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About media framing • (written by Brian Dean)

Archive for the ‘Green politics’ Category

UPDATES – Overweening Generalist, ‘Degrowth’, RAW, ‘ego depletion’

I’ve combined a couple of “Updates” posts into one here (as the menu was getting a bit messy).

April 18, 2016:-

1. A new piece from one of my favourite websites, the Overweening Generalist blog, which comments on (among other things) an article I wrote about Robert Anton Wilson and George Lakoff (the longer version of the piece published at Disinfo.com).

It contains some brilliant observations and comments – give it a read: George Lakoff and Robert Anton Wilson and the Primacy of Metaphors (Overweening Generalist)

2. I’ve just seen a new paper from Ecological Economics journal (April 2016), from Stefan Drews and Miklós Antal, titled Degrowth: A “missile word” that backfires? It discusses the “degrowth” campaign/slogan from the perspective of cognitive framing, and references a piece that I wrote on the subject. Full text (PDF) here.

April 8, 2016:-

1. My Disinfo.com article about Robert Anton Wilson was originally much longer than the one I submitted to Disinfo. I’ve posted the original, longer piece (over 2,000 words) right here, along with a much bigger image.

2. I’ve previously written about “ego depletion”, a seemingly well-supported phenomenon in psychological studies (Daniel Kahnemen cites the work in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow). But as this fascinating new article claims, “An influential psychological theory, borne out in hundreds of experiments, may have just been debunked”.

Nassim Taleb commented on Twitter, ‘Fortune tellers are about 50% right. With psychology it seems worse. Hypocritical to call this “science”‘. That seems an interesting debate in its own right. Input/feedback welcome, as always…

Rather than leave you hanging on that question of whether psychology should be considered science, I’ll give you a few links with some quality input:

  1. A discussion on BBC Radio 3 between Rupert Read and Keith Laws, which tackles this question. Starts 35 minutes in, and I found it fascinating (the debate continued on Twitter, and Rupert made some interesting comments on that debate here).
  2. Since this debate brings up figures such as Popper and Kuhn, why not invite the whole party, to get an idea of what’s going on – Feyerabend, Lakatos and others are here at this Overweening Generalist piece. (It even includes a reference to Robert Anton Wilson, making it more topical with regard to my other update, above. Not bad, considering.)

Written by NewsFrames

April 18, 2016 at 11:21 am

Lakoff on “growth” & “degrowth” frames

growth-degrowth-postgrowthGeorge Lakoff was recently asked if he thought economic “degrowth” framing was any use, and he immediately replied: “No, it isn’t…” (the video is here – Lakoff’s comment starts 49/50 minutes in). I originally wrote the following article for OpenDemocracy as a readable, non-technical summary of “growth” and “degrowth” frames. I repost it here now, as it sheds light on Lakoff’s recent brief comments…

Outside governments and corporations, the pursuit of economic growth is no longer taken for granted – some commentators are challenging the orthodoxy. But the “growth” concept has deep roots, and in its absence we have what George Lakoff calls “hypocognition”, a lack of established frames enabling us to think differently about the economy.

The “growth” frame shapes economic thinking along metaphoric lines – “natural” organic growth being the source of the “more is growth” metaphor. As Michael White points out (in Metaphor and economics: the case of growth), this isn’t just a convention of language: “[W]hen economists and journalists deal with economic performance, the metaphoric sense of growth is highly active”.

What this means is that various ideas are imported automatically – and largely unconsciously – from the “growth” metaphor into our attempts to think quantitatively about “the economy”. For example:

  1. Growth tends to be conceptualised as natural and good. This deeply positive sense is universal, and is imported into our conception of quantitative increase in economics via the metaphor. It’s not just a superficial “surface language” matter.
  2. Conversely, absence of growth is conceptualised as bad and unnatural – eg due to adverse conditions, or to interference with the natural process. The list of examples of economic metaphor expressing this fundamentally negative, unnatural aspect of “no-growth” seems endless in our culture. One interesting example is economic “flatlining”, in which “flat growth” metaphorically signifies death. The negative connotations of no-growth aren’t overt here – they’re entailments of the metaphor.

