Are low-techs “soluble” in capitalism?

Defining capitalism

Capitalism will repurchase everything.

It is reasonable to think that the more the environmental catastrophe will intensify, the more capitalism will unbridle itself, always pushing beyond its limits. This is already true with some vestiges of the natural world: in a jumble, we now merchandise the clean air of the Canadian rockies to the Chinese suffocating under the “airpocalpyse” [4], tourism on certain glaciers is sold at high prices before they disappear forever, drifting ice are harvested to sell clear water at the other end of the world … You knew “whale watching”? You can now go and track the melting icebergs, or have the luxury of killing one of the last African elephants (see image below)!

(Left) Cartoon on the drifts of zero waste (© bloutouf, translated from French). (Right) Creation of zero-waste needs by capitalism, among potentially useful initiatives.
table comparing eco-gestures in thepry (collective), and in practical capitalism (on individuals)

The low-techs, a deadly blow to market logic, productivism, extractivism and to growth-enthusiasts?

A low-tech [1, 12] must be simple, repairable and ecological. Targeting rather essential basic needs (drinking, eating, shelter, heating …), it also has a low cost and must be accessible to every people (French example). A low-tech therefore naturally opposes to high-techs, even if it does not have an absolute definition, but is always relative for any given technology (ex: the fairphone is high-tech by its miniaturization, but more low-tech than other smartphones ). A lower-tech, in short.

Lowtechs: a back-up for a declining capitalism…?

Thus, one must be careful. Indeed, “most suitable/fair price” can quickly become “cheapest price”, and then catch up with a capitalism flaw. Similar attacks on specific points of the low-techs, which could distort its objectives, are listed in the figure below.

Weak points (red) from the low-tech definition, and some resistance points (green). © Montreal Lowtech Lab.

… or a way to maintain a destructive ideology with increasingly limited means?

The question is thus: will low-tech innovations make it possible to exploit the very last resources? Or will they perpetuate even more the domination of the 1% (humans at $ 500 + / day) over the others (humans at $ 1 / day) [13]? Because extractivism, by definition linked to capitalism, requires an underpaid and docile workforce to be profitable.

Jugaad / frugal innovation: the low-techs phagocytized by the market system

Actually, the answer to the title of this text has already been found: yes … Yes since the capitalist system has established itself as the only possible route for the countries of the South, which no longer hesitate to use the very vocabulary of their dominant. More catholic than the Pope, this is how the Indian Navi Radjou encourage the readers of his manifesto “Jugaad Innovation” to follow the path of no more than 3M, Apple, Best Buy, Facebook, General Electric, Google, IBM , PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, Renault-Nissan, and WalMart (!), i.e. a fair part of the V.I.P. that are at the forefront of the current disaster …


Just like the zero-waste initiative, low-tech thinking and lifestyle is not a priori immune to an appropriation by capitalism: zero-waste also initially implied a model not so compatible with capitalism (less production in total), but nothing beats a capitalist system fed by the suitable incentives. The emergence of terms such as jugaad or frugal innovation is no good news: the amalgamation of low-tech with low-cost is easy (and low-tech is not necessarily opposed to complexity!). We must therefore remain alert, and not hesitate to denounce any abusive use of the low-tech concept, especially commercial. Because, by being improvable, the definition of low-tech is also less demarcated and therefore more likely to fall in a slow denaturing process. However, this problem is greatly limited by taking into account their original purpose: to take care of basic needs.





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Max Pinsard

Max Pinsard

Low-techs, solutions basées sur les écosystèmes, biologie/écologie/évolution