Coexistential Degrowth for a Plural Post-Development in Cuba

Towards an alternative Cuban socio-economic project (1)

Yasser Farres Delgado

Glamour en La Habana.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Glamour in Havana. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — Are there alternatives to the State neoliberalism that is being installed as the socio-economic model in Cuba? Are there alternatives to becoming an accomplice of the anti-ecological and socially unjust global civilization model? Is it possible to propose a Cuban socio-territorial project that won’t multiply dependency? Is it possible to establish foreign economic relations that do not lead to debt?

All these questions share a common answer: “Absolutely yes”. In fact, there is a critical economic theory and several socioeconomic practices around the world that would be able to support this affirmation, although they have not been generalized because of not being interesting for the hegemonic one-sided thinking in the increasingly neo-liberal academia or governments that are increasingly controlled by the IMF and the global economic elites.

In this regard it should be asked: Why are these experiences are not disclosed in Cuba? Are the Cuban state, academia and citizens unable to promote them? What changes would be needed in each of these parts of Cuban society to multiply those alternatives?

I propose with this post, and others to follow, to open a discussion on these two sets of questions. In line with my previous three entries (1), (2) and (3), I will now devote space to two concepts: degrowth and post-development.

The theory of the coexistential degrowth is a European (but not eurocentric) thinking that questions the globalized model for civilization. Taking the notion of ‘degrowth’ as a category of analysis, its approach is to equally reduce global consumption and to properly allocate the resources and benefits in order to achieve a global plural post-development. French economist Serge Latouche might be the most recognized proponent of this approach. Political scientist and writer Carlos Taibo and the writer, philosopher and political scientist Jorge Riechmann are relevant on the topic in Spain.

The idea of ‘fair reduction’ is important. It acknowledges that the role of the ‘developed countries’ will be different to the role of the ‘undeveloped countries’ where production is insufficient to solve the basic needs of those populations.

This proposal is fed by a diverse thinking genealogy that includes criteria from bio-economy to political ecology. However, contrary to the conception of certain reformist environmentalists, it asserts that “the steady state itself and zero growth are neither possible nor desirable.” Not possible because the economical process is not mechanical and irreversible but instead entropic; nor desirable because it doesn’t imply renouncing the model of unlimited production and consumption in a world where resources are limited and also because it doesn’t offer a real alternative for overcoming the enormous contrasts [Latouche, 2007: 66].

Private butchers shop.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Private butcher’s shop. Photo: Juan Suarez

The degrowth proposal is consistent with reformist environmentalist in preserving the environment but adds that a minimum of social justice must be restored at the same time, which is a goal that would be possible only if consumption is reduced and with a fair distribution. Opponents insist that this proposal would mean a return to prehistory. This statement makes no sense considering the situation of most of the world population that has no access to the “development” and the global system of consumption, neither will they because the illusion of development is based on their exploitation.

Degrowth theory urges us to rethink the notion of well-being in other terms and not limited to the satisfaction of socially constructed irrational needs. It is “to renounce the economic imaginary, that is, the belief that more is equal to better” [Latouche, 2007:69]. That is the ethical value of this proposal. It mainly aims to insist that the goal of growth for growth must be abandoned.

According to Latouche [2009:46], being rigorous, “it would be convenient to talk about ‘agrowth’ in the way we talk about ‘atheism’». It draws attention to the belief in development. The way this would materialize would be linked to localism and a coexistential nature, aspects whose importance also highlight other concepts.

Latouche’s proposal can be resumed in his 8-R, which became the fundamentals of the action:

• Revaluate: Check our values: Cooperation vs. competition, altruism vs. selfishness and so on. It is replacing the global, individualistic and consumerist values by local values, cooperation and humanism.

• Re-contextualize (re-conceptualize): Modify our ways of conceptualizing reality, showing the social construction of poverty, scarcity, etc., aimed primarily to a new lifestyle and quality of life, sufficiency and voluntary simplicity.

• Restructure: Adapting the economic and productive structures to the changing of values. Adapt the productive apparatus and social relations to the new scale of values, for example, combining eco-efficiency and voluntary simplicity.

