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Is Paul Magnett’s Ecosocialism Cryptocommunism?

Last Saturday, Paul Magnett and Jean-Marc Nollet lamented in the columns of this newspaper that “the right ecology does not exist.” Although the dominant ecological paradigm today is the left, for more than two centuries, from Henri David Thoreau to Mikael Schellenberger, there has been a minor but very living tradition of liberal ecology. Faced with the impasse that the mainstream paradigm has led to, today liberal ecology offers a truly credible, pragmatic, and respectful alternative to rights and freedoms for solving environmental problems. In Belgium, it has been defended for several years by the PP, and soon a manifesto will be published, drawn up at seminars (the Liberal Environmental Forum), which gather several times a month and during the last year MPs, associations and various experts. , as well as a catalog of specific offers.

A few months ago, Paul Magnett published a book, The Big Life. Ecosocialist Manifesto”. Anything that increases pluralism and contributes to political debate is welcome, and we can only welcome this intellectual approach, which is also part of an ancient intellectual tradition that features such famous authors as Ivan Ilyich and Andre Gorz. Unfortunately, this manifesto turns out to be simultaneously naive, confiscatory, incoherent, misguided and dangerous. Why ?

First, Paul Magnett’s ecosocialism is naive. Incredible as it may seem, his work does not address what, however, is the basis of any ecological transition, namely the energy issue. Looking closely, we find references here and there to “small renewable energy cooperatives” and to the need to “create a fully renewable energy system” (p. 253). How ? At what cost? With what mixture? No details. At the time of the book’s publication, the interested party stated that the nuclear case was finally “closed”. Today we know that he changed his mind. This was before the war in Ukraine… Another outrageous judgment: the author believes that agriculture can do without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, etc. if he uses agroecology, agroforestry, crop rotation, late mowing, planting hedges, full of life-saving predators, which would obviously require “changing our eating habits” (p. 28) . Here again, no details about crops, farmland, labor force growth, etc. Given the fears expressed over the past two years about potential food shortages in Europe after the war in Ukraine, one wonders whether it is so bad, after all , intensive agriculture – so maligned…

Second, this approach is economically confiscatory. Respect for property rights, apparently, worries the author least of all: it is about the nationalization (more precisely, “socialization”) of the “main industrial funds” (p. 165) and the fossil industry in general. In addition, everything that is considered part of the “commons” (water, fisheries, forests, soils, agricultural land, major minerals, etc.) will be removed from private ownership and transferred to collective or state use. controls (p. 164). Therefore, in order to follow this program, it must be concluded that the state will take away their land from all the farmers of the country, so that they are “governed in accordance with democratic methods” (p. 253). Remember that the countries of the former Soviet bloc also defined themselves as people’s “democracies”. All companies with more than 12 employees (p. 254) will also be “democratized”, that is, their decision-making power will be transferred to two chambers, one of which will consist of employees voting in the “house” and the other for shareholders on still have the right to vote in the other “house” as the company is likely to be a “bicameral” political entity. But how long? This chamber of shareholders may even, like the Senate, lose influence as we “socialize capital” (p. 162). In order not to stop on such a good path, the author still provides a number of taxes (carbon tax, business transaction tax and wealth tax) and limits household income (no more than 10 times the median income). New tax revenues are needed to sustain the socialist myth of free access: the state finances access for all “to goods necessary for human development” (p. 178 et seq.): transportation, libraries, public canteens, sporting events, banking, basic communication and etc. This association will indeed reduce CO2 emissions.

Incoherent project

Third, this ecosocialism is inconsistent. It aims to collectivize the economy to solve climate and environmental problems. This is inconsistent because the twentieth century has convincingly demonstrated that economic planning has failed, but above all that it has led to more pollution than in liberal democracies (in 1987, the emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere in the USSR were five times higher than in the United States, despite half the GDP) and led to environmental disasters of unprecedented scale (the Aral Sea, Baikal, Lake Ladoga, the 3rd Gorge Dam, etc.), because in the planned economy there are no more owners, and hence no local residents. may band together to protect their property rights or even their rights in general. Another inconsistency: André Gortz’s eco-socialism is for universal welfare, and this fits quite rationally into the civilization of freed time, which is supposed to be shrinking. Paul Magnett defends a “basic income” or “universal wage”, but he tries to add that this in no way eliminates existing allowances (p. 203), that is, it is imposed on a huge bureaucratic control apparatus. that supporters of universal benefits just intend to abolish. An inconsistency that is likely due to concern for maintaining his union base and the fact that members of his party rejected universal welfare by internal vote a few years ago. It is also inconsistent to believe that nationalization of the economy alone would make it possible to decarbonize it. One can, of course, imagine some economies of scale, but the author admits that vehicles will still be needed, some steel, cement and glass (p. 172). The “growth” or “alternative growth” model cannot achieve carbon neutrality. Without a strong industrial plan to radically decarbonize the economy, eco-socialism will not be able to achieve climate goals by 2050.

Dangerous project

Fourth, this book is based on a fundamental fallacy: fighting the environment is fighting inequality and therefore capitalism and therefore the rich. It is true that the most disadvantaged nations and social groups are most affected by environmental degradation. Even though Third World countries and countries like India and China are among the biggest polluters today, it is also true that the West has historically polluted the earth much more than other countries. But, if we take into account the negative externalities of the industrial development of fossils over the past two centuries, we must also consider the positive externalities from which all the inhabitants of the planet today benefit: life expectancy has doubled, the population has increased by ten, and world wealth by a hundred. Wealth that enabled the construction of the welfare state and finances social security. Moreover, our society has never had so much knowledge and new techniques…

Fifth, this eco-socialism is dangerous precisely because it clearly seeks to cultivate anger. Environmentalists, says Paul Magnett, are wrong because they mobilize the passion of fear. However, when people are scared, they no longer act because they are paralyzed. Conversely, anger—an unfairly condemned virtue that has structured all socialist struggle in the past—allows one to “link the struggle” against the “common enemy,” namely capitalism. In the end, it comes down to appointing the “rich” – hence the middle class as the scapegoat, taxing them until they run away or disappear.

First, the French-speaking party, the PS, is democratic, but it is one thing to claim to be committed to democracy, and another to maintain the conditions of its existence in a country that is already the most taxed country in the world. This work, whose radical economic talking points have not been denounced by the press, appears to aim to win both Ecolo and PTB voters at the same time. But he is not an open communist. Paul Magnett argues that the communists were wrong: fascinated by progress and technology, they strove for growth in order to create abundance (even if they never succeeded). In its productivism, Marxism is in fact an enemy brother, but a twin of capitalism. Paul Magnett’s ecosocialism seeks sobriety and “alternative growth”. Combining the worst of environmentalism (restrictions, prohibitions, and asceticism) and the worst of communism (planning), doesn’t this manifesto base its hypothetical “wide life” on the simultaneous deprivation of prosperity and freedom?

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