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Consumption and production: a democratic debate is urgent

Production in Colombia corresponds to its position as a periphery country in the global capitalist system. Generating another type of production and consumption must be the fruit of new forms of participation and democracy.


Juan Diego García


That is why Colombia eschews producing means of production locally and centres its strategic economic activity on the extraction and export of raw materials and goods of little added value, and on mass emigration to the central economies which generally ends up as cheap labour in those markets. For the dominant classes and their associated sectors (a minority) consumption is similar to that of the metropolises. Consumption is very limited for the middle sectors in key areas such as health, education and pensions and is very low among the salaried classes.

On the other hand in Colombia, as in the rest of the countries in the region, a very high percentage of the population barely survives, that poor population that lives in the most backward rural areas and fills the outskirts of the big cities with its poverty.

The objective of Gustavo Petro’s new government, of promoting a productive model essentially different from the current one, has the necessary correlation of substantial changes in the profile of consumption.

For the poor majority, it is a case of consuming more (food, for example) and of structuring a different consumption profile for the middle and salaried sectors. Meanwhile, the affluent sectors (especially) would have to limit or even give up certain consumption due to the priorities required by a project for different development.

Betting on a different economy involves boosting the local production of consumer articles (currently imported to a large extent) and, above all, progressing as much as possible (and with a long-term perspective) the local creation of means of production (which today are a monopoly of the advanced economies).

The intention is to give the state a determining role in the control of the economy and a decisive role in production (public companies), consolidating its position as a direct producer in key areas.

This is a national project that involves a decisive function of public ownership in sectors such as education and health to ensure an educated and healthy labour force. It also involves a decisive presence in the financial sector, in industry, energy production, exploitation of natural resources, transport and telecommunications and, above all, a critical role in research and new technologies.

From this perspective it is vital to balance immediate tasks and medium and long-term ones since the said national purpose exceeds the efforts of one or two generations and requires the project to be taken on by the social majorities, with all the effort and sacrifice that implies.

Measures of immediate impact are undoubtedly essential given the high level of poverty and inequality in broad swathes of the population but must be carried out in such a way that they do not compromise strategic investments.

For this, broad popular support is indispensable as the local and international opposition take a very dim view of this project and will do everything possible to make it fail.

Generating another type of production and consumption must be the fruit of new forms of participation and democracy.

As well as the essential parliamentary support (traditional democracy), it is necessary to promote novel mechanisms of political participation that bring new dimensions and a different content to that traditional democracy, necessary without doubt but insufficient. It is important that the national purpose results from a wide social debate and that it is taken on as a permanent process so that its scope is continually extended, errors are corrected and new forms of citizen participation are generated.

One example would be that the new government needs to widen the public education system’s coverage immediately, albeit quantitively since reaching the necessary quality will take time; this is a medium-term objective.

To start with, there would have to be a substantial increase in the number of teachers and educational centres at all levels with the aim of achieving universal, public and free access. Education’s private sector (currently the majority in many areas) will remain without problems, since as the public sector advances in coverage and quality it will be open competition in the market that decides who attains hegemony in this key sector.

The central nucleus of the educational project is undoubtedly research (basic and applied) without which it will be impossible to reach the objectives sought. Public debate on the features of a new model of education, training and scientific research must be a permanent condition. Its promotion and protection are the leader of the government’s responsibility.

And what is true for education and science is equally valid for the other sectors of the economy, so that the decisions on what produce and what not to produce and how to progress with this objective really are democratic.

The state then will be just the facilitator of this national dialogue and will have the task of managing the relevant measures that are agreed.

Unlike the current model which in practice eliminates the state’s role and leaves the key decisions to private initiative (domestic and foreign), Colombia’s new government favours giving the state a decisive role while promoting broad forms of democracy that allow the official entities to implement everything the social majorities decide.

In a broad dialogue with the whole of society to decide democratically on production and its basic conditions, the type of consumption will also be decided.

It will be necessary to substantially broaden certain production (foodstuffs, for example), given the high percentage of the population that currently faces enormous gaps in this respect.

Other important sectors (the middle sectors) will have to adjust their consumption to the new reality, since for the vast majority of them it will not be their basic needs that are affected but their discretionary consumption, especially if the overall aim is to channel those resources into the production of the essential goods and services that broad sectors of the population lack.

The democratic debate about production and consumption enables government measures to have sufficient legitimacy and be accepted without difficulty by the majority of the population. The new Colombian government’s tax reform, vital to financing the changes, also shows how to make democracy a reality. This reform is a substantial part of Petro’s programme and seeks to ensure big capital (especially) pays an appropriate amount of tax and does not evade its obligations.

Therefore, the government will have to bring forward a broad dialogue to decide what to invest in and what not to, and how to change the current profile of consumption in such a way that the basic consumption necessary for the well-being of the majority is harmonised with the necessary sacrifices of non-essential consumption of some sectors.

It is a question of leaving behind backwardness, poverty, hopelessness and violence; that is what the people of Colombia are betting on.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: – Photos: Pixabay

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