Utopia is not impossible. It is even the only realistic path left to us. In fact, we must reject the permanent, haunting discourse, which is posed as an indisputable fact, which opposes production and climate, abundance and social justice, economic efficiency and reduction of inequalities, jobs and protection of nature. According to this vision of the world, we are obliged to choose: if we want growth and jobs, we must accept that the climate will deteriorate; and, conversely, if we want to protect the climate, we must resign ourselves to reducing the standard of living of each and everyone. Similarly, they say, if we want to reduce inequality, we should tax the richest, which would tragically harm economic growth; in other words, they repeat, an efficient society cannot be fair.
The choice is between a growing world that provides jobs for all, but is severely unequal and destroys its environment, or an egalitarian society that protects the environment, but where the standard of living for all decreases.
If this were true, we would have to give up trying to control climate change, because we would not be able to prevent India, China, Africa and Latin America from wanting to have the same standard of living as the richest countries in the North. And for the same reason, we would have to give up on reducing inequalities, because no one in the emerging countries will give up on a growth society. In other words, we would be condemned to destroying the environment and worsening inequalities in the name of growth, without realising that this trajectory ultimately destroys the very raison d’être of growth, i.e. the improvement of well-being.
The same reasoning could be applied to many other areas; and it is this dictatorship of the false evidence that makes us resign ourselves to seeing drugs and violence infiltrate everywhere, and civility and obedience to the rules of law break down.
And yet, all this is not inevitable.
We must begin by asserting and demonstrating that we can produce more while using less energy, and thus being less harmful to our environment and climate. (This is already the case in many countries, where market production is growing faster than energy consumption). It can also be shown that a more egalitarian society is not necessarily contrary to the interests of companies and economic efficiency; and that a distribution of profits equally between employees and shareholders, greater social mobility through education, and a significant tax on inheritance have no reason, either in theory or in practice (as shown by the practice of some Northern European countries) to harm the dynamics of investment, or the growth of a company. Those who claim the contrary are in pure ideological discourse.
A socially just, ecologically sustainable, and democratically viable growing society can therefore exist: this requires the courage to reorient production by forcibly eliminating everything that uses fossil energy and artificial sugar; this would not reduce growth because there would be more consumers for vital goods (education, health, healthy food, media) and fewer for suicidal goods (such as fossil mobility and fast fashion). Similarly, it could be decided that in such a nation the richest 5% would not have an income more than 50 (which will seem huge to many and naively derisory to some) times that of the lowest paid 5%.
Such a model could work best if it could be installed in as large a market as possible. It presupposes enormous changes in the production apparatus, in training systems, in financing methods, in taxation; they are not impossible, they are urgent. The United States will not do it; it is too caught up in its immediate quarrels and held by toxic powers. China may want to do it one day, but its totalitarian political system will explode before it succeeds in putting it in place. That leaves Europe: would it not be a great project for it to demonstrate that such a model, sustainable for the next two centuries, is possible? It is a question of will.
Image: Illustration of Thomas More’s Utopia (1516)