Tag Archives: Capitalism

What next after capitalism?

After the results of the UK election, held on 8th June, one thing became very clear: young people have started to lose faith in the way our present society runs, particularly in our current model of capitalism. The situation is even more stark in the USA; Naomi Klein has analysed it brilliantly here.

It is not hard to understand some of the economic pressures which have led young people to conclude that capitalism is not working for them. A study by the Resolution Foundation last year found that people born between 1981 and 1985 are earning £40 a week less in today’s terms than were, at the same age, people born a decade earlier – making the current under-35s the first generation since the industrial revolution to suffer such a reversal. Meanwhile, the cost of housing has gone beyond their reach. Over the past five years, according to the Nationwide Building Society, the rate of home-ownership among 30-34 year olds has plunged from 49.3 per cent to 43.1 per cent – while older people have enjoyed higher rates of home-ownership.

Moreover, high rents have prevented many young people from putting aside any kind of savings. If they cannot win a stake in the capitalist system, in spite of working hard, why should they support it?  Add to that some of the many other issues that Theresa May’s government is either supporting or which are resulting from its policies, eg fracking, foodbanks, stealth privatisation of the NHS and other public services, student tuition fees, constant austerity for ordinary people but not the rich, etc., and it is no wonder that so many young people voted in such numbers for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.

For many older people, capitalism was associated with freedom. But there is little reason today for young people to feel the same way, when they are confronted on a daily basis by large, tax-dodging corporations and bankers who wrecked the economy, who escaped without punishment and yet who carried on skimming off vast bonuses. What they see instead are the failures of Conservative industrial policy, such as over-priced trains run by private companies, which have ruthlessly exploited the private monopolies granted to them, in what was surely the most flawed of all the privatisations.

It will not be possible for the Conservatives to continue to preach the benefits of the free market if it is patently not working in favour of an entire generation. By the next election the current generation of under-35s will comprise nearly half the population. If they have a sense that the economic system is rigged against them, they will revolt against it – and so they should.

But it’s even worse than just a system rigged against the young; those of you who are regular readers of this blog may be aware that from time-to-time, I’ve expressed grave doubts as to whether this planet and all the species living on it will be able to survive the consequences of our present system of economics.

Our current model of capitalism, with its emphasis on constant growth and its elevation of money to something which trumps every other argument, is leading us inevitably towards what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction in the history of our planet. The Holocene epoch, the past 12,000 years of stable climate in which agriculture, settled communities, and great civilisations first appeared, has come to an end, and a new epoch has begun. The term “Anthropocene” was coined in the 1970s to describe this new epoch, in which we are seeing significant human impact on the Earth’s geology and ecosystems.

Another and in some ways better term for the present epoch has been coined even more recently by those who want to focus attention on the role of capitalism in bringing us to this crisis in Earth’s existence, and this is the “Capitalocene”.  We are living in a new and dangerous epoch in Earth history, as identified in overwhelming detail by scientists. It is characterised by the violation of critical planetary boundaries, the unprecedented disruption of our planet’s life-support systems with potentially catastrophic results, including climate chaos, mass extinctions, acidified oceans, poisoned rivers, rising sea levels, over-population and more.

Whatever one calls this new era, it’s clear that most people (with the possible exception of Donald Trump and those who share his attitudes) are prepared to accept that the Earth System as a whole is experiencing unprecedented negative changes caused by recent human action (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards). The concept that perpetual, constant, infinite growth without limits is leading us directly to disaster is one that is probably accepted by most sane people these days. The question is: what can be done about it? Who is going to tell voters in a democracy that there are limits to growth? Who will tell a Premier League footballer or a rock star that there should be a limit to the number of Ferraris they own? More to the point, is there any politician with the courage to say to people like me that two cars per family is quite enough?

No doubt most people can see the connection between unlimited numbers of consumer goods and ecological destruction – but which of us is prepared to accept that the limits to growth have to start with you and me?

Rudolf Steiner identified the economic, social and cultural aspects of the problem a century ago and put forward Threefolding as an alternative to our headlong pursuit of disaster. These ideas still need to be brought to the world’s attention but my assumption is that there will not be any cut-through to political and public notice by anthroposophical concepts alone, unless they are also accompanied by additional ideas and solutions propounded by other people of goodwill. Sadly, anthroposophy is too strange a word, its ideas are too remote from common attitudes today, and its historical baggage is too cumbersome to enable it to make the necessary difference on its own.

