that are consistent with the self-organizing projects their collectives are trying to build. According to a 2014 interview with Duran (see Spanish Robin Hood Enric Duran on Capitalism and Integral Revolution), any action they take towards pressuring the state will be strategically chosen to protect constructive projects and the people involved in them or to generate consciousness and vision among people and groups involved in the change-making process.

Some examples of CIC projects include

• Development and promotion of approximately twenty community currencies, in addition to the Local Exchange Trading System (LETS), a mutual credit network that operates on South African CES software.
• Local food pantries linked to the Catalan Provisioning Centre.
• Activist-run health clinics, schools and housing cooperatives.
• Radi.ms, a digital collective focused on promoting the creation of self-organized co-ops worldwide.

Duran’s Legal Status

On September 17, 2008, in the midst of the global banking collapse, the network (which would become the CIC in 2010), made public, through their own CRISIS newspaper, that Duran had distributed 492,000 in bank loans to Spanish anti-capitalist groups. In March 2009, he was arrested, as six of the 39 banks had laid charges against him. He spent two months in prison before being released on 50,000 euros bail. Although he gone underground, he continues to be an active participant in the CIC.