Monday, March 18, 2019

Beyond Free Market Capitalism, the Case For a Socialist Revival

"Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment
in time we created a lot of value for shareholders."

We've got tough decisions to make if we want to save human civilization. It will take massive change of an enormity that can easily beggar comprehension. What we must do is genuinely scary.

We must avert climate change. We must overcome socially-corrosive inequality. We must protect, rather than exploit, all life on Earth. How in hell are we supposed to do all that?

A good place to start might be to take stock of what we're doing wrong. Sometimes that will mean examining how we've been doing things for generations, even centuries.

Shortly after creating this blog more than a dozen years ago, I began wrestling with the array of challenges and threats that faced mankind. I formulated a list that included everything from climate change; desertification and deforestation; resource depletion and exhaustion; severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration; flooding and droughts, severe and cyclical; the loss of biodiversity and species extinction; pest and disease migration; the water crisis and our broken hydrologic cycle; and a host of man-made issues from nuclear proliferation to terrorism, resource wars, refugee migration and much more.

I was sure they were all connected somehow. There must be common threads that ran through them. It took some years before I realized all of these issues were the end product of our modes of organization - 18th century economics, 19th century industrialism and 20th century geopolitics and political economics.

At the time we embraced these modes of organization they made sense, based on the world as we then understood it.  Growth was great. The rising tide indeed lifted all (or most) boats. Today was better than yesterday and tomorrow would be better than today. We were on what promised to be an endless roll.

Then came the 1970s. That was when we grew to the very finite limits of our planet's carrying capacity. Somewhere around 1973 when mankind's population first hit three billion.  After that, classical economics evolved from Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations" (1776), growth-driven capitalism, and rapacious industrialism began to lose their utility. As (rotten) luck would have it, this was around the same period in which Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney spread the gospel of neoliberalism throughout the west, the age of globalization.

With this in mind, there's an interesting piece in today's Guardian, "Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?"

... the existing political establishment looks more and more like an impediment to change. The consequences of global warming have moved from the merely theoretical and predicted to observable reality over the past few years, but this has not been matched by an uptick in urgency. The need to keep the wheels of capitalism well-oiled takes precedence even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes
Today’s children, as they become more politically aware, will be much more radical than their parents, simply because there will be no other choice for them. This emergent radicalism is already taking people by surprise. The Green New Deal (GND), a term presently most associated with 29-year-old US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has provoked a wildly unhinged backlash from the “pro free market” wing, who argue that it’s a Trojan horse, nothing more than an attempt to piggyback Marxism onto the back of climate legislation.
...GND-style proposals marry sweeping environmental policy changes with broader socialist reforms because the level of disruption required to keep us at a temperature anywhere below “absolutely catastrophic” is fundamentally, on a deep structural level, incompatible with the status quo
Right now we can, with a massive investment of effort by 2030, just about keep the warming level below 1.5C. This is “bad, but manageable” territory. Failing to put that effort in sees the world crossing more severe temperature barriers that would lead to outcomes like ecosystem collapse, ocean acidification, mass desertification, and coastal cities being flooded into inhabitability.
...Unfortunately for our children, the people they have to convince of all this are the people who have done very well out of this system, and are powerfully incentivised to deny that it is all that bad.
...US Senator Dianne Feinstein’s meeting with schoolchildren petitioning her to take action over the issue went viralbecause of the way she condescended to them for, basically, asking her to leave them a planet behind to live on. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” she said, “I know what I’m doing.” The obvious response is, of course, that messing something up for 30 years is quite long enough, thanks. Long tenure without results is not the same thing as expertise. 
This is a tough and bitter pill to swallow for the political professionals whose feet are firmly under the table. It is increasingly obvious that all their tactics have done almost nothing except run down the clock, but still they insist that it’s the young who just don’t get it and that things aren’t that simple. They’re the living embodiment of the famous New Yorker cartoon, with a suited man sat in a post-apocalyptic landscape telling his young audience “Yes, the planet got destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.”
This is reality v the vested interests of the powerful. Any meaningful policy has to upset the established power base and the political donor class. Any policy that doesn’t upset these people will be useless. To pretend that we can compromise our way through this while we wait for a magical, technological bullet that will keep temperatures down without costing us anything is beyond wilful ignorance now. It is a question of basic morality
Many of today’s climate strikers won’t even be 30 by the time the 1.5C deadline comes around in 2030. They are asking us to consider a simple question: is their future worth more than preserving our reputations? What will our response to them be?


Anonymous said...

All true, but the planet hit 3 billion humans in 1960, as I've frequently reminded you. By 1973 it was almost 4 billion. You seem hung up on this point - population growth hasn't been super-apocalyptic, merely apocalyptic.

The growth of monoculture in agriculture, with Bayer-Monsanto leading the way for Cargill and others, ruins land by breaking the normal crop rotation cycle. It's now being applied in India. When these specialized crops fail, starvation will follow. So we can add that danger to being drowned in higher seas inundating land, boiling our ears off in heat, getting swept away in massive storms, dying in the unrelenting forest fires you didn't mention including from smoke inhalation, or by pressing the nuclear button. Which one will it be? Because nothing is going to prevent it - most everyone can't be bothered to get off the sofa. And motivating them to change will not be easy no matter how much they're hectored.


The Mound of Sound said...

I stand corrected on the population,BM. What I was going by was information from the Global Footprint Network that we exceeded the Earth's capacity for resource renewal when we passed the 3-billion mark.

My sense is that you're around my age. Sometimes when I'm in traffic or working my way through a crowd in some shop I try to imagine what it would be like had population growth been arrested and remained static from the time of my birth - 2.5 billion. Imagine traffic jams minus two out of three cars.

As for change, the public appetite for salvation will bring it but, you're right, not until the options are foreclosed.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Guardian's title needs to be rephrased from
"Ending climate change requires the end of capitalism. Have we got the stomach for it?" to:
"Ending climate change requires the end of greed. Have we got the solution for it?"