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Ecological Justice Instead of Growth Economy for the Rich

by Ulrich Duchrow Saturday, Jun. 13, 2009 at 1:31 AM

"Now the market, the god of neoliberals, cannot help any more and speculators cry for the already instrumentalized state.. Studying pre-capitalist approaches is vital to develop a post-capitalist vision. The vision of the Bible is an economy of enough for all, an economy for life."


By Ulrich Duchrow

[This text, the basis of Ulrich Duchrow’s address at an Attac meeting on 2/26/2006, is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, Ulrich Duchrow, b. 1935, is a theologian and economic ethicist. The liberation theologian works as a professor of systematic theology (evangelical) at the University of Heidelberg and is regarded as one of the most engaging critics of global capitalism. He is a founder of Kairos Europe, a network that champions just economic relations in the framework of the conciliar process.]

It is not surprising that there is a financial crisis. What is surprising is that it is first breaking out now. In its 1972 study “The Limits of Growth,” the Club of Rome predicted this for 2000. The crisis of the capitalist system is that it needs growth. Why is this? Capital is money invested to gain the highest possible profit on the utilized resources and output. The rational utilitarian calculation is to use natural resources as freely as possible, to employ as few working persons as possible and lower wages. For that reason, the tendency of capital is to destroy the sources of wealth, nature and workers.

After the 1929 worldwide economic crisis, the strong countervailing power of the working class movement tamed capitalism amid the collapse of classical liberalism and the competition of socialism. The New Deal policy in the US arose out of that achievement and after the war the social market economy in Europe. But when capital globalized after the 1960s and yielded to the national regulations, the G7 countries where the largest 100 transnational corporations (TNC have their headquarters introduced the neoliberal policy. The consequences were: division of populations into impoverished and enriched and between North and South, wage slavery, mass unemployment, reduction of social benefits and ecological destruction. The purchasing power of the masses was weakened, which contributed to over-production. On account of decreasing profits in the real economy, owners of capital created financial bubbles through speculation to increase profits through derivatives. Thus casino capitalism arose without basis in the real economy with profits over 25%. This system had to collapse.

Now the market, the god of neoliberals, cannot help any more and the speculators call for the already instrumentalized state. But what they really want is its dissolution by the taxpayers after they privatize the profits. In the meantime the states become more cautious and urge partial nationalizations so profits can flow back into the public budgets. At least a beginning is made in overcoming neoliberalism and bringing the economy under public control to consider the interests of the broad population. This will only happen if the population applies pressure.

Still this is not enough. A whole new model (paradigm) is necessary for the economy. (1) Studying pre-capitalist approaches is recommended to develop a post-capitalist vision.

Let us first take the perspective of indigenous people from Latin America. I quote from the declaration “No to Patenting of Life!” (2)

“We, the indigenous communities from all over the world, believe no one can own what exists in nature outside of nature itself. A human being cannot own his own mother. Humanity is part of Mother Nature. We created nothing and therefore cannot claim to be owners of something that does not belong to us. Western property systems were forced on us again and again that contradict our worldview and our values.

With anxiety and concern, we see how Article 27.3(b) of the WTO agreement on trade-related rights of intellectual property slanders and undermines our rights to our cultural and intellectual inheritance, our plants, animals and even our human genetic-resources and discriminates against our way of thinking and acting. This article makes an artificial distinction between plants and animals on one side and microorganisms on the other side. It also artificially distinguishes between biological and microbiological processes for the creation of animals and plants. For us, they are all life forms and processes creating life that are sacred and may not be made into private property.”

Here we touch the property question. The earth is a gift to benefit everyone and does not belong to us.

We also have cultural resources in Africa and Asia. A World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation on the theme “Transforming Theology and Life-giving Civilization” says: (3)

“Today we are faced with life-killing civilization, manifested in economic injustice, ecological destruction, the threat of Empire and the escalation of religious conflicts. This compels us to urgently explore the possibility of life-giving civilization, which affirms relationships, co-existence, harmony with creation, and solidarity with those who struggle for justice. This quest finds meaning in Ubuntu and Sangsaeng. Ubuntu is an expression of human relations lived in community and in harmony with the whole of creation (“African anthropology and cosmo-vision lived in community) Sangsaeng is an ancient Asian concept `of a sharing community and economy which allows all to flourish together.’”

