The growth system has proved its deadly ineffeciency measured by ecological and long-term social standards. But in the short term, its ability to produce - and to a lesser degree distribute - wealth, will probably overrule other impeding factors. There will be massive economic growth in large parts of the world, and this expansion will be fueled primarily by coal, oil and gas. As the rest of the world is taking over the production and consumption habits of the richer nations of the North, our role should be to seek modes of sustainable change. The situation calls upon the affluent to fully grasp the meaning of John Maynard Keynes' insight as to the role of private greed in stimulating public wealth and the common good: "For some time still we have to pretend that evil is good and good is evil". The time has come for us to stop "pretending".
Our goal is to try to combine the forces of reason, morality and potent self-interest so as to break out of the vicious circle. For this to happen we need a closer look at the workings of "the growth machine" where so many agents are only "behaving rationally".
And parallell to this cycle runs an even more potent one. Productivity growth builds the basis for increased wages, which means greater purchasing power (so that we can afford to buy less and less durable products and thus avoid the horrors of obsolence). But productivity growth also results in less work, so we need new activity (i.e. "economic growth") so as to further employ our increasingly efficient workers. This is then followed by rising manpower costs, which in turn sets off another self-confirming circle. The more expensive every working hour becomes, the greater the need for efficient machines, which in turn makes it possible to increase wages even more.
And since these psycho-techno-economical processes tend to create more problems than they solve, we also need increased public income to finance people's growing needs for psychiatrist, psychologists, doctors, social workers etc. So everyone - citizen, politician, employer and employee - behaves rationally, forming a constant reciprocal confirmation of the natural "reasonableness" of one's own role.
Stabilizing or reducing purchasing power, and leveling wage differences are, therefore, important stepping stones towards sustainability.
But is there acceptance for such sacrifices? Our strategy is to try to undermine the need for increased wages. We have recently conducted several studies which demonstrate the interrelationship between personal welfare and alternative modes of distribution and consumption. To illustrate the potential of consumption patterns which are sustainable, let us begin with the alternative of car sharing.
Car sharing is at present being practised on an organised basis by about 7,000 Europeans. Studies indicate that this reduces the use of cars by about 50% among persons who owned their own vehicle before joining the scheme. And there was no significant change among non-owners. (It seems that this group replaced former habits of borrowing from friends and car rental by car sharing). In short: These studies indicate that a normal city household in Norway can reduce its income needs by at least US $ 3,000-4,000 per year, without any notable reduction in welfare or comfort. But in order to transform this reduction into environmental benefits, it is also necessary to find ways to try to "pry" wage-earners away from income in order to avoid it being spent on new luxury goods.
This leads logically to the question of unemployment: If we make it easier to manage with a 10% income reduction, households can more easily accept the idea of reduced working hours, and if this can be obtained, we are then paving the way for work-sharing. So the crux of the matter, politically speaking, then becomes a search for mechanisms by which we can redistribute working hours, income and leisure time.
Several studies have been carried out in order to ascertain the willingness of full-time employees in Norway to reduce working hours (by 20%) and wages (by 3-7%). An average of 50-62% (slightly higher among women than men) answered "yes", on the condition that the "sacrifice" could reduce the number of idle hands. So our strategy now is (as it becomes more and more evident that economic growth in an already highly efficient economy cannot solve the unemployment problem) to link reduced purchasing power with more leisure time and the need for jobs. If this equation can be reasonable solved in theory, the political potential for realizing it in practice seems quite promising.
But then, at the next turn of the spiral, we are confronted by the question of business opportunity in a non-growing market. We are already in a situation of so-called "free- factor flow". Ruthless competition will force inefficient, debt-ridden, and labour-intensive companies out of business, and a non-expanding market will make competition even fiercer. Companies will expand, even if the market does not! So there will be fewer and bigger companies employing less people, and these will increasingly be linked with international capital and international interests. This trend can hardly be stopped, even though it can be slowed down through non-membership in the European Union (EU), obstinance in the execution of GATT-provisions, and other "contrary" actions. An aggressive international capitalism will, however, probably maintain hegemony for the next decade or so.
With the increasing effects of international competition being felt in the Norwegian economy, there will be additional factors working for cost reduction, primarily on wages, for the simple reason that Norway Inc. is very expensive to run. Even with a GNP of more than US$ 100 billion - that is US $ 27,000 per capita - there are huge deficits in our national budget. So in order to remain relatively competitive (in sectors other than oil, gas and fish), we will probably be forced to cut public spending. This in turn gives rise to a need for alternative solutions as to how public expenditure can be more effectively employed.
If it can be demonstrated in this regard that costs can be cut substantially - through job sharing (which reduces the costs of unemployment and related ills), through lower salary demands (based on lower income needs), and if the prospect of a "leisure-time society" can be made more attractive - then we have a chance of moving towards a society which in specific and realizable ways IS more sustainable.
It is on the basis of this logic and the above-mentioned methods that we are trying to enhance the reliability of our own platform by promoting a path to sustainability which is both politically relevant and practically feasible. Through information aimed at achieving concrete effects, we promote solutions which can be put into immediate effect by our own members and other activists, so as to achieve macro political, economic and social change in and through meaningful and effective grass-roots participation.
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