Presented by many as the solution to reduce inequalities, the minimum wage at € 1700 has all the makings of a false good idea: at first, it looks obvious, but on reflection it becomes an aberration, from an economic and environmental standpoint as well as from a political and cultural one.
Firstly, lets revisit the meaning of the SMIC, which is totally inscribed in the logic of our capitalist, productivist society: Minium Inter-professional Growth Wage… the name says it all, but lets’ go further.
Growth Objectors (Objecteurs de Croissance) are fundamentally opposed to this suicidal logic of unlimited growth. There are equally opposed to the accounting view of our lives that this increase of the minimum wage implies.
Increasing the minimum wage means an increase in the money supply, therefore the production, the exploitation of reified resources. It also means the will to prolong a system, that is neither sustainable nor desirable, by making it less unfair. It amounts to make a system socially acceptable even though it is doomed.
Let’s be clear: the Growth Objectors do not deny the right to the less wealthy to fulfil their needs but they propose that we get out of the capitalist economics and productivism to achieve a real autonomy and a good life for all. Autonomy; that is the re-appropriation of the meaning we want to give our lives.
1. An economic aberration
“Once the last tree is felled, the last river poisoned, the last fish caught, only then will you realise that money can’t be eaten” an Amerindian.
Increasing the SMIC is not the aberration, the economic system, we have entrapped ourselves in, is the aberration. The capitalist logic forces us to compete to fulfil our needs. And the level of wages is the indicator of this competition. The highest incomes are reserved for the winners and who have the privilege to fix the terms of the competition. As for the lowest wages, they go obviously to the ones who have no decision-making power.
How can we not be outraged by the fact that a minimum wage is arrived at without discussing the highest one? Why decide only on the minimum and never the maximum? And why not reconsider the entire wealth distribution? Whatever the amount reached for the lowest wage in our consumerist system, it will stay low and would become insufficient after a market adjustment. So why bother?
We won’t elaborate on the aberration of the minimum wage increase that would more likely lead to a rise in prices rather than a decrease in inequalities that will cancel out the effects of this increase. This is not our discourse, we prefer discussing solutions enabling every one to assume their subsistence as a good life. Instead, rather than a wage level, or the need to find a paid position, shouldn’t we rather ask how to satisfy our social and existential needs as a primordial right, for our and the generations to come?
We have to find the way to satisfy all our needs, in a sustainable and equitable manner, by exiting the capitalist competition. To achieve it, we need to develop the autonomy of all. But this is not feasible in this system we need to dismantle. Wage labour amounts to an enslavement not capable of fulfilling the need for autonomy. It imposes a tiring and sickening rhythm of life. It lives no room for the enjoyment of life in good health in a country at peace.
2) An environmental aberration
“Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” Kenneth E. Boulding
Nowadays we consume useless things that we have to purchase due to structural reasons (urbanism designed around the car, planned obsolescence, disposable goods, junk food….) or cultural reasons (advertising). This is only possible because we are 20% appropriating 87% of the world’s resources…. The constant increase of personal consumption impacts on the others world inhabitants’ “ecological space”. Our ecological footprint is already outrageous and the inequalities keep on growing. Even the poorest among us in the West have an unsustainable ecological footprint. In fact, the problem is that all of us aspire to earn more money to have a better lifestyle, thus working ever more under stress and alienated manner, making us produce more useless things purchased by increasing our debt.
Moreover, the amount of money put into circulation must mirror the quantity of goods to be exchanged. Creating money neither creates oil, nor uranium, nor fruits nor vegetables. The higher the monetary supply, the higher the need to produce and while we are waiting for the goods to be produced, this monetary mass represents debt-money. To implement the SMIC at € 17000 would only boost consumption and growth in the short term whilst creating new debts and exploiting the resources even more.
Over the last decades we have exhausted more than half the resources, and at this pace, there won’t be any left in a few years. We have nearly sterilised the oceans and drained the soils. Our lifestyle based upon a frantic, inconsiderate consumption, is no longer possible.
It is therefore time to exit this logic of the “evermore”: working more to earn more”. Therefore to consume more, we answer: “working less to lead a better live”! The time has come to decolonise our consumers’ imaginaries and to turn from purchasing power to living power!
3) A political and cultural aberration
“Even if an infinite growth in a finite world were possible, it would be absurd. How can we open new pathways towards new worlds?”
Convergence Platform of Growth Objectors
Unless the SMIC at € 1700 is inscribed within a project of societal transition, it amounts to a trivialisation and a promotion of the wealthiest peoples’ life style, erected as a goal. Endorsing a capitalist, productivist, and consumerist society is nothing but a political renunciation.
In fact, the challenge is not about minimising the ills of a sick civilisation through small palliative and electoralistic measures, but getting out of this impasse this growth society is leading us towards ever faster! At best, a € 1700 SMIC could be, a short-lived measure contributing to the transition but only on condition that it is part of a broader, ambitious political project and, more importantly, a profound and radical cultural change (to solve the problems at its roots).
