Monday, January 13, 2014

The Capitalism Papers, Intro and chapter 1

See this and this previous post introducing the book The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System (Counterpoint, 2012). I'm now reading the book so will follow up here with a chapter by chapter synopsis interspersed with my commentary.
In the Introduction someone asks if their relative's local store is capitalism. Mander responds that sort of thing is not the capitalism he is criticizing. The former is more about local products and community welfare. Global capitalism is about generating wealth for wealth's sake in a never ending process of unlimited growth. And in the process buying off government to reduce or eliminate environmental laws and fair labor regulation, as well as externalize on to the commons its costs.

Chapter 1 discusses economic succession. That is, economic systems arise and flourish in certain specific circumstances, as well as flounder and die when those circumstances change, necessitating replacement by other, more appropriate systems. Capitalism requires abundant cheap natural resources and labor and we are fast running out of the former, while certainly creating more of the latter. Climate change, peak oil, resource depletion and population explosion make a continuous growth cycle unsustainable. The correlative worldview of ever increasing commodity accumulation via wealth expansion as a measure of happiness must also change.

Mander sees a major obstacle to this shift being everyone, conservative and liberal alike, buy into the notion of ever-increasing economic growth. This notion presupposes an economy divorced from natural resources, as if it existed in some completely abstract realm devoid of material grounding. As I've long criticized, this is part of the egoic-rational developmental level that Lakoff criticizes, a notion of either an ideal Platonic realm and/or an Aristotelian notion of abstract categories that are themselves created devoid of empirical bases. So we need an embodied economics to deal with the limitations created by this abstract Enlightenment version of reason. Bryant's onticology and onto-cartography is also relevant here, since it deals with the material grounding of our ideologies. As is Rifkin's third industrial revolution, creating material alternatives.

He goes to define capitalism much like I did in this thread here. It is basically based on private ownership of capital and the means of production. He adds that this includes unending pursuit of 'enlightened' financial self-interest, our friend the invisible hand job. He lists the varieties capitalism takes, to US corporatocracy to more central-planning versions like China and Russia to northern European social democracies. Plus there is the distinction of scale from the Introduction, from global to local businesses. The latter are not the problem and in fact later in the book part of the solution.

Mander admits that this book is not about reforming global capitalism. He further admits it is beyond repair, that it is obsolete and must be replaced. The very nature of the system inevitably leads to boom and bust cycles, even when a new product or service legitimately starts to flourish. The root is the need to then over invest in said product or service to the point of overvaluation beyond its carrying capacity, with the resultant crash. And all based on the above worldview requiring constant growth divorced from reality. The system is also intrinsically amoral, inequitable, prone to war, and undermines democracy. Capitalism may have been appropriate early on when it was in a more local or regional agricultural society, but its global expansionism is rife with dysfunctions that are beyond repair in today's world.

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