Although everyone agrees to the idea of sustainability, this unanimous good intention has difficulties to turn into action. From the perspective of anthropological economics, the reason could be put into a rather simple way: To make economic activities sustainable, humans need to accept some serious trade-offs; and that is where it hurts. Nowadays, the whole world seems to have found itself in this “sustainability dilemma” (Adams, 2008), and every economy—notably in terms of individual nation state—seems to have developed its own version of it, characterised by its specific historical background and institutional context.
Basing on Polanyi’s (cf. 2002 , 1957) insights that are particularly pertinent to the arguments that have centred ecological economics, this paper sets out to investigate the Chinese context within which this kind of trade-offs have been made. The findings indicate that, the so called “socialist market economy” in China implies above all the State’s strong intervention of the seemingly self-regulated market, yet this intervention, notably the intervention of the ‘fictitious commodity markets’ conducted by the Chinese authorities haven’t work in the spirit of restriction. Rather, the free circulation of these fictitious commodities in China has been greatly facilitated by the state intervention for the purpose of boosting the economy; and this is precisely the main cause of the environmental and social crises that China faces today. Moreover, the ideological conflicts in regard with the nature of the Chinese economy appear to be problematic when it comes to conducting institutional changes towards sustainability in the future.
This media entry was a contribution to the special session „Between the enlarged scope of neoliberalism and the socialism that mutates: The sustainability dilemma in China’s overheated market for ‘fictitious commodities’“ at the 5th International Degrowth Conference in Budapest in 2016.