Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Capitalism Papers, chapter 6

(Continued from this post.) Chapter 6 is on infinite growth, finite planet. Never-ending growth is one of the defining characteristics of capitalism. There is never enough; we must always create more, want more, need more, more, more. Craving in Buddhist terms. Good girls gone bad in modern parlance. Capitalist growth requires 3 elements that are not sustainable: cheap resource base, expanding consumer markets that equate consumption with happiness, and cheap or slave labor. It's obvious that natural resources are not unlimited. And more and more people are waking up to the fact that toys don't make you happy. Even if they don't, there's only so many toys one can buy, especially when one is struggling to eat. And that we're tired of working for less than subsistence levels, even though many have to. Yes, capitalism did see enormous growth in the past due to the above factors, but those factors are running out, not to mention were dysfunctional to begin with.

The sort of past growth capitalism has seen is its necessary driver. Without it it begins to break down, as we've seen in the past few years with minimal growth. And given the depletion of natural resources that kind of growth is gone. Cheap or slave labor is still seems abundant, hence why many corps now ship jobs overseas. But even that resource is dwindling, as world population reduces from climate change and starvation. As so is expanding markets, as 1st world citizens wake up to other values that make for happiness beside greed, and as minimum wage earners in any country are less able to buy even food, let alone extra toys.

A key fact is that economics does not take account of the ecological cost of producing more houses or cars. The amount of forestry and minerals required. The amount of CO2 generated, or the amount of land covered over with concrete, or the amount of oil deposited in the soil and water. Economics is the conversion of resources with the consequent entropy bill which has heretofore never been taken into account. GDP doesn't recognize its existence, only focusing on the plus side of the ledger, what products have been created and sold. What capitalism and GDP do not measure is all of the other things that add value to a society, like stay-at-home domestic work, one who grows their own food, or who engages in community sharing of talent and resources. Now that the ecosystem is no longer capable of producing what is required to maintain GDP growth, and as return on investment slows, the capitalist system is faltering.

There is also an increasing food supply shortage. To make matters worse, giant corps are buying up arable land in droves and do not grow food, instead using it as an investment for profit. Or some of that land is used to farm, but only with huge agribusiness tech and ships the food out, not creating local jobs or feeding the indigenous population. And frequently such land was taken from locals by governments to sell to the corps. Yet the locals are left with the pollution from such farming practices, and without jobs to buy their own food, thus exacerbating the food shortage problem. This goes double for the clean water shortage, caused in large part by huge agribusiness and high-tech manufacturing. Global corps are now trying to privatize this commons as well to control where what water is available to their production processes, not to thirsty human beings unless they can afford to pay. And so-called free trade agreements are supporting this privatization of natural resources.

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