So,whyisaclaimaboutlogicalprioritynotaconvincingbasisforaclaimabouttheoretical and explanatory priority? A range of issues is relevant here:
X canbe logicallyprior toY and yet,therecanbe no pressures for X todam-age the environment but huge mechanisms for Y to do so.
In a dynamic system with feedback and interactions, the meaning of
cannotbederivedfromanyplaceinasequence.Itmustbederivedfrom an account of the specific mechanisms involved.
Furthermore, if production has such primacy, why is
listedprominently in the inventory of relevant production decisions (see Gouldet al., 2004, p. 302)? After all, marketability is primarily a question of theability to sell things and this depends upon consumer demand among otherthings.
Production is logically prior to consumption in all societies in all times andplaces and yet, under some social conditions, consumption patterns couldpose a greater threat to the environment.The real argument for the centrality of production over consumption for theenvironment in capitalism is (roughly): Market competition under conditions of privateownership(capitalism)generatesmassiveincentivestoexternalizecostsof production both temporally (externalize costs on future generations), socially(externalizeontootheractors),andspatially.Thereisnosuchuniversal,pervasive,competitive pressure to generate products that are environmentally damaging.Some will be, some will not. The end of the article, I think, is more theoreticallycompelling.
3. The “No-Growth Thesis”
There is an ambiguity, I think, in the fundamental assumption of the treadmillperspective that ecological sustainability requires a no-growth economy. I agreewithmuchoftheargumentlaidoutinthearticleonthisscore.Iespeciallylikedthestrong,unequivocalthesisaboutthelinkbetweenredistribution(classpolitics)andlow/no-growth politics. A treadmill politics of growth is one way of containingclass conflicts over redistribution within more manageable parameters. But, Ithink, there remains a broad ambiguity in the expressions
here. The article correctly distinguishes the problem of growth of output from thegrowthofproductivity.Ifproductivityincreasesbutoutputisfixed,then,ofcourse,the effect is a reduction of the totalamount of human work needed to produce thatoutput and thus, leisure time is increased. If toil is evenly distributed in a society,then this generates increased free time. This was the reason why Marx felt highproductivity was a precondition for universalized human freedom. But note: Thisdoes not imply hyperconsumption of stuff.But there is still a problem, because “growth” of output need not imply growthof
output because (a) people care about the quality of what they consumeand(b)muchofwhatpeopleconsumeisnotphysical.Improvementsinthequalityof products would register as economic growth of the value of output without anynecessary increase in the quantity of raw materials embodied in that output. Andgrowthofcertainkindsofservicescouldalsocountasgrowthofthevalueofoutputwithout embodying much natural material.
Wright / COMMENTS ON THE TREADMILL OF PRODUCTION 319