To be of the Left, is about looking for mechanisms able to reduce inequalities, to exit the productivist, capitalist society of forced labour, as well as to initiate an open relocalisation, build a real democracy, exit the economistic, consumerist, and techno-scientist religion.
It is about initiating a transition. This means starting from our given society, to begin building potentially sustainable and desirable societies, being from a psychological, cultural, economic, institutional, political, and democratic standpoints. And we should ask ourselves: what do we produce? How? For what purpose?
Our nonsensical system makes it easier to conceive a return to a very simple vision. Working in an autonomous manner, means organising the world around us, not belonging to an absurd system: that is to participate in the building of our own residential place, our neighbourhood, growing our fruits and vegetables, maintaining, fixing. This soothing and harmonious vision contains an essential principle. We must learn the means of achieving this autonomy and share them around.
To build a relocalised world, we need to roll up our sleeves, re-appropriate the tools to reclaim democracy! No more unemployment. Enough food for all, enough roofs to shelter more people than the country’s population.
This vision might sound naively utopian, blissfully smugly. Even though, it seems to be the only way. So, let’s do without our negative and cynical preconceive ideas. Let’s be convinced by evidence. Let’s this vision of happy days colonise us. A world without competition, advertising, credits, alienating machines, and stupid constraints.
To achieve this we propose an Unconditional Autonomy Allowance (UAA), to reduce inequalities and to exit the economy based on alienating work, as well as to choose a sustainable and desirable lifestyle.
4) A true social measure to get out of this impasse: the Unconditional Autonomy Allowance.
“For a serene and democratic transition towards sustainable and, above all, desirable, societies, based upon Degrowth”
The Unconditional Autonomy Allowance (UAA) is designed to allocate to all, from birth to death, what the citizens would democratically decide is sufficient to lead a decent life. This UAA is necessarily coupled with a Acceptable Maximum Income (Revenu maximum aucceptable RMA) and a reflection on incremental penalties for misuse.
This duo is a social and economic tool with the potential to initiate a degrowth in inequalities, an exit from capitalism and the religion of the Economy, an open relocalisation and the implementation of a real democracy. In other words, it allows us to get out of enforced recessions and to choose a transition towards Degrowth societies. The content of the UAA will be discussed and implemented collectively within the logic of a re-appropriation of the economy and production, and more generally the meaning of our lives.
The UAA consists of access rights to be managed collectively as much as possible at the local level: right to housing, to a workshop space, to a parcel of land; usage right to a quota of water, gas and electricity; any surplus usage would incur incremental penalties; right to public services (health, education, transport, etc.), but also through a local fluid currency, a right to local, essential goods (biologic food, clothes, etc.).
The UAA is complemented and it facilitates other measures and practical alternatives (community gardens, self-administered repair workshops, AMAP, LETs, local currencies, etc.). It could be enacted incrementally starting with a basic income and the share and a radical reduction of the working hours.
This Unconditional Autonomy Allowance is inscribed within an historical continuum of human emancipation by granting more fundamental rights and by giving a real opportunity to make our own life choices. It opens a pathway, a transition towards post-development, and an exit from the impasse this capitalist, productivist, and consumerist Growth society is leading us in.
“All the people from the Left who refuse to consider the question of an equity without growth from this standpoint, demonstrate that socialism, for them, is nothing but the continuity by others social interactive means of the capitalist society, of the bourgeois lifestyle and consumption model”. André Gorz
In most debates on the economic, financial, and social crisis, since we live in societies governed by the economy, the comparison is never made with the other crises we also have to face and which are deeply interconnected: energy, environmental, political, democratic, and cultural crises as well. As Growth Objectors, we are in agreement with our friends from the Left that the priorities must be the reduction of inequalities, the economic and social exclusion that are unemployment and precariousness in a society where the value of work is a core value and the myth of full employment is still deeply ingrained. The first of all degrowths must be the reduction in inequalities, as our slogans say. Similarly, it is urgent get rid of stress, ill-being, frustrations, lack of understanding, of the ills generated by an economic insecurity which affects more and more people.
But, we disagree with most of the measures they propose. In particular, and this is the reason why our provocative slogan is still relevant and important, since too often our friends from the Left are unable to make this saving side-step and they get entangled in the economic and consumerist logic of the system. A € 1700 minimum wage illustrates this productivist imaginary.
The urgency is for all to get the means to lead a dignified life, a convivial life, to re-appropriate one’s autonomy and to stop believing that money is the only answer to this question and, more importantly, to stop seeing consumption as the only way to achieve happiness.
Thomas Avenel, Frederic Denise, Vincent Liegey, Stéphane Madelaine, Christophe Ondet et Anisabel Veillot
To be published: Un projet de Décroissance : Manisfeste pour une Dotation Inconditionnelle d’Autonomie,
Vincent Liegey, Anisabel Veillot, Christophe Ondet and Stephane Madelaine, Edition Utopia, Janvier 2013.