Cafetería de la calle Galiano.  Photo: Juan Suarez
Cafeteria on Galiano St.. Photo: Juan Suarez

• Relocate: Sustaining production and consumption essentially at the local level. It is a call to the local self-sufficiency in order to satisfy the primary needs reducing the use of transportation.

• Redistribute: The access to natural resources and wealth. Especially in the relations between North and South.

• Reduce: Restricting consumption to the biosphere’s replenishing capacity. It is related to changing the consumer life style for a simple lifestyle with all the implications.

• Reuse: Move towards durable goods and their reparation and maintenance instead of over consumption.

• Recycle: In all our activities. It is time to extend the life of products to avoid consumption and waste.

Ultimately, the degrowth proposal shares some ideas with “endogenous development” and “self-sustainability” raised from other economic interpretations. So let’s ask, do the Cuban economic policies aim toward this? Interestingly, the word “endogenous” is not in the rhetoric of the Cuban government’s economic policy guidelines.


7 thoughts on “Coexistential Degrowth for a Plural Post-Development in Cuba

  • May 21, 2014 at 5:22 pm
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    Once again, you miss the point. I am not saying Cuba has been a fascist state for the past 55 years. I am not saying it is fascist today, at least not fully so. What I am saying is that the economic reform program being pursued by Raul Castro will in time transform Cuba from the previous Castro-Soviet version of Marxist socialism into a Fascist State.

    The Castro regime won’t call it “fascism”, they will continue to insist they’re perfecting socialism. But it will be by its characteristics and style a fascist regime.

    By the way, anybody who goes about referring to himself as a cognoscenti openly declares himself a pompous ass.

  • May 21, 2014 at 1:25 pm
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    The terms fascism and communism are so often used so indiscriminately and so incorrectly that it would be best for HT posters to not use them at all and take the then necessary long way to explain specifically what realities , what conditions, constitutes one’s defining of a society as fascist or communist .
    I have very often engaged people in discussions who think that the Soviets were communist or that the Chinese were communists , who think Cuba is socialist or communist when anyone knowledgeable and well educated knows that is not the case.
    It is universally accepted that Mussolini’s Italy was fascist and that . Franco’s Spain was fascist .
    The Third Reich was fascist .
    Cuba does not resemble these societies at all and I doubt you’ll find any academic source that considers Cuba to be fascist .
    Those making these allegations run the risk of being seen as ignorant of what these philosophies are and totally destroying their credibility and ability to debate the cognoscenti among us.

  • May 21, 2014 at 11:18 am
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    In ruling style, Fascism & Communism are very similar. In terms of economic & political policies, there are some similarities, and some significant differences.

    I am arguing that under Raul, the Cuban system is changing from the Communist system as defined & evolved in Cuba, toward a system which more resembles Fascism.

    In practice, it’s a short walk from Communism to Fascism. A little change here & there, keep the army in power, trim the moustache and you’re done.

  • May 21, 2014 at 11:08 am
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    Dear Yasser,

    I think you don’t have a clear idea of the meanings of those two very different concepts. You are applying the label “Fascism” as an insult, without reference to meanings of either ideology.

    Neoliberalism is essentially a return to laissez-faire capitalism, which reduces state involvement in the economy.

    Fascism subordinates all economic activity to the interests of the State, usually implemented through State corporate monopolies and State controlled labour. The military dominates all power structures of a Fascist state.

    From the Wikipedia page on Neoliberalism:

    “Neoliberalism seeks to transfer control of the economy from public to the private sector,[105] under the belief that it will produce a more efficient government and improve the economic health of the nation.[106] The definitive statement of the concrete policies advocated by neoliberalism is often taken to be John Williamson’s “Washington Consensus.”[107] The Washington Consensus is a list of policy proposals that appeared to have gained consensus approval among the Washington-based international economic organizations (like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank).[108] Williamson’s list included ten points:

    Fiscal policy Governments should not run large deficits that have to be paid back by future citizens, and such deficits can have only a short term effect on the level of employment in the economy. Deficits should only be used for occasional stabilization purposes.

