Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The postcapitalist imperative

Time to end the multigenerational Ponzi scheme (Kim Stanley Robinson)

Does the word postcapitalism look odd to you? It should, because you hardly ever see it. We have a blank spot in our vision of the future. Perhaps we think that history has somehow gone away. In fact, history is with us now more than ever, because we are at a crux in the human story. Choosing not to study a successor system to capitalism is an example of another kind of denial, an ostrich failure on the part of the field of economics and of business schools, I think, but it’s really all of us together, a social aporia or fear. We have persistently ignored and devalued the future -- as if our actions are not creating that future for our children, as if things never change. But everything evolves. With a catastrophe bearing down on us, we need to evolve at nearly revolutionary speed.

(Via Beyond the Beyond.)


Intense said...

"With a catastrophe bearing down on us, we need to evolve at nearly revolutionary speed."

In a postcapitalist era, where will the funding and related resources come from to create sufficiently developed green tech to evolve beyond our current industrial base, energy use, and carbon-generating technology "at nearly revolutionary speed" to avoid catastrophe within the time required? Seems like Robinson is expressing a hopeful, but contradictory, sentiment.

Houston, we have a problem.

Anonymous said...

Postcapitalism? Deglobalization.

Anonymous said...

I hear the pleas for hope and change, but hope for what and change to what? Without direction toward clearly stated goals aren’t those just the mindless slogans employed by beauty pageant contestants?

What is post-capitalism? What does it look like? Is it pre-collapse Soviet style socialism? I don’t think that’s a very attractive option. Perhaps it represents a hybridization of capitalism and socialism, sort of like the Danish system. That’s probably much more likely than any other scenario I can think of, as I think there will still be capital investment coupled with a consumer based society.

How could we possibly move away from a consumer-based society? Where would we go, back to the land? Sorry my old hippie friends, but that’s just not going to happen. We have to make stuff, sell stuff, and buy stuff, and let’s face it, we like stuff.

All efforts currently underway in regards to our ailing economic system seem to be revolving around repairing the damage done by the recent breakdown and not radically changing anything. I think that’s what most people expect and want. For the most part we don’t like change, it scares us and we resist. We will instead adapt to our present circumstances and proceed with our repair of the broken parts until it works again, sort of. Failure to do so I don’t think is an option.


Anonymous said...

Michael, I think your ideas are dependent upon a world of infinite resources where unbounded, unchecked growth could go on forever.

Unfortuantely, this ain't that world.

Anonymous said...

The promise of capitalism was always that of class mobility—the idea that a working-class family could bootstrap their children into the middle class. With the right policies, over time, the whole world could do the same. There’s a problem with this, though. For everyone on Earth to live at Western levels of consumption, we would need two or three Earths. Looking at it this way, capitalism has become a kind of multigenerational Ponzi scheme, in which future generations are left holding the empty bag.

In other words there aren't enough resources to go around for everyone to enjoy the same standard of living -- which would be our current western standard of living). I think I foresee another world war in the future: the third world against the affluent western nations. Since third world states are too poor to wage war, backlash against the west will begin first as sporadic acts of terrorism -- which we already see -- that will eventually develop into an anti-western movement that envelops the whole of the third world, albeit among the masses rather than at the level of state. It would resemble the Star Wars scenario of the rebellion (a segment of the galaxy comprised of desperate masses) against the Imperial forces. This war would conceivably continue until the western world has devoured available resources (and has perhaps ravaged the earth with climate change), and a generation emerges which is left holding the empty bag. At that point the war would end, since there would be no more reason to fight. Then and only then will a truly "postcapitalist" world be born. Lack of resources and an inhospitable global climate will pretty much force people to live differently.

Ken Y.

Anonymous said...

I would agree that we need a successor system to capitalism, but the author doesn't really say how that system would look like.
First we would need to know it would look like, then we can start by thinking about how to make it happen.
But if we can't even tell how it would look like, I am even less optimistic about it ever happening.
The 12 suggestions he makes make sense (I don't agree with the 'carbon cap-and-trade systems', it's just pointless imo. ), but they are measures that deal with the current situation.

Anonymous said...

>> How could we possibly move away from a consumer-based society?

It is -theoretically- possible, I don't see how we would ever make the switch however.
I am not an expert on these matters, but think about these things: it's not that we are incapable of producing enough food to feed the whole world, but then why are such vast numbers going hungry? It's not that we don't have the technologie to make all of our energy environment friendly, but then why are we killing ourselves by spewing greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere? Etc, the list goes on.
And yes, our capitalistic system is some sort of ponzi scheme which is not sustainable in the long run. Or maybe it is, who knows (let's be optimistic), but then you should at least have no problem with an elite having the goods and the rest to suffer the consequences, pretty much like it is now, only worse.

Anonymous said...

“For the first time in history it is now possible to take care of everybody at a higher standard of living than any have ever known.
Only ten years ago the ‘more with less’ technology reached the point where this could be done. All humanity now has the option to become enduringly successful.”

– R. Buckminster Fuller, 1980

In 1980 the world’s population was around 4.5 billion with the number probably closer to 6.5 billion today. Were Fuller’s assertions in 1980 the ravings of a mad man and are they even more unrealistic today?

Can we feed, house and provide the necessities of life, even a modest life, for 6.5 billion people or how about 8 billion? These are big numbers that present us with big problems if we propose to achieve them.

I struggle to find a time in human history when life was good for everybody and there was no stratification reflecting wealth and power. Idealistically it’s a wonderful idea. It would do my heart good to know that no one is going to bed hungry tonight and that no one is going to bed with the fear that they are going to be bombed or shot at tomorrow.

Fuller blamed poor management of resources for these ills, not scarcity. For me, that has a strong ring of truth. A little thought regarding population management wouldn’t hurt either. I could make a case, I think, that bad management in many areas is at the center of the crisis we are discussing today.

If our economic system is unsustainable even with better management of resources and advancing technologies, what then is the alternative? I believe collapse would leave totalitarian military dictatorships in its wake and that history supports that belief. That’s why I said earlier that I didn’t think failure was an option.

I’m open to other ideas, I really am, I just can’t think of a better one right now.


Anonymous said...

>> I struggle to find a time in human history when life was good for everybody and there was no stratification reflecting wealth and power.

Sure, but we don't live in the past. Today, there isn't a problem that we don't already have a fix for. But the current system does not work without somebody getting the short end of the stick.

Just happen to come across this: How absurd is wall steeet?

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, R. Buckminster Fuller was wrong.

A harsh reversal is occurring. In the last six months alone, over $40 trillion in capital has been lost. For an example of the foreign effects of this debacle, see: "A Global Retreat As Economies Dry Up" -- Washington Post


I feel like someone standing on the beach, calmly looking out to sea from a small coastal Indonesian village in 2004, and then noticing that the ocean shore is rapidly receding, and suddenly realizing that this is that strange, short, quiet time just prior to the tsunami roaring in.