So deeply established is the “natural growth” metaphor (and its negative obverse) that we might find it hard to think in positive terms about “the economy” without it. Or, as Anna Gustafsson puts it (in The Metaphor Challenge of Future Economics), “We may even have difficulties in conceptualizing a society not built upon growth; this is visible in our language.”

Both “growth” and “the economy” are what Lakoff calls ontological metaphors. They enable us to think about multifarious phenomena (eg all the things “of value” that people do) in terms of “discrete entities or substances of a uniform kind”. The price we pay is to be stuck with crude, reductive logic, eg growth/no-growth. And it doesn’t help much to change the definition of “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP), or to divide “the economy” into sectors – it simply applies the same logic to slightly different, or smaller, entities.

Of course, there have been many conventional criticisms of GDP as a “measure” – eg that it confuses different types of “growth”, and doesn’t reflect (unequal) distribution, environmental damage, etc. These criticisms have been around for a while – some of them were made by Simon Kuznets, the economist who originally developed the ideas behind GDP. “Economic growth” was first adopted by governments as national policy objective after the introduction of GDP (1940s-1950s) – not for its own sake, but as an approach towards achieving “full employment”. Peter Victor, an ecological economist, has argued (Nature, 18/11/2010) that because “growth”, as a government objective, is a relatively new notion, “dethroning it seems less improbable.”

From a cognitive frames perspective, that seems optimistic. “Growth” is a “deep frame” – its use in economics goes back at least as far as 18th century classical economics (although not as government policy). But, most significantly, it’s been a key feature of business propaganda for decades, since political strategists first noticed that “economic growth” and market ideology are mutually reinforcing. That means the frame has been hammered into our skulls relentlessly – in all kinds of ways, without pause – for much of our lives.

“Growth” frame reinforces market logic

Market ideology holds profit maximisation to be a moral good, and interference in the market (eg by government) to be a moral ill. Both notions combine easily with the “economic growth” frame. Firstly, with the idea of total increase as a “natural” good, regardless of the divisions, characteristics or manner of distribution of that increase; and, secondly, of interruptions or interferences with “growth” viewed as unnatural and inherently nefarious.

Market logic on labour is reinforced by the notion of “growth”, also. This regards labour as “a natural resource or commodity, on a par with raw materials”, to quote Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors we live by), who argue that uniformity – or interchangeability – is implied by the metaphor of labour as material resource. Overall “productivity growth” is the criterion – the well-being of the worker doesn’t enter into the equation.

Another aspect of market ideology reinforced by the “growth” frame is the heroic individualist entrepreneur fairy tale. “Growth” as a personal or individual-business metaphor seems unproblematic, but when we conceive of “the economy” as an object with an attribute of “growth”, the entrepreneur idea extends to it “naturally” because of the “good growth” frame. This is the myth that practically all “growth” comes from entrepreneurial enterprise, which is heroically fighting against “unnatural” interference (eg from “do-gooders”, Green activists, etc).

In fact, corporate market ideology and “economic growth” framing seem so closely intertwined that the mutual reinforcement appears seamless and invisible – unless it’s pointed out. Perhaps the most obvious example for most people would be “trickle-down economics” – the idea that as long as “the economy” is “growing”, all those minor inconveniences like mass poverty and corporate monopoly will “naturally” sort themselves out.

“Degrowth” and “post-growth”

The labels, “degrowth” and “post-growth”, obviously express little more than negation of “growth”. Lakoff advises that direct negation of a frame merely activates that frame, although this might seem like a trite formula to those who fervently oppose any further “economic growth”. And judging by the frequent use of these “de-” and “post-” terms in Green projects and proposals, Lakoff’s advice has either been overlooked or misunderstood. As a result, the negating labels tend to communicate the very idea of “growth” that market ideology thrives on.