    Redirection of public spending from subsidies and other spending neoliberals deem wasteful toward broad-based provision of key pro-growth, pro-poor services like primary education, primary health care and infrastructure investment

    Tax reform – broadening the tax base and adopting moderate marginal tax rates to encourage innovation and efficiency;

    Interest rates that are market determined and positive (but moderate) in real terms;

    Floating exchange rates;

    Trade liberalization – liberalization of imports, with particular emphasis on elimination of quantitative restrictions (licensing, etc.); any trade protection to be provided by low and relatively uniform tariffs; thus encouraging competition and long term growth

    Liberalization of the “capital account” of the balance of payments, that is, allowing people the opportunity to invest funds overseas and allowing foreign funds to be invested in the home country

    Privatization of state enterprises; Promoting market provision of goods and services which the government cannot provide as effectively or efficiently, such as telecommunications, where having many service providers promotes choice and competition.

    Deregulation – abolition of regulations that impede market entry or restrict competition, except for those justified on safety, environmental and consumer protection grounds, and prudent oversight of financial institutions;

    Legal security for property rights.

    _____________________________

    Now can you identify any of the above policies with anything the Cuban government is now doing or proposing? I do not see anything like it.

    The economic policies of Fascist states have been heterodox in practice, yet certain key principles have always been present. Consider the standard definition of Fascism:

    “An inherent aspect of fascist economies was economic dirigisme,[4] meaning an economy where the government exerts strong directive influence, and effectively controls production and allocation of resources.

    The fascists opposed both international socialism and liberal capitalism, arguing that their views represented a third way. They claimed to provide a realistic economic alternative that was neither laissez-faire capitalism nor communism.[13] They favouredcorporatism and class collaboration, believing that the existence of inequality and separate social classes was beneficial (contrary to the views of socialists).[14] Fascists argued that the state had a role in mediating relations between these classes (contrary to the views of liberal capitalists).[15]

    In most cases, fascists discouraged or banned foreign trade; fascists believed that too much international trade would make the national economy dependent on international capital, and therefore vulnerable to international economic sanctions. Economic self-sufficiency, known as autarky, was a major goal of most fascist governments.[16]

    Fascism was highly militaristic, and as such, fascists often significantly increased military spending.

    ————————-
    As you can see, Yasser, Neoliberalism and Fascism are two very different things. You may not like either of them. But that does not make them equivalent.

    Returning to the Raulist economic reforms: these policies maintain the role of the State in directing economic activity. The control of the military is extended through the expansion & consolidation of the FAR owned holding companies which dominate the Cuban economy. Private property rights have not been established. Workers trade unions remain under the direction & control of the State. Large scale government spending continues. All of which policies are consistent with Fascism and are contradicted by Neoliberalism.

  • May 20, 2014 at 11:29 pm
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    Oh this is great!! The author in real touch with the audience, I am not sure that I have seen this before. I should recommend to Yasser not to reply, it is not a smart thing to do, honestly, the writer should only publishes his articles and listen to what
    people says. That’s his privileges and he deserves it.

    In terms of the article is an absurdity, neither the Cuban government nor another one will be implementing it because is suicidal and impracticable in a free world. If they do, Cuba will soon be even poorer while people from developed countries will be traveling, finding new energy sources a new ways to live and progress.

    In terms of Fascism, there is nothing more similar to Fascism than Communism. An army leader in the podium, screaming to the people and everybody raising their hands to approve whatever he says.

  • May 20, 2014 at 5:56 pm
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    Dear Griffin: I think we have different concepts on Neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is Fascism.

  • May 20, 2014 at 10:03 am
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    The system the Castro regime is installing in Cuba is not State neoliberalism.

    Under Raul, Cuba is transitioning toward Fascism. The military is extending their control of the state-corporate monopolies which dominate all economic activity on the island. Political repression is increasing. Labour and economic freedoms remain strictly limited, controlled and regulated by the State. That’s Fascism, pure and simple. There is nothing “liberal” about it.

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