Here we have beginnings that emphasize relations and linkages, not domination categories and utilitarian calculation.

This is also true for the Jewish-Christian tradition. The vision of the Bible is an “economy of enough for all,” an “economy for life.” We find it for example in the story of manna (Exod 16). The bread given by God was enough for every person – when fairly distributed. “He that gathered much had nothing over, and he that gathered little had no lack; each gathered according to what he could eat” (Exod 16,18). In the 7th century B.C., this story was taken up again in Deut 8 after the introduction of a new property-interest-money-economy. Through Moses’ mouth, the text reminds Jews in the context of a society divided in rich and poor of the rule of sharing, the manna that God gave with the bread. God “wanted to make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” (Deut 8,3). With this verse, Jesus resisted the devil that tempted him to gain economic power by changing stones into bread (Mt 4). Jesus teaches us to pray for the daily bread, not for growing bank accounts. He criticizes the economy of unlimited growth of property through money-mechanisms: God or mammon.

This refers to the 1st commandment: “I am the Lord y8our God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exod 20,2). This God wanted a people in whom no one was master and no one was a slave. “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt where you dwelt, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you” (Lev 18,3). This difference between Israel and the nations is summarized in the “Ten Commandments.” “Egyptian” conditions should never creep in among us, never conditions as in the house of bondage and never “Canaanite” conditions of large estates where Baal is the god or “owner” (1 Kings 18,21; 21,1-16). The Ten Commandments can be summed up in two prohibitions following from the 1st commandment: in the prohibition of slavery (exploitation of human labor) and the prohibition on accumulation (hoarding of wealth that is not shared). Both prohibitions are the complete reversal of finance capitalism.

Buddhism arose in the same historical context. In July 2005, the historian Prof. Uma Chakravarty from New Delhi gave an address titled “Can Dalit/Buddhist Culture be an Anti-capitalist Resource?” (4) in the Center for Social Analyses. She described the context in which the Buddha experienced his conversion and enlightenment as follows. Between the 8th and 6th centuries, a new economic form pressed into Northern India that was based on private property and money and supported by the kingly power. The society was split into the impoverished and the enriched. The experience of this poverty and its allied suffering caused the prince out of sympathy and compassion to abandon all his goods and dignities to find the way to overcome suffering in society. His knowledge developed that poverty and suffering are caused by greed. Overcoming greed was possible through meditation and stripping away everything superfluous. The context was the same as the context of the Hebrew Bible in those centuries. The prophets and the small farmer liberation movements reacted to the same division of society with criticism and legal reforms. Thus we note the astonishing historical fact that Judaism and Jesus based on Judaism on one side and Buddhism on the other experienced their central discovery in the same context. This context was the genesis of the property-money-economy and the pre-form of modern capitalism.

The Buddhist economist Karl-Heinz Brodbeck emphasizes this in his books: “Buddhist Economic Ethics. A Comparative Introduction,” Aachen 2002 and “The Rule of Money. History and Systematic,” Darmstadt 2009. The three poisons – greed, aggression and delusion or blindness must be overcome.

There are also new approaches in western disciplines. Almost all attempts to find new approaches to the modern western approach begin with a critique of the French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650). In his categories fundamental for the modern age, he showed what should be overcome and what should replace that. Descartes based all knowledge of truth on the foundation “I think, therefore I am,” “I question, therefore I think.” He described this thinking self as a thinking substance (res cogitans) and as the subject. The extended corporeal matter (res extensa) facing the thinking substance is an object. Descartes was a brilliant mathematician who started from the assumption that the knowledge of the object world is only the knowledge of the mathematical structures in it. His main goal was to prove the mechanical character of physics, the knowledge of the corporeal world – where Newton later followed him. A theological construction also helped him. He presented a proof of God according to which God’s existence follows from the term God. He understood this God as a clockmaker who created the world so perfectly like a clock according to mathematical laws that it could simply run in linear time. The sharply dualistic separation of thinking subject and physical-mechanistic object served dominating nature in the sense of the earlier axiom of Francis Bacon, another father of the modern age: “Knowledge is power.”