A better frame? – Wealth as well-being

“[T]here is a crucial movement toward a new economics – an economics of well-being, in which the Gross Domestic Product is replaced by an overall indicator of well-being. This new perspective is directly counter, in many ways, to the narrowly imagined concept of economic growth.” (George Lakoff, Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment)

Promoting an economics based on well-being and its indicators has the advantage, from a cognitive frames perspective, that wealth as well-being is a very deeply rooted – and universal – metaphoric frame. Our original conceptions of “wealth” are inseparable from expressions of well-being. The problems of hypocognition posed by negation of “growth” thus seem partly averted when we shift our economic focus onto well-being.

To give a ‘concrete’ example: Work evaluated in terms of the well-being of the worker, as opposed to employment policy made on the sole basis of boosting “growth”. If economic ends are primarily framed in terms of well-being, not abstract “growth”, this makes sense. The subjective experience of the worker is barely considered at all by governments and corporations fixated on “growth”. With well-being central to economic thinking, things like leisure and quality of life “naturally” come to the fore – they’re assigned a value that was always excluded by the “economic growth” frame.

Written by NewsFrames

December 7, 2015 at 1:06 am

“Degrowth” – a problematic economic frame

degrowth-mixJan 15, 2015 – The term, “degrowth”, is increasingly used to designate a sort of environmental movement. And while it may be an effective label to unite people with similar views, it ignores pretty much all the advice from the field of cognitive framing on building popular alternatives to conservatively-framed “common sense”.

[M]any people engaged in environmentalism still have the old, false view of reason and language. (George Lakoff)

I touched on this in an earlier post on economic “growth” framing. Reaction to that post was mixed – some people “got” it; others seemed to think I was talking just about language. We have to remind ourselves that cognitive framing is about how we think – how we form worldviews. Ideas, beliefs and impressions which have been reinforced in our neural circuitry over decades, thanks to constant cultural repetition, cannot be undone simply by using a language of opposition (with some exceptions*).

With that in mind, here are some pointers on the problems with “degrowth”, starting with “growth” basics:-

“Growth” frame basics

“Growth” of “the economy” is what George Lakoff calls an ontological metaphor. In plain English, this means we think about the unthinkable (eg immeasurable complexity) in terms of “entities or substances of a uniform kind” (Metaphors we live by, Lakoff & Johnson, p25). Thus, the diverse activities of millions of people are aggregated into a single entity called “the economy”, with a uniform attribute of “growth”.

This metaphorical framing has some important downsides (as some economists have realised, at least since the establishment of Gross Domestic Product as a “measure”). For example, the crude binary logic of “growth”/”no-growth”, as if “the economy” has only two ways to go. Also, the dangerous illusion of uniformity in the aggregate measure of “growth”, as if different “economic activities” (with irreconcilable measures) can meaningfully be lumped together in a single quantitative measure.

“Growth”, as metaphor for the increasing “sum” of diverse human activities, excludes qualitative differences. It thus conflates life-nurturing and life-destroying activities (both of which may count as “growth”). Qualitative frames (eg for differentiating types of activity creating well-being or environmental damage, etc) are diminished in cognitive importance by a repeated focus on “growth”.

“Growth” overwhelmingly tends to be conceptualised as natural and good, while lack of growth is seen as bad and unnatural. This is universal, deep-rooted, and unlikely to be reversed by promoting “degrowth” as a good, or by analogies with special cases where growth is seen as bad – eg growth of disease. (See my earlier post for details, including cited research).

Market ideology and the Protestant work ethic mutually reinforce the notion of “growth” as outcome of (and moral reward for) “efficiency”, “discipline”, “productivity”, “hard work”, etc. This moral framing system is deeply rooted in our culture.

