The core theme of this blog is that capitalism clashes with a just and sustainable world. However, I regard attempts to imagine, say, the demise of capitalism and the rise of ecosocialism naive and futile in front of the dangerous events hurtling toward us, particularly growing inequality, ecocide, and climate change.
I prefer to keep a sharp eye on the morphing of the various forms of capitalisms active within the World-System today. Do not regard capitalism as a single static form, rather understand the evolution of a plurality of active ever-changing forms of dynamic capitalism, taking advantage of the differences within capitalisms and the inherent relentless morphing, if not molting into distinct epochs (essential to Braudel). If so, a sustainable, inverted, lighter form of capital can be imagined and brought into being. Possibilities can thus be disclosed. This is the challenge posed here.
Climate Change provides the timeline, based on one’s preferred temperature increase: 1.5C or 2C. Neither, as I see it, will be achieved since the momentum to spew carbon will stubbornly resist: habit, inertia, sunk investments, ideology, and vested carbon-based interests that will deflect, defer, deceive, deny, and prevail. Still, adopting a mid-21st-century horizon provides roughly two generations to shift the paradigms, parameters, rules, investments, behaviors. My hope is that the plasticity and responsiveness of capitalism can be turned against the capitalisms that certainly appears formidable in late 2018. Therein lies the hope.
My gambit, to tip my hand early, will be to advocate that all forms of capitalism must not only shrink their footprints on the Earth but also include all peoples in an ethically sound distribution of benefits and costs. How? By making a shift along the lines of the magisterial history of capitalism put forth by Fernand Braudel merged with processes diagnosed by Karl Polanyi (the Braudel-Polanyi synthesis which I will post soon). Polanyi insists upon a substantive study of the economy, not the formalized, mathematical models prevalent in the work of orthodox economists.
A serious student or advocate should confront the thought of these seminal students of capitalism. Dig in. Let’s start.
Following Braudel’s tri-layered economic domains (triptych, trilogy — which I prefer), note the proposed inversions, shifts away from the predatory top level to the bio-regional potential of the far more benign lower two levels:
- Materially, ecologically, and culturally embedded Livelihood, such as within households and communities, must not be eroded by rapacious commodification and dispossession, but must settle and deepen as the fundamental support of material and cultural life within a specific biome. Thus, the greedy appetites of rapacious capitalism for resources, labor, and markets must be curbed, despite fierce resistance by the agent of capitalism, typically multi-national corporate behemoths. This inversion, or devolution, is the key strategic move to aim at. The universal battle with the State commences here. Uninhabited regions, such as the Arctic, and Failed States require assistance and advocacy from afar, another organizational challenge.
- Commerce embedded within patterns of local and regional production and trade must flourish. Forms such as cooperatives, mutual aid, civil society will incubate and thrive better, as even Adam Smith noted, should anyone bother to actually read his seminal Wealth of Nations. (More on Smith later.)
- Global capitalism, Braudel’s World-System, tends to dominate and ravage, even plunder, whatever lands it colonizes. Global capitalism, to Braudel and even Aristotle, will exploit, assemble vast holdings of private wealth, and enlist the support of the State and generally run amok. A more neutral-sounding term, long-distance trade (corporate chartered privileges under State protection, especially regarding liabilities.
Hence, a program of bolstering Livelihood and Commerce, and regulating or shrinking the domain of global capitalism might allow the flourishing and universal prosperity of all while relieving the damage to Earth.
Dear reader, please regard this program as a necessary, but certainly not sufficient, step toward a renewal of the human relations and the restoration of Nature.
Economic Growth Is Stalling
Among the OECD nations, economic growth has been slowing since the mid-1970s. The masterful The Rise and Fall of American Growth, recently published by a leading economist in this field, Robert S. Gordon, documents the material causes and consequences of declining productivity and economic output.
Further, as economies develop, tendencies favorable to sustainability typically spontaneously set in:
- Population growth slows and even approaches zero population growth as countries grow richer.
- The primary and secondary sectors, as analyzed by Colin Clark, become less significant as services and finance expand within the total formal economy. (I will explain in another post). As I see it, the real damage can be alleviated.
My still-glib argument is that capitalism as a whole may lighten its growth-oriented impacts on the earth (technically, 2nd derivative). This hardly solves the long-term concerns, but certainly makes its resolution more feasible.
The significance of this provisional glance is:
- A path toward inversion or devolution within capitalisms can be defined. The inherent plasticity of capitalism appears more feasible than a call to overturn the entire World-System within the time constraint imposed by Climate Change impacts.
- Capitalism’s impacts per unit of monetized production and consumption can be lightened, though unlikely to come close to aligning with Earth’s Carrying Capacity. In short, capitalism (thus conventional economic growth) can shrink. Necessary but not sufficient.
- Beware that a predatory “disaster capitalism” could feast on climate-induced chaos. This brutish form would morph into a militaristic State Capitalism: Debt crises, mercenaries, vigilantes, and authoritarian “populism” would exacerbate a death rattle of civilized society.
These perhaps far-fetched scenarios are yet incomplete: Technological miracles in bio-science, communications, robotics, Internet of Things, whatever will change the character of the world of 2045.
All of the above could be eviscerated by a Black Swan, a high-impact totally unpredictable event such as 911, not necessarily disastrous such as the Berlin Wall falling: Capitalism could implode like Soviet Communism. Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.
Even the most optimistic version of capitalism will not completely “solve” the collision course but provide a path toward a more feasible set of (plural) remedies, such as dematerialzation, eco-feminism, red-green ecosocialism at various levels such as sub-national, and spirituality — all of which proceed somewhat independently of Global Capitalism.
Not a word yet about the struggle as capitalism pushes back, as it will. Further, if profit schemes dwindle, the agents of capital may turn to more virulent and oppressive forms, exploiting the mayhem attendant to Climate Change impacts, now visible such as South-North migration.
Another disruptor is potentially runaway Climate Change as natural systems already happening (methane in Siberia permafrost and melting polar glaciers). Capitalism and authoritarian political regimes will certainly exploit such turmoil to profit from Disaster Capitalism.
This does not reckon Black Swans: novel, high-impact, unpredictable exogenous surprises that upset everything. Given the long time horizon of the concerns here, Black Swans will most likely intrude. Watch out.
Dear reader, I have newly mounted the WordPress.org package to my server and snapped up the wayne-hayes.com domain when it recently became available, so that this site is still under early development. Your forbearance is appreciated — but please comment so that I know that you are out there as a reader. Criticism is welcomed.
I have not yet mastered the WordPress tools and its integration with the tools of the server. I resort to the Discussion header to keep notes for the reader or myself. Integrating development notes with substantive content will happen. Again, bear with me.
Revisions on the way
The strategy within the Braudel-Polanyi Synthesis must shift to header status, rather than a list. Gaps, links, explanations must be filled in. Soon.
The tone could distill to a Manifesto, succinctly defining a clear statement of the conundrum and a renewal consistent with a solution and realistic given the constraints within Global Capitalism. Whimsy is not my game, aiming at Realpolitik.
Note, in my attempt to offer a competing paradigm to the prevailing conversation, I invent or elevate terms of art, thus use Caps to signal each of these pieces of jargon.
I will attempt to integrate a promising paradigm, ThreeFolding, coming out of the Philippines, an intriguing case of geographically decentralized Island Nation.
This macro-sociological model integrates politics (government), civil society (NGOs plus), and economy (commerce). The broad contours do not jibe with the Braudel-Polanyi synthesis, but ThreeFolding might be adopted to define flexible specific sustainability-oriented sub-national solutions as way provide a way to measure progress alongside the usual but readily available standard of GDP per capita.