There has been a lot written in recent years about neoliberalism. Ralston Saul, Mirowski, Galbraith and many others have weighed in and the more you read the clearer the picture of how we were herded onto this path on a journey that's now decades old. Man, we've been had - big time.
If you're not up to speed on the neoliberal era and how we're still powerfully trapped within it, The Guardian's George Monbiot has a new book, "How Did We Get Into This Mess?" There's a wonderful summary, excerpted, in today's Guardian.
It's not that there's all that much new in Monbiot's book but he seems to have put all the pieces of the puzzle together to offer a fresh look at the mess we find ourselves in. Read the article, buy the book.
A couple of teasers:
Mention it in conversation and you’ll be rewarded with a shrug. Even if your listeners have heard the term before, they will struggle to define it. Neoliberalism: do you know what it is?
Thus arises what Galbraith calls today's "Looter Class" and the "Predator State."
Okay, wise guy, so what are the alternatives? No one is sure but no one seems particularly interested in experimenting either. We're just too comfortable here in the rut that consumes us.
My thoughts? We can begin by abandoning the GDP growth model that has carried us so disastrously far beyond the finite limits of our environment, our very biosphere, Spaceship Earth. We have to reduce the economy until it becomes a subset of the environment for we have already exhausted the environment's ability to support our activities, our consumption, our excessive population. That means what Lovelock calls "sustainable retreat." Making do with less, living smaller, finding radical new systems of organization.
One of these is the theory of Steady State Economics. This is the development of a post-capitalist, mature model of organization in which consumption is limited by the environment, where reproduction is regulated so that the rate of births is set by the rate of deaths. There's still room for growth - in knowledge instead of production and consumption. The focus is on quality of life, enjoyment of life improvements.
This sounds radical yet it was contemplated as an inevitability by none other than Adam Smith at the time of the American revolution. He foresaw the growth economy having a natural span of no more than two centuries. Today the theory is continued by economists such as Prugh, Daly, Costanza, Cumberland, Goodland and Norgaard. Their works are readily available and not terribly hard to digest.
There is no magic wand to fix this mess. The best theories of steady state thinkers won't shield us from most of what's coming our way this century. But the sooner we throw off the shackles of neoliberalism and implement these obvious ideas the better off life will be for the generations to follow.