After capitalism? A quick note from a climate hawk

Kudos to George Monbiot, who just wrote one of his good columns.  Really good, though I think the title may be wrong.  It’s called After Capitalism, and it makes the main point clearly and with animated brio.  To wit,

To answer the question of what the world will look like after capitalism, we first have to decide what we mean by capitalism. If it means a system that arises from lending money at interest, then there will be no “after capitalism”. . .  If on the other hand capitalism means something like the current dispensation, which allows a few people to seize much of the wealth generated by everyone, which blocks social mobility, which re-engineers the political system to serve the economic elite, then, yes, there’s a lot we can do about it.

For the past 200 years, men and women have fought stoicly for political democracy. Now we should fight for economic democracy. The natural wealth of the world, its land, its soils, its crops, minerals, water, forests, fish, is limited. The wealth arising from its use and multiplied through all the complex layers of the modern economy, is also limited, bounded ultimately, as the subprime mortgage crisis showed us, by the real value of assets in the physical world. Just as it was wrong for monarchs and aristocrats to concentrate so much political power in their hands, so it is wrong that billionaires and corporations should be permitted to seize so much of the common treasury of humankind: the wealth arising from the use of a finite planet.

We deserve a political and economic system that redistributes both wealth and the decisions about how it is used. Not communism, but an advanced form of social democracy. . .

This last point is critical, because “social democracy” is a variant of capitalism (which is the issue with the title).  “Economic democracy” is a more open-ended notion, and could go either way.  In any case, and at the risk of appearing ridiculous, let me say that there has to be a way forward that does not demand the entire overthrow of the capitalist system as a precondition of social-ecological renewal.  There simply has to be, because given the short time we now have to embrace transformational change – a time too short to evolve and deploy a whole new political economy – the alternative is that we would be doomed.

But we are not doomed.  We’re in danger, sure, but we’re still alive, and can still make our own histories, and it follows that we are not doomed.  Thus it cannot be that “capitalism,” per se, is the problem.  It must be this particular capitalism that’s at issue, and in particular its drive to concentrate both power and wealth within a self-serving and increasingly incompetent elite caste.  All of which, it seems, we are condemned to debate within the cramped and distorting confines of a strange and overarching metaphor, the one in which the problem is something called “growth.”

Which brings us to the “green growth” debate, though it will have to wait.

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