All natural sciences, the economy and other disciplines follow this model. Most scholars follow it today in their actual procedures even though the objectivizing methods based on Descartes only grasp a section of reality and fade out many dimensions of reality. As everybody knows, physics itself began the critical questioning of this approach as a comprehensive explanatory model of reality when it stated in quantum physics, the research of the smallest particles, that object-knowledge comes to other conclusions according to what experimental instructions are used by researchers. In other words, the object is not independent of the subject. The Einstein relativity theory and the many attempts to draw philosophical and epistemological conclusions from this new situation are expressions of this new knowledge (Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker and others).

In the meantime in the realm of the human sciences, discoveries have made impossible the separation of rational subject and physical object. As an example from brain research, we cite the book by Antonio R. Damasio with the programmatic title “Descartes’ Error – Feeling, Thinking and the Human Brain.” The following basic statements are from this book:

“1. The human brain and the rest of the body from an organism integrated by biochemical and neuronal systems influencing each other (e.g. the hormonal-, immune- and the autonomous nervous system).

2. The organism as a whole interacts with the environment in a process not determined by the body alone or the brain alone.

3. The physiological operations called spirit originate from the totality of the structural and functional organization and not the brain alone. Intellectual phenomena can only be completely understood when the interaction of the organism with the environment is included. That the environment partly arises out of the activity of the organism only underscores the complexity of the interactions” (Damasio 1997).

This means separation of the thinking ratio and the feeling ratio is an ideological construction. This also means the individual person is not conceivable without interaction with the environment, other persons and objects. What is new here compared to the modern western approach is also clear: the self is not possible without relation to his or her own body, to others and the natural environment.

Thus the central point lies in the priority of relations, not the priority of the isolated subject. Another essential point for Damasio is that the mechanistic determinism of modern thinking also falls when the dualistic division between spirit and body, feeling and thinking, self and environment and so forth is overcome. There are always open possibilities with such complex interactions in the different relations amid all pre-structuredness (or even traumatization!) that can be developed in the course of time. That some brain researchers appear as determinists shows they have not questioned the Cartesian prejudices.

For our question, a new insight of brain research is of inestimable value: so-called mirrored or reflected neurons in the brain producing sympathy and empathy toward others. Joachim Bauer (2005) described this in his book “Why I feel what you feel – Intuitive Communication and the Mystery of Mirrored Neurons.” These mirrored or reflected neurons are developed in the earliest childhood through affective interactions between the baby and relational persons. This is also the physiological basis for psychological-relational insights.

In psychology, prominent individual exponents that advanced from the classical I-psychology in Freud’s tradition to a we-psychology of a relational psychology made central breakthroughs. In earlier chapters, we came to know several representatives of relational psychology from the English-speaking world (Fairbanks, Winnicott, Lipton among others). Horst-Eberhard Richter should also be mentioned here. He described the passage from the I- to the we-psychology in a book that traces his own learning in the context of the social developments of the last 50 years under the title “The End of Egomania. The Crisis of Western Consciousness.” He extolled several predecessors in these efforts like Martin Buber and the importance of social movements.

The discoveries in the book “Becoming Solidarity Persons” have been rarely thematicized, namely the psychological and philosophical dimensions in interacting with economic questions. Descartes said the person is the ruler of nature and “maitre et possesseur de la nature,” or owner. The basic approach of the modern philosophy of the I as subject in ruling objects can only be understood in the context of an economic- and social order where the person is experienced as an active owner in the market.

Ruling and being an owner belong together in this western approach. Thomas Hobbes was a contemporary of Descartes who like Descartes say the person thrust against mechanistic movements in craving for wealth, power and prestige.

All this should not encourage a simple materialist thesis that all ideas – like the ideas of Descartes and Hobbes – are only reflections of their economic interests or their classes. They conceptualized what was carried out as real economic development. Their categories influence, accelerate and justify this development. The opinion is often heard today we can change the situation of our society and the global society by changing the thinking, ethics or spirituality. Situations can only be changed when we simultaneously change the economic and political structures.

