LasIndias.blog

Conquistar el trabajo es reconquistar la vida

Grupo de Cooperativas de las Indias

videoblog

libros

Five argumentative fallacies and one methodological fallacy without which degrowth cannot stand

The degrowth arguments form a unique fabric of classic, yet socially widespread, fallacies. Together, they form an argumentative fabric as false as it is seductive, which is able to generate the illusion of rationality, propped up on our own vices and intellectual laziness. However, it’s worth making the effort and coming back around to the perspective of abundance: while capitalism is driving us towards a cliff, degrowth leads us to think like lemmings.

Degrowth LemmingsIn our debates with catastrophists and degrowthers, five argumentative fallacies and one methodological fallacy appear which are self-reinforcing and form a fabric that is difficult to unravel. In an arena like this, getting into the numbers debate is playing with marked cards in a game whose result is predetermined.

The methodological fallacy is obviously the Ricardian fallacy: accepting that there is predictive value in the results of a forecast made by projecting a single variable and “freezing” all other social factors that influence the studied process.

If technology remains as it is and the rate of discoveries stays the same, petroleum reserves will run out at such-and-such a time and a sudden lack shortage of energy resources will produce an unprecedented crisis of civilization,” peak-oilers tell us… and they’ve had to correct the date on a half-dozen occasions in 10 years. The last announced date was 2010… and that was corrected, too. Technology evolves at an accelerated rate, and reserves are an economic variable, not a natural one. Economic variables are the result of other variables, and cannot be “frozen” without putting any prediction in doubt.

A similar thing happened to the famous demographer Paul Elrich, updater of Malthusianism. In his book Population Bomb (1970), he predicted a global demographic crisis by the end of the Seventies and the beginning ofthe Eighties with mass starvation in South America, Asia, and Africa. The result, despite the increase in population, was very different.

The Ricardian fallacy “works,” which is to say, we tend to let it slide, because it responds to the need for control and simplification in the 19th-century scientific narrative we were taught. But the fact is, it dramatically reduces the applicability of its own conclusions: it only shows “what would happen if.” And we shouldn’t forget that from the very moment we asked the question, we knew the conditions we put on it wouldn’t be met.

The conceptual fallacies

Even worse are the five conceptual fallacies on which degrowth bases its arguments again and again. It’s really about many fallacies whose origins are varied: erroneous economic arguments from assorted theories that remain in popular memory as common, but false, beliefs… and which are now collected by natural scientists who are getting into making social proclamations without the necessary critical background.

  1. “Desire is infinte, so there’s no limit to consumption.” (utilitarian fallacy)
  2. “Population will grow until it bumps up against resource scarcity.” (Malthusian fallacy)
  3. “More productivity and growth necessarily produce more stress on resources.” (ecological fallacy)
  4. “Since the world is finite, resources will run out shortly.” (catastrophist fallacy)
  5. “The development of abundance using the P2P mode of production will face the same environmental problems as capitalism.” (centralist fallacy)

Let’s go step by step.

  1. “Desire is infinte, so there’s no limit to consumption.” (utilitarian fallacy) False: the desire for consumption is limited both by cultural values and by time. Even though the Christian monastic tradition has left our culture the idea that consuming less is “renouncing,” and that therefore, consuming more would be the spontaneous result of our “natural” desires, the truth is that studies on the behavior of lottery winners show that a sudden increase in wealth doesn’t produce a conspicuous change in the quantity of consumption or a general in consumption patterns. Curiously, lottery winners wind up contributing a significant part of their winnings to charitable institutions.
  2. “Population will grow until it bumps up against resource scarcity.” (Malthusian fallacy) False: Reproductive behavior is another cultural variable. What statistics from developed countries show us series is that when a society approaches the end of poverty, its population growth stops.
  3. “More productivity and growth necessarily produce more stress on resources.” (ecological fallacy) Two falsehoods in a single sentence: First, even though the productivity that’s usually showna in statistics is the labor factor (how much value is produced per hour worked on average), productivity also includes resources. Growth in productivity can be oriented towards (and, in fact, manifested as a move towards) greater energy efficiency. Second, the growth of the value of what’s produced doesn’t need to consume more resources: with each free software program, the available social wealth grows (along with consumption, at zero price), but natural resources are not significantly affected; when an empty field in La Mancha is planted with garlic and grapes, for example, more natural resources are used, but it can’t be said that the land suffers stress when cultivation is naturally sustainable.
  4. “Since the world is finite, resources will run out shortly.” (catastrophist fallacy) False: This is surely the most obvious fallacy, but it “works” because it’s based on the difficulties our brains have evalutating probabilities beyond certain scales. Just because resources are finite doesn’t mean that their use is going to lead to their depletion in the short term, but if we add in “bad science” in the form of the Ricardian fallacy (see above), we have a long tradition of alarms that vanished.
  5. “The development of abundance using the P2P mode of production will face the same environmental problems as capitalism.” (centralist fallacy) False: As we have already argued, each mode of production has its own way of relating to its surroundings and resources because:
    • They provide an incentive for an energy structure, logistics chains, and different productive processes. In contrast to industrial capitalism, in the P2P mode of production average logistics chains are drastically reduced, energy production takes a distributed form that prioritizes renewable self-production and resources.
    • Technologies are developed in a different way, subject to the internal logic of the system: we will move from priotitizing technologies that encourage the recentralization that financial capital needs to maintain its accumulation to distribution and a tendency towards self-sufficiency that needs the P2P mode of production, both in energy and in the choice of raw materials.
    • Different forms of socialization (ultimately determined by the socially dominant forms of grouping for production) promote different cultural values that modify people’s aspirations and consumption behavior. Social demands will also point in other directions.

    In any case, asking the very young P2P mode of production, which is still under the hegemony of the old productive system, how it will develop when it takes off as a widespread social practice, would be like asking Leonardo da Vinci or Erasmus to describe the technology or the political system of the Industrial Revolution. This absurdity only appears to make sense if you incorporate the urgency of an immediate catastrophe into the argument.

Conclusions

The degrowth arguments form a unique fabric of classic, yet socially widespread, fallacies. Together, they form an argumentative fabric as false as it is seductive, which is able to generate the illusion of rationality, propped up on our own vices and intellectual laziness. However, it’s worth making the effort and coming back around to the perspective of abundance: while capitalism is driving us towards a cliff, degrowth leads us to think like lemmings.

Translated from the Spanish by Steve Herrick of interpreters.coop from the original (in Spanish)

«Five argumentative fallacies and one methodological fallacy without which degrowth cannot stand» recibió 17 desde que se publicó el Lunes 28 de Mayo de 2012 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte.

Deja un comentario

Si no tienes todavía usuario puedes crear uno, que te servirá para comentar en todos los blogs de la red indiana en la
página de registro de Matríz.