Monday, 22 October 2012

Building the post-capitalist economy

Post-capitalist economy? - that old chestnut, a socialist arguing for the end of capitalism? But in recent times capitalism has shown that it is perfectly capable of bringing about its own demise. This isn't just about the collapse of banks, the current 'debt crisis' obscures and compounds the real problem which is the collapse of ecosystems on which we depend for our survival. Capitalism is not just the driver of climate change, but also of massive environmental degradation, and loss in biodiversity - see this recent example. It is capital accumulation that is devouring our planet and you cannot use the same mechanisms which are destroying the Earth to save it. What we need to do is bring about economic change before the consequences of climate change become unimaginably destructive to our global society. A post-capitalist economy is inevitable, but we can do it the hard way or the better way, and what we need to do is think about how that economy ought to work.

This is a slight detour, but I wonder how many people know that Karl Marx, was an admirer of capitalism, in the sense that he admired the huge productive capacity of capitalism, which far exceeded any previous economic system. Marx recognised that if the productive capacity of capitalism was harnessed for the good of society, it could provide people with a much better material standard of living than they had ever had before. But he also recognised that, through the mechanism of surplus value, capitalists were able to deprive workers of the wealth that they created, and that there would always be a conflict between capitalists and workers, between the productive forces - workers - and the non-productive forces - capitalists. Marx was the first political economist to understand the massive forces that capitalism could unleash, and Marx and Engels were also much more aware of environmental degradation than they have been given credit for. Engels said:    
Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. Each victory, it is true, in the first place brings about the results we expected, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first.
As far as climate catastrophe is concerned, the left may have led the way in our understanding of the unfolding crisis but the 'free' market right have since caught up, and are now pouring their millions into persuading people that climate change is not an issue, through climate change denial, because they are concerned about their profits and the end of domination of democracies by the market. As I have pointed out before, in this post, the 'free' market fundamentalists are fighting to deny climate change precisely because they recognise that a genuine and meaningful response the climate change will mean the end of capitalism as we know it. This state of affairs was beautifully summed up in an article by Naomi Klein called 'Capitalism vs the Climate'.

So what would a post-capitalist economy look like? It would not mean the end of the private sector, because, as I've argued before, the private sector is not the same thing as capitalism, but initially it would inevitably mean a much bigger role for the state because a collapsing capitalist economy would have to be replaced by extensive nationalisation of banks, transport and utilities to save them from going under. Energy and food production would have to be regulated as would imports and exports. We would need planning in a democratically controlled economy.This would not simply be an ideological choice but a necessary response to crisis. We would have to grow as much as our own food as possible and economies would become much more localised. It would be an economy much more like the one that we had in the UK during the Second World War.

Caroline Lucas in her report 'New Home Front' has gathered together ideas on what we can do in response to climate change
We are already beginning to experience problems with climate change in terms of freak weather events, and disruption to agriculture, and we will inevitably soon experience difficulties with energy supply. We have a choice, we can begin to adjust our economy now, to deal with these problems, or we can carry on with 'business as usual' and inevitably face much worse conditions later. What we need to do is forget about the 'free' market neoliberal nonsense about competing with China, and work together to create a new kind of economy to deal with possibly the greatest challenge that human beings have ever faced.

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