Interview led by Daphne Büllesbach at Think Tank "Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie", Leipzig, 28/4/2014)
Nina Treu: The „Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie“ is a Leipzig (Germany) based Think Tank that works for social, ecological and democratical new ways of our economy and our society.
Our analysis is that in general our economy tends to grow and produce more for the people who already have a lot. It does not bring general welfare to the people and destroys moreover our natural ecological resources. So we have to find a new economy which brings welfare and well being to all people and which respects our planetary boundaries on a more democratic base. We try to bundle up existing projects, to make them understandable and spread their ideas. Furthermore we work on educational aspects to spread ideas of de-growth to the grass root level. “Endlich Wachstum!” is a publication of us which gets into the 2. edition this year.
In our economy very few people decide about very complicated issues and leave most of the society behind with those decisions. So we would like to democratise the economy. That means that for example more companies should establish democratic decision making instead of hierachical ones taken only by the management or the shareholders. It should be based more on stakeholder values.
Our whole economy in the long run will not work at all, so we should try to produce and consume more regionally with less products. And those should be used longer, should be repaired and have a long life term duration. We are also focused on the way the whole economy and society is set up. Who does decide on economic policies? Who is implicated here? We think that the decision making should be brought more into the democratic sphere of the European and national parliaments and also to the lower level.
At Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie we think that we have to turn our whole economy and society around. It is really hard to say that there is one solution which would change everything. We try to find solutions which could be implemented in the current existing economy and society. But it should also be a step forward into a degrowth society.
One solution for example is a working time reduction implemented in Germany because one very important reason for the economic European Crisis right now is that there is a trade imbalance and German products compared with their quality are too cheap. And that is because we have had low wages during the last years. So we need to raise them which is very hard to achieve. Combining that with the degrowth proposals we suggest to reduce working time in Germany while keeping the wages at the same level. People would have more time for own activities and for democratic or political action or commitment. And it would also bring up wages in Germany which would make the products more expensive and would help the countries of Southern Europe to bring their unemployment down.
Degrowth means that we live within the planetary boundaries, within our ecological means and that we produce welfare for everyone. There is not one single definition of degrowth but there are a lot of different thinkers from different countries and they all have different proposals around degrowth. Some focus more on your daily life which means we should try to live more autonomously and relearn to do things by ourself. Some focus more on economic policies. Next to the working time reduction they for example say that we need to change our taxation towards a more ecological and social one.
Degrowth is a concept for and from the global North. It does not want to tell the global Souththat they should not grow anymore but that industrialised and western oriented economies and societies have grown enough and that they should rather redistribute what they have.
By the way, from the 2nd to 6th of September 2014 the international degrowth conference will take place in Leipzig and I would like to invite everyone who is interested in degrowth concepts to come and join us. It is a conference which includes scientific parts, practice and activism parts, art parts and parts for everyone. We expect 500 speakers from all over the world. And there will be around 2.000 participants. The registration is now open!
Growth as a system does not only rely to our economy but effects everyone personally. The German Harald Welzer (Social Psychologist) said: We have a mental infrastructure. We are used to the current system. That is the only way we can think - We think we have to improve all time; we have to get into better positions; we have to be more efficient; we have to be faster. And there is a lot acceleration coming along with the growing economic system. People have break-downs and are more stressed and get psychological problems. I think that is related to the economic system based on growth and to the acceleration of life. That is one of the reasons why people should work less to have more time to do what they actually want to do instead of what they are forced to do.
We founded the Konzeptwerk Neue Ökonomie out of a very global perspective, looking at theglobal environmental problems and social injustice worldwide. Due to Germany's very strong weight in the European Union at the moment we think German policies have to change in order to change the European economic policies and to make the social conditions in other parts of Europe and worldwide better. For example we had one project last year, which was called “Wirtschaftswende” - a social ecological transformation for the European Union. We specifically said which measures should be employed in Germany and which ones on the European Union level. (www.wirtschaftswende.de, in German only).
There are not enough institutions in Germany working on degrowth and alternative European economic policies. That is why we publish in German for now. If we grow we probably translate more things. For example for the degrowth conference we have everything bilingual at the moment. But it is also a hard part of being a small NGO that you have to decide for one language at the beginning.
Thank you for the interview!
Click here for more information about our visit at the Konzeptwerk during the TEC!