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Culture, Labour, and Resources: Principles of a Practical Alternative Growth Path

Freeman, Alan (2013): Culture, Labour, and Resources: Principles of a Practical Alternative Growth Path.

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Abstract

This paper was due to be presented to the 2013 conference of the World Association for Political Economy, in Florianopolis, Brasil. In the event, the author was unable to attend.

The paper summarises the main conclusions of ten years of research into the Creative Industries in London and the UK, culminating in a report for the English-based research foundation NESTA. The author was responsible for this research. I try to draw out the policy conclusions for economic and human development addressing three fundamental structural problems:

(1) In what technologies should a modernising, developmental strategy focus?

(2) What is the relation between economic and human development and how can the latter be assured by the course of the first?

(3) What technological and social choices will make it possible both to expand economic activity and to reduce the consumption of resources, with all the attendant risks that beset modern development strategies including dependency on resource exploitation and the sustainability of the chosen growth path

With few notable exceptions, social theory has failed to grasp the significance of the Creative Industries, consigning to a backwater a development which offers answers to the economic crisis, the social problems of a deeply unequal world, and to resource depletion and rape. Culture has become a ‘non-economic’ opposite to political economy; neither economists nor cultural theorists grasp the theoretical instruments needed to understand that culture is in fact the most economically important human activity, once the economy is grasped, in a rounded way, to include the whole of social reproduction.

The principal obstacle to theoretical and practical advance is the inheritance, both material and spiritual, of a fading epoch dominated by mechanisation. The primary course of present-day accumulation is to reduce labour to a simple mechanical form, and then replace humans by machines. The primary drive of culture is the opposite.

The creative industries show that the present course of economic development is bumping up against absolute limits. This is because the resource that they require to grow is non-mechanical labour, which cannot be replaced by machinery. The normal mechanism of accumulation – the acquisition of material and hence excludable ‘things’ no longer works.

They also illustrate a fundamental limit in the structure of demand. The source of demand for cultural products is a mix of the luxury consumption of the capitalists, and the ‘moral’ or socially-defined component of the wage, both of which are primarily non-material. As the world passes material satiety and lurches into material overconsumption, even as it consigns three quarters of its population to absolute deprivation, new material sources of demand are impossible to find, and new private demand is increasingly confined to the cultural and spiritual domain, where it takes the morbid forms of lust to possess, dominate and outdo.

These trends between them offer a sustainable path forward for humanity in the shape of growth in demand for labour services, which would be, in Mark Swilling’s terminology, ‘resource-decoupled’, decreasing the consumption of resources whilst growing the use and emancipatory nature of human labour. The paper will address the fundamental obstacles to realising this , including those created by a mode of production so far unable to transition from investing in things to invest in humans.

This poses an especial challenge for policy, since the growth of the creative industry sector manifests itself in a new and vibrant commercial sector, yet depends on long-term investment in both in the artistic and cultural formation of performers and producers, and in the general cultural level of society, including careful attention to the changed role of urban spaces and the interaction between cultural activity and new technology.

This paper is based on a lecture given to the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in November 2012. It builds on a substantial and scientifically well-grounded body of international research, which is now beginning to receive some serious attention in policy circles, by drawing out the above vital conclusions, and demonstrating their scientific validity.

JEL codes: O10; N0; Z1

Keywords: Crisis; Development; Growth; Inequality; State; Culture; Environment; Technology; Creativity; investment’ BRICS

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