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Imposed Austerity vs Chosen Simplicity: Who Will Pay For Which Adjustments?


The world is in ecological and economic meltdown. Ecological limits and limits set by human dignity and human equality are being ruthlessly violated. Adjustment is an imperative. However, there are vital ways that differentiate the adjustment by the rich and powerful and the processes of adjustment demanded by the popular will of people everywhere. The rich would like to make the poor and working people pay for adjustment. People want the rich to pay through higher taxes, including the Tobin Tax on financial transactions, and through regulation for stopping the robbery of natural resources and public goods.

The dominant economic model based on limitless growth on a limited planet is leading to an overshoot of the human use of the earth’s resources. This is leading to an ecological catastrophe. It is also leading to intense and violent resource grab of the remaining resources of the earth by the rich from the poor. The resource grab is an adjustment by the rich and powerful to a shrinking resource base – land, biodiversity, water – without adjusting the old resource intensive, limitless growth paradigm to the new reality. Its only outcome can be ecological scarcity for the poor in the short term, with deepening poverty and deprivation. In the long run it means the extinction of our species, as climate catastrophe and extinction of other species makes the planet un-inhabitable for human societies. Failure to make an ecological adjustment to planetary limits and ecological justice is a threat to human survival. The Green Economy being pushed at Rio +20 could well become the biggest resource grabs in human history with corporations appropriating the planet’s green wealth, the biodiversity, to become the green oil to make bio-fuel, energy plastics, chemicals – everything that the petrochemical era based on fossil fuels gave us. Movements worldwide have started to say “No to the Green Economy of the 1%”.

But an ecological adjustment is possible, and is happening. This ecological adjustment involves seeing ourselves as a part of the fragile ecological web, not outside and above it, immune from the ecological consequences of our actions. Ecological adjustment also implies that we see ourselves as members of the earth community, sharing the earth’s resources equitably with all species and within the human community. Ecological adjustment requires an end to resource grab, and the privatization of our land, bio diversity and seeds, water and atmosphere. Ecological adjustment is based on the recovery of the commons and the creation of Earth Democracy.

The dominant economic model based on resource monopolies and the rule of an oligarchy is not just in conflict with ecological limits of the planet. It is in conflict with the principles of democracy, and governance by the people, of the people, for the people. The adjustment from the oligarchy is to further strangle democracy and crush civil liberties and people’s freedom. Bharti Mittal’s statement that politics should not interfere with the economy reflects the mindset of the oligarchy that democracy can be done away with. This anti-democratic adjustment includes laws like homeland security in U.S., and multiple security laws in India.

The calls for a democratic adjustment from below are witnessed worldwide in the rise of non-violent protests, from the Arab spring to the American autumn of “Occupy” and the Russian winter challenging the hijack of elections and electoral democracy.

And these movements for democratic adjustment are also rising everywhere in response to the “austerity” programmes imposed by IMF, World Bank and financial institutions which created the financial crisis. The Third World had its structural Adjustment and Forced Austerity, through the 1980s and 1990s, leading to IMF riots. India’s structural adjustment of 1991 has given us the agrarian crisis with quarter million farmer suicides and food crisis pushing every 4th Indian to hunger and every 2nd Indian child to severe malnutrition; people are paying with their very lives for adjustment imposed by the World Bank/IMF. The trade liberalization reforms dismantled our food security system, based on universal PDS. It opened up the seed sector to seed MNCs. And now an attempt is being made through the Food Security Act to make our public feeding programmes a market for food MNCs. The forced austerity continues through imposition of so called reforms, such as Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail, which would rob 50 million of their livelihoods in retail and millions more by changing the production system. Europe started having its forced austerity in 2010. And everywhere there are anti-austerity protests from U.K., to Italy, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Iceland, and Portugal. The banks which have created the crisis want society to adjust by destroying jobs and livelihoods, pensions and social security, public services and the commons. The people want financial systems to adjust to the limits set by nature, social justice and democracy. And the precariousness of the living conditions of the 99% has created a new class which Guy Standing calls the “Precariate”. If the Industrial Revolution gave us the industrial working class, the proletariat, globalization and the “free market” which is destroying the livelihoods of peasants in India and China through land grabs, or the chances of economic security for the young in what were the rich industrialized countries, has created a global class of the precarious. As Barbara Ehrenreich and John Ehrenreich have written in “The making of the American 99%”, this new class of the dispossessed and excluded include “middle class professional, factory workers, truck drivers, and nurses as well as the much poorer people who clean the houses, manicure the fingernails, and maintain the lawn of the affluent”.

Forced austerity based on the old paradigm allows the 1% super rich, the oligarchs, to grab the planets resources while pushing out the 99% from access to resources, livelihoods, jobs and any form of freedom, democracy and economic security. It is often said that with increasing growth, India and China are replicating the resource intensive and wasteful lifestyles of the Western countries. The reality is that while a small 3 to 4% of India is joining the mad race for consuming the earth with more and more automobiles and air conditioners, the large majority of India is being pushed into “de-consumption” – losing their entitlements to basic needs of food and water because of resource and land grab, market grab, and destruction of livelihoods. The hunger and malnutrition crisis in India is an example of the “de-consumption” forced on the poor by the rich, through the imposed austerity built into the trade liberalization and “economic reform” policies.  

There is another paradigm emerging which is shared by Gandhi and the new movements of the 99%, the paradigm of voluntary simplicity of reducing one ecological foot print while increasing human well being for all. Instead of forced austerity that helps the rich become super rich, the powerful become totalitarian, chosen simplicity enables us all to adjust ecologically, to reduce over  consumption of the planets resources, it allows us to adjust socially to enhance democracy and it creates a path for economic adjustment based on justice and equity.

Forced austerity makes the poor and working families pay for the excesses of limitless greed and accumulation by the super rich. Chosen simplicity stops these excesses and allow us to flower into an Earth Democracy where the rights and freedoms of all species and all people are protected and respected.

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