Neither Accurate Nor Marxist
Well, I agree with all the first part of your comment BUT i must say that the fail of socialist or communist regime has nothing to do with human nature AND degrowth proponent are not AT ALL encouraging communism. However, Saito's book try to make a linkage between those two notions but the degrowth paradigm is not about crushing capitalism.
Climate change is not a problem nor it's technological advacance or capitalism. The Earth's temperature is much morr affected by the Sun radiation than it ever will be by CO2 emissions. Fossil fuels are key to providing cheap energy and development to rich and poor countries that desperately need to solve many problems Neo-Marxists and Neo-Malthusians turn a blind eye to.
I am very concerned for you because this is heretical. How dare anybody suggest that humankind has not caused a climate crisis and how dare they suggest human ingenuity will find a way to more efficient and less polluting energy sources?
Don't you know that rafts of taxation, regulation and subsidy depend on these things being accepted?
Don't you know that entire departments of leading universities depend on grants and endowments?
So I think you should read the texts the "correct" way. Then you will see that there are very clear indications that governments should take charge of important issues like these and that their wisdom is such that they will solve them.
As to critical thinking: there is no further need; the issue and the science are settled. It is now simply about increasing taxation, regulation, statute and subsidy - and grants and endowments.
One final point; the only reason socialism and communism has never worked is that it has never been imposed on the population completely enough for long enough. This pesky thing called human nature keeps getting in the way.
I'll reserve comment about environmental issues until the second part of this essay is published (though the assertion about dung and wood emissions deserves a footnote: I haven't yet found anything to corroborate this claim). But this piece doesn't accurately represent Malthus, Solow, or degrowth.
First, though a word about "formerly obscure": this is a cheap, ad hominem way of denigrating an author whose policy is trashed in the next sentence. Who is famous who was not previously "formerly obscure," apart perhaps from the child of someone famous? Surely even Mr.Katz was formerly obscure: why then is this even worth mentioning as something notable, except as a personal insult, a way of diminishing someone else's diginity?
1. Malthus: "Malthus famously predicted that people would starve because population increases geometrically and food output cannot keep up, in reality, the opposite has occurred." This is misleading. Malthus actually explained WHY this disaster did NOT occur.
According to him, the reason was that although attraction between men and women starts from an early age, there were obstacles to early marriage: "among the lower classes, from a fear of not providing well for their families, [and] among the higher classes, from a fear of lowering their condition in life." This is set out early in Chapter 2 of his essay, which is within the first 10 pages of his text in most editions of his book. Unfortunately, most people who talk about Malthus never have bothered to read that far.
The historical context of his opposition to relief for the poor was that granting it would remove the pressure they currently experience against early childbearing, allowing the geometric vs. arithmetic catastrophe to come to fruition. This strikes people who in the US are called "liberals" as awful, but in fact it's no loonier a theory than arguments against helping the poor offered by US Republicans for decades.
2. Solow: "Solow formalized this common sense notion into a mathematical model demonstrating that technological improvements can overcome diminishing returns and keep per capita GDP rising forever. Solow’s work is the foundation of modern growth theory." The first sentence is incorrect, and the second one misleading.
Let's deal with the the second first: Solow's theory has been influential on *academic* growth theory (despite its dimensional abuse of Cobb-Douglas functions: see Part II of my paper "Unlimited Growth and Innovation: Paradise or Paradox?" (2010), on SSRN and Academia). However, the impact of academic growth theory outside the academy has been minimal: the reasons that growth is maintained as policy are, and always have been, political. First, growth rates were a proxy for the battle of Western countries vs. the USSR, China and their satellites. Later, even after the financial economy became far larger than the economy of goods and services measured by GDP, in wealthier countries like Japan political mindsets attached to growth reasoned that the optics of a lower growth rate were felt to be disadvantageous for re-election (not that the LDP ever lost an election on this account).
The first sentence is incorrect because Solow didn't demonstrate any such thing. In his 1956 paper, he simply assumes that a "residual" factor he calls A(t) is due to technological change, and in his 1957 paper, which addresses shifts in production functions, he explicitly states "It will be seen that I am using the phrase 'technical change' as a shorthand expression for *any kind of shift* in the production function. Thus slowdowns, speedups, improvements in the education of the labor force, and all sorts of other things will appear as 'technical change.'" See Solow (1957) "Technological Change and the Aggregate Production Function" Review of Economics and Statistics, 39(3), 312 (emphasis in the original).
As for GDP rising forever, this condition is normative for Solow (and given the name "equilibrium" or "balanced" growth, in his 1956 paper) and a consequence of his choice of a Cobb-Douglas production function. Although many objections were raised to Solow's use of such a production function (esp. by Joan Robinson, Piero Sraffa and others at Cambridge University), Solow swept these objections aside with a mere footnote in his 1957 paper. Far from demonstrating that this can happen, his Nobel-winning work discussed the (rather artificial) conditions necessary in order for it to happen, with "total factor productivity" A(t) hiding a kitchen sink's worth of ignorance.
3. Degrowth: " Saito and other 'degrowthers' retort: this progress is all temporary because it’s destroying the environment and therefore cannot be sustained." As another "degrowthwer," my "retort" would be that one doesn't need environmental arguments to put forward a plausible argument for degrowth, which in context means abandoning GDP growth as a policy target, particularly in Japan. See my book "Keizai seichou shinwa no owari" (Kodansha Gendai Shinsho 2012).
“ The culprit today is neither growth nor capitalism, it’s fossil fuels”
Do you really think that capitalism and growth in its current state has the ability to transition the global economy away from fossil fuels? If so I’d love to know how you envisage it. Because if the answer is simply to bank on a new technology to pull us through, then the next question is whether capitalism and out obsession with growth is conducive or destructive to this goal.
Personally, from observing the way vested interests protect their investments through lobbying, greenwashing and the like, I am not hopeful that we can really achieve a transition. The way firms protect their existing investments to maximise profits are the hallmark of capitalism.
I’m no de-growth supporter but saying the fossil fuels is the problem rather than the very machines and systems that support their existence (ie capitalism and growth) is not well supported by your arguments.
Sure, in the backdrop of a dichotomy between capitalism and communism you’re not wrong. But that doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue imo.
Enjoyed reading your post in any case. Very thought provoking as always.
I recently read this book here in Tokyo and I had a lot of problems with it. I'm dismayed that Saito-san is getting so much attention from this book and there doesn't seem to be a lot of serious critical engagement with his ideas in Japan. I personally think degrowth, or at least an intentionally slower economic growth would be necessary in the long-run to stay within planetary boundaries. But his long detour into the evolution of Marxist thought was completely unnecessary to make his case, and advocating for degrowth today as a solution to climate change is poor political strategy. In the short- to medium-term, I have to say green growth is the answer. For that to work, capitalism's rules need to be tweaked. Overhauling the entire capitalist system in favor of communism is more than misguided.