People are no longer acting subjects in the economic system. The isolated owner-subjects competing against each other and striving academically, technically, economically and politically for domination of others and nature produce a system that makes itself the object of the mechanism it produced. The I-subject of the modern age has increasingly lost his subject-nature. Karl Marx was the first to see this in his classical fetishism analysis. (6) He referred to Aristotle in a critical sense. Through three fundamental discoveries, he decoded the mechanism of money multiplication, the “mystery of mystification,” as he called it, in economic development up to industrial capitalism:

1. He made understandable the violation of reality through the abstraction of the money multiplication mechanism in his analysis of commodity-fetishism and capital-fetishism. All the rules and institutions of this system that remain invisible but decide over the life and death of humankind and the earth ultimately serve capital accumulation and are deemed sacrosanct or taboo.

2. He refined the Aristotelian distinction between money as money (in the sense of a means of exchange for goods to satisfy vital consumer needs) and money as capital (in the sense of boundless multiplication of money as an asset for its own sake).

3. He also offered the basic analysis for the discovery intimated by Luther that the increase and accumulation of capital as commercial capital or industrial or interest-bearing capital, surplus value, comes about through exploited labor (Today the exploitation of nature also intimated by Marx is also emphasized). Following Adam Smith, he saw that only so much profit flows back in the reproduction of labor power that is necessary for its minimal preservation. People and human needs that go beyond reproduction of labor power and the earth do not interest capital multiplying itself. This explains the impoverishment processes of people and the processes destroying nature.

Marx’ s fetishism analysis in “Das Kapital” cannot be described completely here. Franz Hinkelammert’s description in “The Ideological Weapons of Death. On the Metaphysics of Capitalism” is excellent. In his fetishism theory, Marx analyzed the rules, institutions and conditions of domination ordering the social division of labor and the distribution of goods. These rules are kept invisible in capitalist society since they are hidden in commodity relations.

The greater the division of labor in a society, the more significant is the shifts from their practical value for satisfying human needs to the subjective value of commodities (Aristotle underlined the shift from the natural gainful economy, ktetike, to the money-multiplying goods economy, chrematistike; the term “chrema” in Greek means at once thing and money). Thus fetishism develops in different historical epochs. (8)

There is nothing mysterious about practical value. Wheat is for food and cloth is for clothing. However in the division of labor on the basis of private property, wheat becomes an exchangeable means to obtain shoes and visa versa. Goods in real existing socialism, Hinkelammert points out, also mediate relations. Commodities develop an uncontrollable relational system through exchange value impacting human social relations.

This process intensifies when the commodity money becomes the common denominator for the exchange value of all other goods. Money becomes the commodity in its subjective value. Symbolized in silver and gold, money becomes the commodity warehouse. This stage of fetishism corresponds to amassing treasures. This is what Aristotle described as greed for boundless multiplication of money.

In capitalism, fetishism’s development reaches its climax and its comprehensive character. Here all goods aim at money multiplication, even money itself, land, industrial means of production and above all labor as purchasable paid labor. (9) In other words, everything becomes capital. What is capital?

In his explanation, Marx contrasts two formulas. In the exchange economy, money serves the exchange of two goods to satisfy consumption needs. The formula here is: commodity 1 > money > commodity 2 (C>M>C). Money becomes capital when it is a starting point and goal of the economic process. The commodity is only a means to increase money. Therefore the formula is: money > commodity > (more) money (M>C>M). One or several of these cycles are hidden in the mediated commodity in the production process.

“Buying to sell or buying to sell at a higher price, M>C>M, seems to be a peculiar form of capital, commercial capital. Industrial capital is also money changed into a commodity and changed back into more money by selling the commodity. Acts between purchase and sale outside the circulation sphere change nothing in this movement. The circulation M>C>M is implicit in interest-bearing capital or in its result without the mediation M>M, money that brings more money, the commodity greater than itself. M>C>M is the general form of capital…” (10)

“The consumption process of the work force is at the same time the production process of commodity and surplus value.” (11)

Capital – according to its nature money multiplication for its own sake – only ensures the lives of those workers necessary for its (capital’s) own life process. (12) The misery of unemployment, for example, has no place in the calculation of capital – just as little as child labor – as long as the countervailing forces are not strong enough. So capital appears from the side of those who do not own capital. Capital gives the appearance as though it were the source of everything productive. Its destructive self-multiplication mechanism is presented as the source of life.

“The capital relation reaches its most outward and fetishized form in interest-bearing… Capital appears as a mysterious and self-creative source of interest and of its own multiplication…” (13)

How can we escape this vicious circle?

