Equality, Solidarity, and Sustainability, Part 3

In this third part of a four-part interview, regular Triple Crisis contributor Jayati Ghosh summarizes some major themes in her work and thought, including the prospects for the transformation and revival of socialist movements, the transfiguration of the world capitalist economy and the reproduction of structures like the core-periphery division and landlord domination, new challenges of international labor solidarity and environmental sustainability, and the way forward towards egalitarian societies. (Parts 1 and 2 of the series are available here and here.)

Jayati Ghosh

Challenges of Solidarity and Sustainability

D&S: The ways that capitalism has linked together economies all over the world—trade in goods, international investment, international migration—directly pose the need for labor internationalism. Is it possible to develop the necessary kinds of labor solidarity when that means reaching across divides, say, between native and immigrant, or the workers of one country and with those of another country half a world away?

JG: It is obviously necessary for such bonds to be forged—it is even essential, because global forces cannot be fought only within nation states. But clearly such bonds are getting harder to forge. However, that is not only because of the material reality of physical differences and geographical distances. It is also—and possibly more crucially—because of changing perceptions of community, identity, oneness, and difference among various social groups. So workers from different countries see themselves as competing against one another in the struggle to keep their jobs and prevent their wages from falling.

A major role in this division across workers is unfortunately played by media, which wittingly (and sometimes unwittingly) transmits and disseminates a discourse in which workers of one country, region, or type are pitted against other workers, and in which they are then seen as the enemy that must be fought. This obfuscatory role played by the corporatized media is of course extremely useful for capitalism, for the agents of global finance and other large capital, because it succeeds in diverting and distracting from the real problems. Obviously the left in different parts of the world has not just to express clearly the fallacies associated with such a position, but to think creatively about how to give that critique the widest possible traction and publicity.

D&S: How can we square development objectives—including a dramatic increase in standards of living in lower-income countries—with environmental sustainability? Is there a way to sustainably bring the entire world up to rich-country levels? Or should we also be imagining a massive global redistribution of income and wealth, equalizing per capita incomes of global North and South somewhere in the middle?

JG: In developing countries, the most important goals are to help people adapt to climate changes that we already see and to find ways of mitigation without burdening the poor or preventing their access to essential goods and services. This is important because, even in “emerging” economies, the development project is far from complete, with many millions—the majority of the people—excluded from the minimum conditions for a decent and secure life that ensures dignity and allows creativity. Bringing the vast majority of the developing world’s population to anything resembling a minimally acceptable standard of living will involve extensive use of global resources. It will necessarily imply more natural resource use and more carbon emissions. So we have to reduce resource use and emissions elsewhere and in other activities, and re-orient growth in cleaner and greener directions.

In terms of economic strategy, this probably requires policies at several different levels. To start with, the orientation of economic policies and public perception must shift away from the single-minded obsession with GDP growth. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop a set of quantifiable measures of genuine human progress, based as far as possible on objective criteria describing conditions of life (not GDP), which can be regularly estimated and monitored to hold governments and other agents accountable.

Ways of production must change. In agriculture it would be necessary to promote actively the viability of sustainable food production with small holder cultivation that can cope with the greater incidence of climate variability. It is also necessary to reduce and regulate corporate power in food and other productive industries, as well as in finance, so that undesirable forms of consumption and production are not promoted or perpetuated. For all production, the shift from carbon-based production to renewable energy-based activities needs to be encouraged.

The ways in which we organise our physical conditions of life and work also need to change. This can include focussing on urban planning and management that reduces resource use and deals better with waste of all kinds; and emphasising clean, efficient and affordable public transport systems rather than allow polluting and congesting private transport systems. Clearly, protecting and nurturing dwindling water resources and preventing privatized over-exploitation of this and other key gifts of nature is essential.

This is not possible without a simultaneous attack on the growing inequality evident in most societies. Income and asset inequalities generate unsustainable consumption patterns among the privileged and create the desire for them among others. This has to be reduced by using explicitly redistributive measures, fiscal incentives such taxes and subsidies, patterns of public spending more directed to improving conditions of worse-off groups, and improvement of the conditions of work through better regulation and protection of wage workers and the small self-employed.

At the global level, this also requires fighting the monopoly of knowledge and control over technology created by the regime of intellectual property rights and ensuring greater access to relevant “green” technologies to developing countries. And this in turn is part of a broader need to resist and control international trade and investment patterns that create incentives for over-exploiting people and nature.

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