Problems with “degrowth”

“Degrowth” isn’t a different frame from “growth” – it entails the same set of conceptual metaphors: an entity (“the economy”) with a single aggregate measure (“growth”), and the implication of a top-down policy whose primary objective is to increase or decrease/stabilise “it”. Both “growth” and “degrowth” are single, quantitative ends for “the economy”.

Although direct negation (eg as “degrowth” negates “growth”) may appear to logically undermine a frame, it activates the frame in our brains, strengthening its physical, neural basis. And, by a process which cognitive linguists call “mutual inhibition”, alternatives to the frame are inhibited by continual focus on its reinforcement/negation.

The “growth”/”degrowth” frame of an aggregate quantitative measure, usually at a national level, reinforces both market capitalist and conservative nationalist conceptual schemas. (See my earlier post for details on reinforcement of the former.)

Nationalist schemas include the Nation as Person metaphor in thinking about “national interest”. In conservative framing, this means competition between nations, in which “national interest” (ie economic health and military strength) is about aggregate maximisation of wealth and power. This ties in with (mutually reinforces) national economic “growth” (ie “growth”/”degrowth” framing).

In short, the way we think about “the economy” in terms of “growth” is reinforced in important respects by the “degrowth” vs “growth” narrative – including inhibition of alternative frames. And in what might be called  conservative “felt” common sense (which is widespread as a result of cultural repetition of the economic “growth” and market frames over decades), “degrowth” will be “felt” as deeply unnatural, nefarious and weakening to the nation.

If the penny still hasn’t dropped for “degrowth” campaigners, I recommend they read, and carefully ponder, Lakoff’s paper, Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment.

Never accept the right’s frames – don’t negate them, or repeat them, or structure your arguments to counter them. That just activates their frames in the brain and helps them. (George Lakoff)

*In some cases, direct opposition seems the only way to go. When slavery (for example) is directly opposed, the slavery frame is, of course, activated and reinforced in our brains. Does that undermine the anti-slavery cause? Clearly not when slavery is already widely conceived as immoral and unacceptable. But what about before that point in a given society? You might want to ponder the differences between something like slavery and something like “growth” of “the economy” – in terms of conceptual metaphor and level of abstraction. Also, consider my article on Antiwork. Am I contradicting myself by using a term that opposes work? Or is the idea of negating all work so obviously ludicrous, that I must be attempting some sort of “guerilla ontology”, simply to provoke thought/debate?

 Postscript: A few responses I’ve had indicate a confusion between criticism of the “growth” frame and opposition to “growth” itself (as a believed reality). It’s akin to confusing the map with the territory. Both respondents were quick to insist that they criticised the frame (ie the inadequacy of the aggregate “growth” metaphor), but then immediately contradicted themselves by insisting on opposing “growth” as if it were a tangible reality. I think this contradiction results because thinking in terms of conceptual metaphor is a new approach – we can easily slip back into reifying old frames if we’re not paying attention (especially with well-established frames such as “growth”).

Written by NewsFrames

January 15, 2015 at 12:05 am

The economic “growth” frame – and its opposition

shibuya-graffiti-683-compressedAug 27, 2014 Outside of governments and corporations, the pursuit of economic growth is no longer taken for granted – some commentators are challenging the orthodoxy. But the “growth” concept has deep roots, and in its absence we have what George Lakoff calls “hypocognition”, a lack of established frames enabling us to think differently about the economy. Cognitive-linguistics studies have even suggested that direct opposition to “growth” may be counterproductive for those who oppose it.

Promoters of “economic growth”, together with their opponents (eg “degrowth” and most “post-growth” adherents*), share the same starting premise – that something called “the economy” has a meaningful single measure (“growth”, GDP, etc) which should either be increased or not, depending on the respective view.

Both views (pro- and anti- “growth”) tend to reinforce aspects of market ideology as a consequence of this shared premise. To understand why – particularly in the case of Greens – we need to look closely at what the “growth” frame brings to economic thought.

