Academic journal article Capital & Class

Fears and Hopes: The Crisis of the Liberal-Productivist Model and Its Green Alternative

Academic journal article Capital & Class

Fears and Hopes: The Crisis of the Liberal-Productivist Model and Its Green Alternative

Article excerpt


The present crisis appears to be as serious as the Great Depression of the 1930s. Beginning with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and evolving into a crisis of sovereign debts, it certainly deserves to be known as a 'Great Crisis' in regulation approach terms, because it marks the end of a capitalist model of development (Boyer 2004). This collapsing model, whose reign stretched from the end of the Fordist period and the 'monetarist shift' of the 1980s to the present day, has been labeled 'liberal-productivist' (Lipietz 1996), and indeed its collapse results from this double aspect. We must begin there in order to explore how the solutions to this crisis must draw on different social and ecological compromises, if they are to endure.

As for the crisis of the 1930s, the first manifestations of the crisis are in finance, and a solution to problems of insolvency and financial disorders must be found. But the present paper is mainly dedicated to the social and ecological aspects of the crisis and its solution. Too often, a green touch is imposed upon what is essentially a Keynesian analysis of the crisis. What we shall argue is that we need to fully appreciate the ecological foundations of the crisis if we are to develop an environmentally sustainable solution to its ecological aspects.

'A society has the conjuncture of its structure' (Labrousse 1944), and the complex structure of liberal-productivism has determined the complexity of the present crisis. As a crisis in 'liberal capitalism', it has much in common with the Great Depression of the 1930s. As an 'ecological' crisis however, it evokes the crises of the ancien regime and its last example, the European crisis of 1848 (Braudel, Labrousse 1979). Just as in the 1930s, the current crisis started in the financial sphere but soon revealed its social and macroeconomic origins: workers were too poor, profits were too high, and a crisis of over-accumulation (or under-consumption) was unavoidable. The Fordist solution to the 1930s-type crisis responded to these problems: there was an increase in wages, a (black) car was sold to everybody, the supply of money was increased, credit extended, and public expenditure increased.

But in the current crisis, as in 1848 (and in sharp contrast to the 1930s), the Earth appeared to be so parsimonious to humankind that basic consumption goods became too expensive. The demand for capitalist durable goods was crowded out by the demand for essential staple commodities like food and energy. In reality, the inability of the planet to supply these goods is nothing but the structural outcome of the productivist character of recent capitalist models. If we take this analysis seriously, then a Fordist-Keynesian solution would immediately trigger a new fall-back into food and energy crises-a new shortage in food and a new peak in oil prices (exacerbated by safety failures in nuclear plants such as Fukushima). But if we seek a business-led recovery, in which business interests are 'green-washed' (e.g. through support to 'green technologies'), and we ignore the depth of inequalities at the root of the 'liberal' dimension of the economic crisis, we would be making a further symmetrical mistake.

The financial, social and ecological aspects of the crisis are so tightly interwoven that no partial solution will be efficient. We need a 'Green Deal' that is both ecological and social in its scope, and it must take place at the global level. It is to this end that the paper is organised. First, we sum up the components of the late model of capitalist development. Second, we scrutinise the interweaving of the factors that contributed to the crisis from 2007 until today. Third, we develop more extensively the blueprints for a specifically 'Green' Deal. (1)

The liberal-productivist model of capitalist development: A regulation approach

In the regulation approach, a model of capitalist development permits a relatively stable path of capitalist accumulation, despite the contradictions of its social relations, for a period of time. …

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