That is why I am proposing, along with a few colleagues, to organise a conference at Emerson College in 2019 to look for a new story, a new narrative about what has to pass away, and what has to come into being, if we are to survive as a species on our beautiful blue planet – and I invite you to help “crowdthink” this conference into a form that will enable it to be most useful. Here are a few ideas to get us started, and I would be most grateful for your own input, such as suggestions for speakers, themes, alternative ways forward and who should be invited to attend and participate. Please send in your thoughts and ideas via the Comment button below.

Conference working title: What next after capitalism?

Conference venue: Emerson College, Forest Row, East Sussex, UK

Proposed date: Around Easter 2019

Basic premise: The world is hurtling towards disaster because of the way we treat the planet and people and this is a direct result of our current economic systems. We are not living with love for one another and the world. Does the conference accept/agree with this? Does the conference accept/agree the concept that the problem is our present model of capitalism?

Duration: 3 days

Day 1: THEME – What’s broken?

Establishing what’s not working and why, using examples from around the world. 20-minute “Ted type” talks on identifying what is broken.

Day 2: THEME – Alternatives

Looking at alternatives from around the world – examples of success and failures

Day 3: THEME – Call to Action

Leaving with determination, purpose and a clear set of realistic actions for each of the 3 themes.

Underlying structure: 3-fold. Cross-cutting themes throughout conference, including Economic, Cultural and Rights spheres, and taking in topics such as the impact of our present model of capitalism on the environment, global economy, banking, agriculture, medicine, company structures, shareholder system, developing countries and relations between people, etc

Our ideal will be to find a backer who will fully fund the conference so that attendance can be by invitation only. Our aim will be to put together a stellar group of keynote speakers and leading thinkers, and to invite top civil servants, social entrepreneurs, pioneers who are already doing the alternatives, academics, influencers and opinion-formers to attend.

I would be very grateful to receive via the Comments below your own thoughts, ideas and suggestions to develop this proposal – please suggest speakers, topics and a structure for each day of the conference. It would be a magnificent achievement if this conference could be a result of “crowdthinking” in action!

 

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Capitalism, Emerson College UK

It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism…

…yet this is what the world needs if we are to survive our present multiple crises. Rudolf Steiner showed 100 years ago what an important role the overcoming of capitalism must play if we are to have any hope of finding our way to a future for the earth and all its species.

The anthropopper nevertheless tries to be positive and optimistic whenever possible, despite everything there is to worry us. We are undergoing not only what has been called “the sixth great extinction” but also an intense transformation of our society and what we thought were our certainties; and all this is happening at a speed which leaves us both breathless and disorientated. It is, of course, capitalism and globalisation that are forcing the pace, facilitated as they are by information technology and the omnipresent internet. These forces have brought with them economic liberalisation, falling trade barriers and tariffs, and the all-consuming imperatives of global corporations. The effect of these changes and the emphasis on the individual has led to the gradual dissolution of some of the traditional glues that have held society together, such as trade unions, religious organisations, political parties and voluntary associations. Hand in hand with this we have developed a scepticism, even a contempt, towards authority and the establishment. Our cynicism has only been encouraged by the way in which giant international corporations have been able to ignore borders and national loyalties and play off one country against another. They are beyond the effective control of national governments and can move their capital and profits around to wherever labour costs and regulatory requirements are lowest. We can all see that politicians have lost the plot, and despite their continuing pretence that they can control events and improve the situation for ordinary voters, we no longer believe them.

Corporations can now go wherever labour is cheapest and they can drive down workers’ pay with pernicious new forms of employment, such as zero hours contracts, which reduce their costs and responsibilities. While corporate profits soar through such devices, by the same process the job security and spending power of workers decline. This is not just making the working classes poorer, it is also affecting a growing number of the middle classes, who are less able to buy the products and services which these corporations are selling – so this is not only leading to the economic stagnation we have started to see all around us, it is also the start of a process by which global capitalism has started to eat itself. As Francis Bacon observed so wisely, “Money is like muck – not good unless it be spread.”

Middle-aged men who had expected to be breadwinners no longer feel in control of their fate, so they vote against a rich elite and for someone like Donald Trump, who despite being a billionaire, makes noises as though he understands their plight. I’ve decided that the key to understanding Trump is not to listen to what he says, but to look carefully at what he does. In my last post, I noted how the victory speech he gave after Clinton had conceded was a sign of his duplicitous style, going against everything he had said about her in the lead-up to the election. Similarly, during the election campaign, Trump said he would “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders and lobbyists. Instead of draining the swamp, the appointment by Trump of several billionaires and Goldman Sachs bankers to his administration shows that, in the words of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, he is bent on stocking it with alligators.

At the time of writing, Trump has appointed 12 multi-millionaires, billionaires, Goldman Sachs bankers etc. to his cabinet, presumably on the grounds that, as they have feathered their own nests so well, they may be able to look after the country’s interests too. