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Tuesday, July 5, 2016

After the Great Transformation: Introducing Breakthrough Journal Issue 6

After the Great Transformation: Introducing Breakthrough Journal Issue 6



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After the Great Transformation

Ted Nordhaus Introduces Breakthrough Journal Issue 6

At some point over the last decade, the human population crossed a remarkable threshold. Today, over half of humanity lives in cities and towns, up from one-third in 1960 and only 3 percent in 1800. By 2050, the United Nations estimates, two-thirds of the global population will live in urban settings.

The shift from rural to urban represents far more than a change in settlement patterns. It brings with it profound changes in social, political, and economic organization: the urbanization of the planet has been largely inseparable from industrialization and the rise of market economies.

Writing at the close of World War II, the sociologist and economic historian Karl Polanyi called that shift “the Great Transformation.” For most people over the past two centuries, the Great Transformation has entailed moving from subsistence agriculture to off-farm employment; from economic relations based upon barter, tribute, and reciprocity to those structured around markets and wages; and from economies in which arable land, and the amount of labor that could be applied to it, were the sole determinants of wealth and economic growth to economies in which capital and technology have untethered human well-being from brute physical labor.

In this, the sixth issue of the Breakthrough Journal, we consider the Great Transformation, if not fully in retrospect, then at least from deep within it. We live today on an increasingly urban and industrialized planet. The Great Transformation has solved old problems and created new ones. And while the nature of the shift from premodern economies to what Polanyi called “market society” has long been clear, what comes after has yet to be written...

To read Ted's full introduction click here

Breakthrough Journal Issue 6

After the Baby Bust
The Politics and Ecology of Zero Population Growth
By Paul Robbins
Having calmed down from the overblown twentieth-century fears of overpopulation, the world has yet to grapple with the end of population growth–and even de-population–that will occur this century. As Paul Robbins observes, global population growth rates peaked in the 1970s, and if current trends continue, some countries could see their citizenries substantially depleted in the coming decades. As native populations in Germany and the United Kingdom dwindle, replaced by immigrants from rapidly growing countries in Africa and Asia, a surge in nationalism and cultural upheaval is already apparent. What comes next depends on how governments and civil society this radical new order of things. Read the piece here
Does Capitalism Require Endless Growth?
Marx and Malthus Reconsidered
By Harry Saunders
Does capitalism require endless growth in material consumption? Many mainstream economists and their "de-growther" interlocutors have long assumed so. At least one economist sees things differently. In this essay, Harry Saunders examines the changes in consumption of resources and the shifting shape economies take after decades of growth. While industry and heavy manufacturing still appear essential for early-stage growth, it also just might be the case that rich countries can produce goods and services more efficiently and rely more on services and knowledge, slowing or stopping the growth in material throughput of economic activity. If Saunders is right, his observations have major implications for environmental sustainability in the 21st century. Read the piece here
Taking Modernization Seriously
How to Think About Global Industrialization
By Michael Lind
"Sustainable development" has been in vogue for at least 30 years: the concept that traditional modernization worked, but wrecked the planet and failed to equitably distribute the benefits of modernity. Something new must replace the growth pattern on display in the history of Europe, Japan, Korea, and elsewhere. Using US history as a template, historian Michael Lind argues against the vogue. The conventional path to modernity remains the only proven one available, he writes. What's more, it need not be as environmentally destructive or unequal as its detractors would suggest. Read the piece here
Modern Pope
Laudato Si' and the Effort to Reform the Feudal Church
By Sally Vance-Trembath
Is the Roman Catholic Church evolving, or does it, as its critics insist, remain a powerful vanguard against the benefits of modernity, growth, and egalitarianism? Theologian Sally Vance-Trembath uses Pope Francis' much-discussed climate encyclical to argue that Francis is, through the lens of Catholic Social Teaching, pulling the Church slightly but unmistakbly into the modern age. The encyclical and broader Catholic perspective on modernity are muddled, Vance-Trembath writes, but above all, the Church views human ingenuity and mastery of technology as evidence of the divine in our daily work. Read the piece here
High-Tech Desert
The Great Decoupling of the West's Water
By John Fleck
Not one person has died as a result of California's ongoing drought. That might come as little comfort to the farmers forced to abandon fields of crops or skiiers whose slopes were emptied of snow, but it is a small and almost completely ignored success story hidden behind doom-and-gloom headlines. In this essay, water expert John Fleck looks at the last several decades of water policy in the Western United States, observing dramatic improvements in efficiency everywhere from Los Angeles to the Central Valley. More work remains, Fleck argues, but so far, the West's declining reliance on water is an underappreciated case study in decoupling economic growth from environmental impacts. Read the piece here
Love and Vinyl Chloride
A Deep Ecologist Reconciles With His Father and the Modern World
By Michael E. Zimmerman
In forrays into environmental philosophy, many of us forget–or neglect–the powerful personal forces that push us towards a certain way of thinking about the world. Michael Zimmerman does not make this mistake. In an eye-opening essay, Zimmerman looks back at his role as a founding member of "Deep Ecology" and his relationship with his father, both of which changed over the course of several decades as he came to terms with the process and progress illustrated by the manufacturing of vinyl chloride. Read the piece here

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