Please listen to my interview with Donnie MacLurcan, director of the Post Growth Institute. According to his bio:
Donnie is a facilitator, author and social entrepreneur, passionate about all things not for profit. Originally from Australia, Donnie spent the past decade in the US, before moving to Argentina in 2022, from where he coordinates the Post Growth Institute. He has worked in Egypt, Kenya, Fiji, Thailand and South Korea, helping over 500 not-for-profit projects start, scale and sustain their work, while his own initiatives include developing: the Offers and Needs Market, Free Money Day, the Post Growth Alliance, the (En)Rich List, The Not for Profit Way training, Silent Skype team meetings, Project Australia, and the globally-used #postgrowth hashtag. An Affiliate Professor of Economics at Southern Oregon University and Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, Donnie holds a Ph.D. in social science.
The Post Growth Institute runs trainings, a fellowship program, and other initiatives. Their website includes a large number of pragmatic initiatives happening now that people can join. These are listed in a “Living Post-Growth” section and in the beginnings of a Post-Growth Encyclopedia: “From the world's 57,000+ credit unions, to the reciprocity-based Kula Exchange of the Massim archipelago and the emphasis on measuring Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, these practices, approaches, and ideas operate within, and often despite, the pressures of a globally dominant capitalist system. Such activities are part of a broader, often disconnected, evolving tapestry that is rarely acknowledged for its transformative impact in creating a thriving future within ecological limits.”
I agree with MacLurcan that we need to envision and prototype a post-growth economy and society. He focuses on the nonprofit sector and proposes that, increasingly, commercial and industrial activity could occur under a nonprofit paradigm. According to the website, “There is a way our economy can work for everyone. It involves profits circulating continuously through our economic system, rather than accumulating at the top.” Of course a number of visionary economists have been seeking to create these models. I like Tom Greco’s idea, in The End of Money and the Future of Civilization, of Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS), where networks of businesses within a community can issue zero-interest loans to help build a healthy local ecosystem. Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics is another model currently being applied in Amsterdam and elsewhere.
MacLurcan suggests we focus on the mechanics of money-creation as a leverage point for changing the system. Money is issued into existence as debt, which accrues interest and forces excess economic activity to satisfy the interest on the loan. Since there will always be less actual money in circulation than there is debt, this money system also forces brutal competition and guarantees there will be winners and losers. Contributing to this, an inevitably extractive process transfers capital from the working multitude to the small elite at the top of the financial pyramid, as Thomas Piketty, among others, have documented.
The Post Growth Institute inspires individuals to act, rather than working on public policy as a means of systemic change. Of course, if enough individuals change, the system will also transform.
When people transfer their savings to nonprofit credit unions, for example, they remove it from the exploitative processes of for-profit banks, which are able to invest more than 10X the deposits they have on hand, due to the fractional reserve system. It can be difficult, sometimes, to see the utility in small-scale individual actions when the vast majority of people remain plugged into the destructive system, holding onto it for their lives.
I would like to believe, as McLurcan does, that a positive wave of awareness and transformation is underway. I was once convinced of this but honestly I don’t see evidence for it right now. Post Growth Institute has a partnership with Shareable, which made some waves over a decade ago, proposing a move toward a sharing economy. However my sense is that interest in Shareable’s ideas and related ones has, if anything, faded recently. The inertia of the corporate-control / technocratic paradigm is just too enormous – until significant breakdown occurs, at which point all bets are off.
It is certainly still possible to envision the spread of useful social technologies that would help people simultaneously improve their lives and become better ecological citizens. Yet in practice, corporatized distortions of such helpful tools tend to succeed, in the end, because they mesh with the growth paradigm. An example of this is Couchsurfing, which de-commodified the act of loaning a traveler a spare room or place to sleep. Ultimately, the IRS refused to conceive of couchsurfing as a nonprofit activity, forcing the company to become a for-profit enterprise, which ruined its spirit. Instead, the commercial version, AirBnB, triumphed globally, with ambiguous societal consequences.
I noted recently that the best hope for a post-growth, post-Capitalist alternative would be for progressive wealth-holders to realize the need for it and to fund it, in the same that the Koch brothers and their cronies funded the Far Right, Libertarian insurgency that led to the current American disaster. As Jane Mayer chronicles in Dark Money, the Kochs began their crusade in the 1960s, spending billions of dollars on think tanks, media, buying university departments, and building “astro-turf’d” (as opposed to grassroots) social movements like the Tea Party. Ironically, post-growth / post-Capitalism also needs capital to effectively spread its message.
I remember, when I was a kid, Lyndon LaRouche and the John Birch Society seemed like jokes. According to Wikipedia, “The John Birch Society from its start opposed collectivism as a "cancer" and, by extension, Communism and big government… It contended that the United States is a republic, not a democracy, and argued that states' rights should supersede those of the federal government.” They also spread fear of a “one world government” and opposed the civil rights movement and feminism. Now these ideas have taken root and spread like weeds. A takeaway is that fringe movements can go mainstream when the moment is right. Initiatives like the UK-based Transition Town, or Post Growth Institute or Shareable, seem marginal at this point, but these ideas could become central over the next decades as daily existence inevitably becomes more of a struggle for many people.
An example of a simple, good idea is The Offers and Needs Market, one project from the Post Growth Institute (in case you are interested, they are training facilitators in March). The idea is for people in a community to identify what they can comfortably share and what they want, and then make matches in an efficient two-hour process. This is a form of decommodification that turns economic exchanges into personal ones.
What other ideas, solutions, and post-growth / post-Capitalist initiatives do you know about? Please let me know in the comments.