Naomi Klein's new book, This Changes Everything, will be out next week. The theme of the book is change or be changed. Klein argues that the only way mankind will survive climate change is to change the economic model that plagues us and potentially dooms us - good old, free market capitalism.
To do that we'll need to change the way we're organized, socially and politically. Governments have stopped responding to the public interest, yielding instead to neoliberalism. They have surrendered a good deal of our sovereignty to corporatism and globalization. Through that they have enabled the transfer of wealth and political power from labour to capital ensuring the rapid growth of inequality of wealth, income and opportunity and the decline of social mobility. All of this has occurred through the degrading of our democracy and, unless we throw this over, our grandkids could be looking at a future of corporatist feudalism.
Three years ago I concluded that Karl Marx was right, that capitalism is self-destructive. At the end of the day it collapses under its own weight. It self-destructs. The markets are falling into chaos. This is by no means to say there's not a role for capital. There is, just not the role it has assumed today. We need a reformed capitalism, one functioning under a different economic model. Even Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations, realized that growth-based economics of the sort we're enslaved to couldn't function for more than 200-years before transitioning to a stable or steady state.
Smith recognized a limit to economic growth. He predicted that in the long run, population growth would push wages down, natural resources would become increasingly scarce, and division of labor would approach the limits of its effectiveness. He incorrectly predicted 200 years as the longest period of growth, followed by population stability.
I don't think that Smith got it wrong at all. What he predicted was right but we haven't had the wisdom to abandon our addiction to perpetual exponential growth.
Klein argues that we're nearing a sink or swim moment and that the very threat posed to our society by climate change is also the opportunity for us to learn to swim.
It's been written that the 21st will be a century of revolution and we're already seeing that in rebellions, social unrest and the rise of failed states. 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geo-politics are what has brought us to this perilous state. Overall they worked fairly well for us for a couple of centuries but they also created the conditions in which mankind's population - around a billion at the start - has burgeoned to 7+ billion en route to 9 or more. Somewhere at around the 3-billion mark these institutions developed a toxicity that has steadily worsened over the past 30-years. Today their legacy has become over population, over-consumption, environmental degradation, resource depletion, species extinctions - on and on and on.
Unfortunately the broad sweeping reformation of the sort envisioned by Klein will be taken by the powerful defenders of the status quo as revolutionary. There are many vested interests who do not want to accept change and they're supported by every political party in Canada today. Somehow these institutions that have driven us to the cliff edge have to be taken down. Therein lies the struggle. But it's a struggle in which we don't really have much choice.