In the example of energy, Sigurd Bergmann emphasized the crucial question whether we regard the resources given by God as a gift or a commodity. (14) Dietrich Bonhoeffer also formulated in his “Ethics”:

“The church pleads guilty in all 10 commandments. It confesses its apostasy from Christ… It can make God’s care so convincing that all human economies receive their commission from it. Through its own silence, the church was guilty in the atrophy of responsible conduct, in the bravery of advocacy and readiness to suffer for what is regarded as right.” (15)

How can we convert into reality a new vision based on sustainable relations with God’s gifts amid the dangerous crisis? We need a varied strategy as Kairos Europe has developed for more than 15 years:

1. All persons of good will could begin to do economics locally and regionally in harmony with God’s good and sufficient gifts of nature – in a cooperative, social-solidarity and ecological economy, as already occurs worldwide. (16)

2. Alliances must be formed to carry out political measures in the perspective of ecological and social justice like

· A new property order from below, money as a public asset in the sense of the commons, common property instead of money as a commodity. Altogether property’s obligation to life and the public welfare is vital;(17)

· Given the crisis, state interventions should be bound to social and ecological criteria so medium- and long-term economies are brought under public control and regulated for the common welfare;

· Basic provision of the population with public goods and services (water, energy, education, health care and so forth) – against more privatizations;

· Long-term overcoming of the capitalist growth economy for owners of capital through a zero-growth economy that seeks ecological balance and social justice as main objectives that are politically rewarding – a democratization of the economy.


The system crisis standing behind the financial crisis is clearly visible through the ecological crisis. The resources of the earth are limited, particularly oil on which capitalist industrialization is based and also the agricultural surfaces for food, which are decimated by bio-fuel production. An economic model based on boundless growth requires endless resources. The western powers are now expanding the limits of their own growth through imperial wars as in Afghanistan and Iraq, arming Georgia and supporting fascist regimes as in Colombia and the Philippines. Whoever works for an economic paradigm shift also works for peace. The present crisis is a Kairos for humanity, a decisive moment calling to decision to turn from death to life.


1. Vgl. u.a. Duchrow, Ulrich/Hinkelammert, Franz, 2002, 2005 2. Aufl., Leben ist mehr als Kapital. Alternativen zur globalen Diktatur des Eigentums, Publik-Forum, Oberursel, und Duchrow, Ulrich/Bianchi, Reinhold/Krüger, René/Petracca, Vincenzo, 2006, Solidarisch Mensch werden. Psychische und soziale Destruktion im Neoliberalismus - Wege zu ihrer Überwindung, VSA in Kooperation mit Publik-Forum, Hamburg/Oberursel.

2. Duchrow/Hinkelammert, aaO., 277ff.

3. .

4. Unveröffentlicht. Vgl. Uma Chakravarty 1987. Dalits werden die kastenlosen "Unberührbaren" im hinduistischen Indien genannt, also die unterste Unterschicht der Gesellschaft.

5. S.o. Anm. 1.

6. Marx, Karl, 1969, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels,Werke, Bd. 23, Dietz Verlag, Berlin.

7. Hinkelammert, F., 1985, Die ideologischen Waffen des Todes. Zur Metaphysik des Kapitalismus, Edition Exodus, Fribourg, 11-68.

8. Ebd.16.

9. Marx, Karl, 1969, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels,Werke, Bd. 23, Dietz Verlag, Berlin (MEW), 25, 835; dazu Hinkelammert, aaO. 37.

10. MEW 23, 170

11. MEW 23, 189; vgl. Hinkelammert, aaO., 38.

12. Hinkelammert, aaO., 39.

13. MEW 25, 404f. Vgl. Hinkelammert, aaO., 43f.

14. In: Energy Talks Ossiach 2009: Liberalisierung: Quo Vadis?, Ossiach 2009, s. auch .

15. DWB, Bd. 6, 131f.

16. Vgl. Douthwaite, Richard/Diefenbacher, Hans, 1998, Jenseits der Globalisierung: Handbuch für lokales Wirtschaften, Grünewald, Mainz; ; ; .

17. Duchrow/Hinkelammert, aaO. Kap. 7.


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