Is capitalism sustainable? No, not in its current form. In its current form, capitalism requires constant growth, and constant growth places an extreme burden on natural resources. Destruction of forests, pollution of our waters, extinction of species, the death of barrier reefs and the creation of unmanageable mounds of trash.
Perhaps there is no better evidence of its destructiveness than its role in climate change.
Yes, capitalism has brought us many blessings. It’s created wealth for millions. We have advanced medicine and technology and the profit motive played no small part in that process.
Yet, it is not benign. Because in addition to the environmental cost, humans apparently cannot be trusted to behave as egalitarians. In fact, we do just the opposite, hoarding vast sums of wealth while millions of workers can barely make ends meet. Why do so many people believe there are no moral issues when one person makes billions at the expense of other life forms?
Capitalism gave us workhouses, child labor, debtors prisons, collection agencies and the military industrial complex.
“The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.” -Martin Luther King Jr.
Are there answers? I believe capitalism can improve and that humans may be able to thrive in an economic system that is more tightly bound by biological and geophysical boundaries. It requires the interdigitation of science and economics whereby economic decisions are made within the context of ecological carrying capacity. It also requires a greater blend of socialistic and capitalist ideas. This means more worker equity. We have a roadmap for this in other countries. True, they are much smaller nations, but there’s nothing that says proven principles can not be applied in larger scale.
And if we do nothing? Continued course means economic and ecological catastrophe. If the issues of income inequality, national debt and climate change are not effectively addressed, we will soon find ourselves in a perfect storm that will severely test even the strongest democratic states. It reminds me of Weimar Germany where a perfect storm of debt, inflation and growing hatred toward classes of people lead us to a devastating world war. Such conditions are fertile ground for strongmen and dictators to arise where nations circle their wagons and use violence as a primary tool of governance.
If you read Timothy Snyder, you’ll discover that Hitler was actually driven not just by racial hatred, but by ill-founded ecological concerns. Far beyond what we already knew about the concept of Lebansraum. He feared his people would not be able to produce enough food and therefore looked eastward for fertile lands. And while his ecological concerns were misguided, it’s still an example of what can happen in a world where scarcity dominates the minds of despots and their duped followers. Reparations, inflation, racism and ecology coalesced, brought us a madman and the deaths of more than 70 million people.
In America, a good first step is for us to elect more progressive thinkers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. People that will resist the status quo and act in the interest of sound ecology and sustainable economics.
Continue course means economic collapse and ecocide.
The supporters of shallow ecology think that reforming human relations toward nature can be done within the existing structure of society.” — Arne Naess