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Growth Critique in the 1970s Crisis and Today: Malthusianism, Social Mechanics, and Labor Discipline

Maria Markantonatou

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Scientific paper

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New Political Science


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Abstract: This article examines the perspective on labor in two critiques of “growth” as elaborated in the context of two capitalist crises: the Keynesian model of industrial development in the 1970s, and the neoliberal finance capitalist growth model of today. A landmark event for the first critique was the publication of the “Limits to Growth” report, and for the second the emergence of the “degrowth” theoretical current. Both critiques have a Malthusian point of departure, and their view on overpopulation is accordingly discussed. Comparison between them shows that despite their ecological and supposedly socially and politically neutral point of departure, both bodies of critique examined here—that of the 1970s and the contemporary one—prescribe for labor the obligation of social discipline and acceptance of labor-market insecurity, along with the undermining of welfare rights. First, I argue that there is no such thing as an ahistorical critique of growth, but only critiques of different, case-specific models of growth in each particular instance. Second, I argue that the idea of a steady-state economy that predominates in growth critical programs is incompatible with the process of expansion and continual enlargement inherent to capitalism. Finally, I argue that, in the framework of two different crises, both critiques of growth promoted a vision of social pacification and, on the basis of ecological arguments, justified the preservation of capitalist power relations.

New Political Science, Volume 38, Issue 1, 2016

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