Capitalism and the Mad Uncle in the Attic
Can you feel that sickening thrill as we poise atop this Sisyphean peak we call capitalism, right before the inevitable, nauseating plunge back down into reality?
Can you smell the stench from the soon-to-fail Rio plus 20 meeting as we con ourselves into believing we can snatch a bit more time at the peak if only we could steal yet more of our childrenís childrenís childrenís birthright?
Ah, but we Ė plutocrats and people alike -- all beg, canít we keep this damned Uncle locked up for just a little more time. Maybe until this election is over. Or until weíve extracted a little more money from a fossil-fueled economy based on greed and exploitation. Or until Ö oh, I donít know Ö until weíve bled the last iota of money from the 99%? Or at least until Ö I get mine?
Canít we pretend for just one more generation that capitalism Ė pure, unconstrained capitalism, the kind Reagan promised us would bring morning to America Ė isnít instead bringing mourning to America, and to the world?
Canít we just pretend, for one more generation, that the whole infinite growth on a finite world thing isnít just a giant, tragic Ponzi Scheme designed to sell out the future?
Canít we pass this problem onto them?
Canít we use buzz words and sound bites to drown out the lunatic? Words like socialist or redistribution or Ė most dreaded of all Ė communism. Canít we keep pretending that capitalism is the necessary handmaiden of Democracy, the only path to prosperity, our only source of happiness?
No. We canít. Because deep down inside, in places we donít like to visit, we know the Mad Uncle is right.
What weíre doing now isnít making us all rich. Itís impoverishing us.
Ultimately, all wealth comes from natural capital. Things like fertile soils; viable forests; intact gene pools; abundant minerals; clean water and living oceans; sustainable fish stocks; flourishing ecosystems; a stable, life-sustaining climate. We are liquidating these essential sources of wealth as if they were so much junk offered for pennies on the dollar at a desperate garage sale.
Our current version of capitalism is good at generating more currency, not greater wealth. And we forget that currency is merely a surrogate for things of real value, with no tangible value in and of itself.
And even the currency isnít being distributed equally. Itís being siphoned off by the richest and most powerful in a spiral of inequity.
It isn't making us happy, it's enslaving us to a life spent pursuing more and more stuff we donít need for reasons we donít understand. Bigger; more; faster becomes biggest; most; fastest. But easy, easier, easiest becomes fatter, sicker weaker.
It isnít making us free, itís creating a tyranny of the corporations and plutocrats. They weaken government in the name of freedom, only to turn us into indentured servants to a system that's designed to take from the poor and middle class and give to the uber rich, even as it liquidates Earthís treasures.
But the real tragedy isnít our own alienation or our economic and spiritual impoverishment. It is the diminished legacy we leave the rest of humanity and indeed, the rest of the biosphere.
Itís our willingness to consume the future in an orgy of gluttony, drowning out the Mad Uncleís protests with the noise of our own slurping, chewing, smacking, munching, crunching as we inhale our childrenís birthright.
In the case of climate change we are at the threshold of igniting feedbacks that will usher in an inevitable and catastrophic set of changes that will make life difficult in some areas and impossible in others.
Itís time to admit that the Mad Uncle is right. Pure, unconstrained capitalism is the problem, not the solution.
What, then, are we to do?
There are alternatives. We could tie currency to sustainable eco-systems. Instead of a gold standard we could have a green standard. Thus, destruction of a nationís stock of natural capital would devalue its currency, and make it poorer.
We could adopt systems of production and ownership such as Co-ops that emphasized cooperation, equitable sharing of revenue and stewardship of our natural resources. Itís not pie-in-the sky, to consider this. Cooperatives already produce more than $1 trillion in assets, enough to make them equivalent to the 10th largest economy in the world.
We could insist that trade agreements contain real, enforceable requirements for equitable treatment of labor and serious environmental protections, so that globalization ceased being a race to the bottom for humans and the planet.
Yes, these ideas are unrealistic, naÔve, politically impossible and all the other labels that will surely be affixed to them and other ideas like them.
But it is worth remembering, that the only thing more unrealistic than junking our current bastardized system of economics is supposing we can continue to liquidate the Earth without consequence.
Thatís what the Mad Uncle is telling us. We continue to ignore him at our peril.
John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major newspapers. Atchesonís book reviews are featured on Climateprogess.org.
This this article was first published at Common Dreams