Since we don’t want “to confuse the map with the territory”, it seems a good idea to briefly recall the human-level terrain – the unthinkably diverse activities, communications, materials (or “resources”), processes, “products”, “services”, skills, know-how, information access, etc – all of which have different, and largely irreconcilable, “measures” – and all of which we contrive to aggregate into a single object, or entity, called “the economy”.

Okay, now back to the abstractions which govern us.

Framing economic “growth”

Economics at a “macro” level is, by necessity, a construct of models and metaphor. The conceptual metaphors we use to think about “the economy” bring their own weird logic to the party – mostly from domains more concrete than macroeconomics. This is no trivial matter, as metaphoric frames define the dominant economic worldviews.

Even the basic notion of economic “growth” shapes our thinking along metaphoric lines – in this case, the “natural” growth of a living organism, which is source domain for the growth-as-increase metaphor (“more is growth”).

“Growth” might seem to be merely a dead metaphor – ie one which is conventionalised (or “lexicalised”). But, as Michael White points out (in Metaphor and economics: the case of growth): “despite this lexicalisation, when economists and journalists deal with economic performance, the metaphoric sense of growth is highly active“. (My emphasis)

This seems an important point – and worth emphasising, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with the field of conceptual metaphor. What it means is that various ideas are imported automatically – and largely unconsciously – from the “growth” metaphor into our attempts to think quantitatively about “the economy”. For example:

  1. Growth tends to be conceptualised as natural and good. This deeply positive sense is universal, and is imported into our conception of quantitative increase in economics via the metaphor. It’s not just a superficial “surface language” matter.
  2. Conversely, absence of growth is conceptualised as bad and unnatural – eg due to adverse conditions, or to interference with the natural process. The list of examples of economic metaphor expressing this fundamentally negative, unnatural aspect of “no-growth” seems endless in our culture. One interesting example I’ve previously written about is economic “flatlining”, in which “flat growth” metaphorically signifies death. The negative connotations of no-growth aren’t overt here – they’re entailments of the metaphor.

So deeply established is the “natural growth” metaphor (and its negative obverse) that we might find it hard to think in positive terms about “the economy” without it. Or, as Anna Gustafsson puts it (in The Metaphor Challenge of Future Economics), “We may even have difficulties in conceptualizing a society not built upon growth; this is visible in our language.”

(Note: There are a few exceptional cases where growth is regarded as bad in its source domain – eg disease and obesity. The phrase, “obese economy”, might have satiric potential, and “cancerous economic growth” makes a point about growth with no end. But I suspect that if Frank Luntz found that his opposition was framing economic growth as “disease” or “cancer”, he’d clap his hands and take the day off. The implication would be of humanity as disease – presumably not a frame that Greens would be keen on promoting.)

“It’s the economy, stupid”, stupid

green-growth-compressedBoth “growth” and “the economy” are what Lakoff calls ontological metaphors. They enable us to think about unthinkably multifarious phenomena (eg all the things “of value” that people do) in terms of “discrete entities or substances of a uniform kind”. This isn’t about “mere language”, but about how people think. The “price we pay” is to be stuck with crude, reductive (eg two-valued) logics, eg growth/no-growth. And it doesn’t help much to change the definition of “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP), or to divide “the economy” into sectors – it simply applies the same binary logic to slightly different, or smaller, entities.

Of course, there have been many conventional criticisms of GDP (and GNP) as a “measure” – eg that it confuses different types of “growth”, and doesn’t reflect (unequal) distribution, environmental damage, etc. These criticisms have been around for a while – some of them were made by Simon Kuznets, the economist who originally developed the ideas behind GDP.

“Economic growth” was first adopted by governments as national policy objective after the introduction of GDP (1940s-1950s) – not for its own sake, but as an approach towards achieving “full employment” (a point I’ll return to). Peter Victor, an ecological economist, has argued (Nature, 18/11/2010) that because “growth”, as a government objective, is a relatively new notion, “dethroning it seems less improbable.”

