Capitalism, as we know it, is reaching the natural end of its global life cycle.
Human beings will retain some of the better aspects of capitalism, including the right to private property, competition in well-regulated markets, robust trade, reasonable compensation for intellectual property, and a modified corporate structure.
The aspects of capitalism that are not long for this world include:
- Ayn Rand/Gordon Gecko-style individualism, “greed is good,” disdain for cooperative efforts and collectivist values.
- Crass materialism and consumerism as acceptable social norms.
- Acceptance of worker exploitation, dehumanizing working conditions, extreme poverty, homelessness, poor nutrition, limited access to healthcare, and substandard education as “necessary costs” in a “free” market economy.
- The “predator/sociopathic” corporate charter model, under which corporations are legally obligated to prioritize profit-making over the environment, public health, worker health and safety, research and innovation, public and community wealth, and everything else.
In short, we’re moving towards humane markets (providing for each other) and away from human markets (exploiting each other).
Why is predatory, consumeristic capitalism on its way out? A number of factors are simultaneously converging:
- Human population growth is tapering off. Many people alive today will be alive to witness the most significant moment in our collective history — the human population peak. Capitalism is based on perpetual growth, which is not compatible with permanent population decline. Some of the challenges related to population decline will include abandoned cities, rewilding, and permanent economic shrinkage.
- We are running into severe environmental limitations. We have triggered the Anthropocene, a geological age characterized by mass extinctions, radical changes in local climates, overall global warming, acidification of oceans from excess CO2 absorption (which will result in almost no fish or coral reefs, but lots of jellyfish and algae), rising sea levels (and massive floods), endless droughts (resulting in the current Dustbowlification of the central US), deforestation, chemical pollution, gargantuan gyres of plastic detritus, and overall ecological shittiness. These problems are a direct result of a devouring capitalist system that sidelines such considerations as “externalities.”
- We are in the midst of a radical reorganization of production methods. More and more things are essentially free to produce and distribute, and can be shared/co-created via networks and decentralized production centers (home workshops, personal computers, 3D printers). Open-source production methods, freeware, and peer-to-peer distribution methods directly threaten top-down, strictly controlled capitalistic profit-generation models. Open-source is upending capitalism. Edit – as a commenter on Facebook pointed out, automation (scripting) is doing the same thing for services as peer-to-peer, open source, and 3D printing are doing for products. Humans optional.
- Attitudes toward capitalism are changing. The United States, the world’s glowing beacon of capitalistic success, is no longer so shiny. Vast regions of our country display decrepit infrastructure. Cities are going bankrupt. Unemployment is high and underemployment is rampant. Millions go without access to professional healthcare. Our educational system produces only middling results. Wealth inequality is extremely high, and the tax-dodging, politically manipulating plutocrats are fighting tooth and nail to maintain their ill-gotten gains and privileges. Meanwhile, nations that lean more towards social democracy sport better infrastructure, better educated kids, nicer looking cities, cleaner environments, and healthier, happier citizens.
In summary, the 10,000-year pyramid scheme that has been generating wealth at the expense of non-renewable planetary resources has reached its limit. We have exhausted, in order, mega-fauna, pristine virgin forests, fossil fuels, free food from the ocean, fresh water sources, and an atmosphere that regulates temperature, rainfall, and local weather patterns. We have even used up some elements (like helium, which permanently escapes into outer space), and destroyed entire landscapes to extract gold, silver, copper, and rare metals.
The free ride is over, and now we begin a slow, painful deleveraging (both ecological and financial/economic) as we attempt to repair ecological systems and weather our own population peak (in other words, taper off, and not collapse).
So what do we do now? Is all hope lost?
The alternatives to consumeristic predatory capitalism are not mysterious, nebulous, or theoretical. They are already operating and established in many ways, on both large and small scales. Some examples include:
- Dozens of countries (including most European countries, but also Canada and Japan) operate more or less as social democracies, and manage to provide healthcare, education, public safety, and other benefits to all of their citizens. Taxes are higher, but income and social inequality are lower. Social trust and happiness tend to be higher in functioning social democracies, which has a lot to do with more income equality.
- Large-scale cooperatives such as the Mondragon Corporation provides models for how to simultaneously achieve business excellence and social responsibility.
- Open-Source Ecology and their audacious Global Village Construction Set project provide a window into the future of open-source production and distribution methods (beyond information products and into the realm of functioning machines).
Some citizens of the United States are slavishly dedicated to right-wing “winner take all” capitalism, and are outrageously fearful of the lefty pinko “welfare state.” What is really threatening the wealth of our country is not worker benefits, food stamps, public schools, and national healthcare, but rather unfunded long-term invasions of foreign countries, Wall Street bailouts, and ultra-rich tax dodgers.
The Way Forward
Globally, we’ve already explored the consequences of extreme collectivism. We’re not going back. Reasonably regulated free markets are more efficient and generate more wealth than markets that are owned and operated by the state, with no private incentives. I’m not arguing for communism, an end to private ownership, or for “all information to be free” (no intellectual property rights).
What I’m pointing out is that the unstoppable trends of human population peak, the Anthropocene, and open-source production and distribution leave us no choice but to provide for each other during the big deleveraging. Nations that prioritize the health and wealth of citizens over the health and wealth of corporations will fare better during the approaching epoch of restoration, repair, and rewilding.
Is the future of humanity bright? I think it is, especially in terms of scientific and technological progress.
Is consumeristic “winner take all” capitalism the best system for ushering in a bright future for humanity? The Libertarian Space Men think so. I’m placing my bets with the Gaia Collective.