"Green Economy?" We're Not Green Enough to Buy It
by Kevin Carson

In last month's Rio +20 (UN Conference for Sustainable Development)
declaration, "The Economy We Need," RIPESS (French acronym for
Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social and Solidarity
Economy) dismisses the "so-called green economy" model promulgated "by
governments and corporations" with the contempt it deserves.

There are at least two problems with the green economy movement. The
first is highlighted in the RIPESS declaration: It is really a
greenwashed attempt to create a new, greenwashed model of capital
accumulation for global corporate capitalism, based on "the
commodification of the commons."

Green (or Progressive, or Cognitive) Capitalism, like the first
Industrial Revolution, is based on a large-scale process of primitive
accumulation (a technical term Marxists use that means "massive

The primitive accumulation preceding the rise of the factory system in
industrial Britain involved the enclosure of common lands: First of a
major portion of the Open Fields for sheep pasturage over several
centuries in late medieval and early modern times, then the
Parliamentary Enclosures of common pasture, woodland and waste in the
18th century.

The new greenwashed model of corporate-state capitalism, as the RIPESS
declaration suggests, achieves primitive accumulation through the
enclosure of the information commons. Economist Paul Romer calls it
the "new growth theory." It's based on enclosing digital information
and innovation -- things which are naturally free -- as a source of
rents. This "progressive" model of capitalism, promoted by Warren
Buffett, Bill Gates and Bono, is even more heavily reliant on patents
and copyrights than the existing version of corporate capitalism.

The "green capitalist" model is intended as a response to the primary
threat facing corporate capitalism and its model of capital
accumulation: Technologies of abundance. If allowed to operate without
hindrance, the free adoption of low-cost, ephemeral production
technologies and the radical deflationary effect of freely replicable
digital information would not only destroy most existing corporate
profits but render most investment capital superfluous.

It's this threat, all the "progressive" rhetoric aside, that "green
capitalism" is intended to head off. It's a last-ditch effort to
rescue an entire system of class privilege and economic exploitation
based on artificial scarcity from the revolutionary impact of

The Solidarity Economy model promoted by RIPESS -- and by my free
market anticapitalist comrades at the Center for a Stateless Society
-- is just the opposite. What we seek is a self-organized,
decentralized economy, in which ordinary people take advantage of new
technologies of abundance (like low-cost production technologies and
free information) to build an economy of our own in which the rentier
classes' huge accumulations of land and capital are worthless.

This was foreshadowed by the Owenite cooperatives of the 1830s, in
which unemployed tradesmen undertook production in cooperative shops,
marketing their wares to their fellow workers for Labor Notes in
barter exchanges. The problem was that this model only worked for
craft trades in which the tools of production were still individually
affordable. It didn't work in forms of industrial production which
relied on large, specialized, and extremely expensive machinery. The
Knights of Labor learned this the hard way four decades later when
their efforts at creating worker cooperatives ran head-on against the
capitalization costs of the factory system.

The beauty of the age we live in is that new production technology is
reversing this process. A growing share of manufacturing takes place
in job shops using cheap, general-purpose CNC machine tools. A garage
shop equipped with open-source lathe, router, 3-D printer, etc.,
costing $10-20,000 can produce goods that once required a million
dollar factory. And a much larger share is amenable to such production
methods. In food production, soil-intensive raised-bed horticulture
was already far more productive than industrial agriculture. New
techniques, like those of John Jeavons, are making it more productive

It's technologically feasible for workers and consumers to bootstrap
almost an entire economy on the Owenite model, with very little in the
way of land and capital assets.

So the question is, which model do we want to follow? Do we knuckle
under to the greenwashed Hamiltonian model of "progressives" like
Gates and Buffett, aimed at protecting their profits against the
radical deflationary effects of abundance? Or do harness these
deflationary effects for people like ourselves, replacing the
domination of bosses, toil and debt with a society of self-governance,
leisure and mutual cooperation.

You shouldn't have to think about it long.