From a cognitive frames perspective, that seems optimistic. “Growth” is a “deep frame” – its use and extension in economics goes back at least as far as 18th century classical economics (although not as government policy). But, most significantly, it’s been a key feature of saturation-level business propaganda for decades, since political strategists first noticed, or vaguely intuited, that “economic growth” and market ideology are mutually reinforcing.

That means the frame has been hammered into our skulls relentlessly, repeatedly – in all kinds of ways, without pause or break – for much of our lives. This is why Lakoff and his colleagues often bring neuroscience and the physical brain into the equation. If it were just a question of “pure”, disembodied ideas, we could drop the idea, or belief system, immediately, erase it from our minds and replace it with a new one. But we know it doesn’t work like that.

“Since the synapses in neural circuits are made stronger the more they are activated, the repetition of ideological language will strengthen the circuits for that ideology in a hearer’s brain. […] ideological language repeated often enough can become ‘normal language’ but still activate that ideology unconsciously in the brains of citizens – and journalists.” (George Lakoff, Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment)

“Growth” frame reinforces market logic

Market ideology holds profit maximisation to be a moral good, and interference in the market (eg by government) to be a moral ill. Both notions combine easily with the “economic growth” frame. Firstly, with the latter’s entailment of total increase as a “natural” good, regardless of the divisions, precise characteristics or manner of distribution of that increase; and, secondly, of interruptions or interferences with “growth” viewed as unnatural and inherently nefarious.

Market logic on labour is reinforced by the notion of “growth”, also. This logic regards labour as “a natural resource or commodity, on a par with raw materials”, to quote Lakoff and Johnson (Metaphors we live by), who argue that uniformity – or interchangeability – is implied by the metaphor of labour as material resource. Overall “productivity growth” is the criterion – the well-being of the worker doesn’t enter into the equation.

trolley-growth-compressedAnother aspect of market ideology reinforced by the “growth” frame is the heroic individualist entrepreneur fairy tale. “Growth” as a personal or individual-business metaphor seems unproblematic, but when we reflexively conceive of “the economy” as an object with an attribute of “growth”, the entrepreneur idea extends to it “naturally” because of the “good growth” frame. This is the myth that practically all wealth/”growth” derives from entrepreneurial enterprise, which is heroically fighting against “unnatural” interference to growth (eg from governments, “do-gooders”, Green activists, etc).

In fact, corporate market ideology and “economic growth” framing seem so closely intertwined that the mutual reinforcement appears seamless and largely invisible – unless it’s pointed out. Perhaps the most obvious example for most people would be “trickle-down economics” – the idea that as long as “the economy” is “growing”, all those minor inconveniences like mass poverty and corporate monopoly will “naturally” sort themselves out.

The inverse is “mutual inhibition” between “economic growth” and policies which oppose corporate-market domination. Perhaps this explains why the idea of a “leisure society” seemed to grow weaker in our society during the period in which the dogmatic pursuit of “economic growth” grew stronger. As mentioned above, “growth” was originally adopted as a government measure/policy for the purpose of achieving “full employment”. This situation now seems to have reversed, with “economic growth” regarded as an end itself, and “job creation” (at all costs) as a putative (and usually dubious) means to serve that end.

“Degrowth” and “post-growth”

Obviously, these terms express little more than negation of “growth”. Lakoff, as we know, advises that direct negation of a frame merely activates that frame, but this might seem like a trite formula to those who fervently oppose any further economic “growth”. And judging by the frequent use of these “de-” and “post-” terms in various Green projects and proposals, the advice has either been overlooked or misunderstood.

Any use of these terms (eg as proposals, without quotes) tends to imply (and communicate) the premises that I’ve described above, which market-ideological views thrive upon. GDP (or any alternative single “measure” of “growth” of “the economy”) is, by definition, bought into. It’s simply a “for” or “against” inversion according to the narrow terms of the worldview which created the problem.

“Green growth”

I’ve seen differing definitions of “green growth”, but they all start with the conventional premise of overall “growth” in “the economy”, and its inherent two-valued logic. Some “de-” and “post-” “growth” adherents oppose “green growth” by using the argument that any society (historic or modelled), regardless of how “green”, will show correlation between rising GDP and environmental damage. (Some studies have indicated that this correlation does indeed apply).

That seems a good argument against continuous pursuit of “growth” (eg rising GDP) in even the most greenly-imagined society – but only if you accept that a single aggregate “measure” of “growth” in “the economy” isn’t a nonsense to begin with.

A better frame? – Wealth as well-being

“[T]here is a crucial movement toward a new economics – an economics of well-being, in which the Gross Domestic Product is replaced by an overall indicator of well-being. This new perspective is directly counter, in many ways, to the narrowly imagined concept of economic growth.” (George Lakoff, Why it Matters How We Frame the Environment)

Promoting an economics based on well-being and its indicators has the advantage, from a cognitive frames perspective, that wealth as well-being is a very deeply rooted – and universal – metaphoric frame. Our original conceptions of “wealth” are inseparable from expressions of well-being.

The problems of hypocognition posed by negation of “growth” thus seem partly averted when we envisage a system of economic indicators based on the existing deep frame of wealth as well-being.

To give a ‘concrete’ example: Work evaluated in terms of the well-being of the worker, as opposed to employment policy made on the sole basis of boosting “growth”. If economic ends are primarily framed in terms of well-being, not abstract “growth”, this makes sense. The subjective experience of the worker is barely considered at all by governments and corporations fixated on “growth”.

With well-being central to economic thinking, things like leisure and quality of life “naturally” come to the fore. Policies previously avoided because they don’t provide “growth” will be considered if they boost well-being. Interestingly, some of the research into how societies might function without “growth” have found that greater leisure and reduction of poverty may be key elements (together with reduction in the use of fossil fuels, materials, etc) – even without any focus on well-being as a criterion.

More leisure, less anxiety

In the late 1700s, Benjamin Franklin predicted we’d soon work a 4-hour week. In 1965, a US Senate subcommittee predicted a 22-hour work week by 1985, and a mere 14 hours by 2000. Paul and Percival Goodman, in the 1960s, estimated that just 5% of the work being done would satisfy our food, clothing and shelter needs.

What happened to the dream of a leisure society made possible by more-for-less efficiencies in know-how and technology? The conventional answer is that productivity increases were channeled into a spiral of greater consumerism and more work, rather than into increased leisure. And the conventional reason is the massive propaganda push from big business to sell the consumerist culture.

Less conventional a reason, but probably just as important, is the moral framing of work in our society. As David Graeber puts it, “there’s this ideological imperative to validate work as virtue in itself. Which is constantly being reinforced by the larger society. On the other hand, there’s the reality that most work is obviously stupid, degrading, unnecessary, and the feeling that it is best avoided whenever possible.”

Economic “growth” is tied into the “full employment” narrative, and has been since the 1950s. This is where I see an interesting leverage point for change – in terms of broad public acceptance of a new economic worldview. Not in terms of “growth” abstractions (for or against), but towards a greater emphasis on free time, leisure, contentment, happiness, fulfilment – rather than more work, more stuff to buy.

That, and less anxiety. Anxiety seems epidemic in our society – much of it related to work and income. That’s why I see a need for something like a Universal Basic Income to accompany a shift in attitudes away from “more work at all costs” consumerism (or “growth”), and towards an embrace of a time-rich leisure society for all.

* Note: Some “post-growth” and “degrowth” adherents do question the validity of GDP, and argue for alternative measures, etc. But the post-growth and degrowth literature typically proposes reduction or stabilisation of overall “growth” of “the economy” (in other words, it accepts the premise of a single measure of “growth”). 1/9/2014

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Written by NewsFrames

August 27, 2014 at 8:37 am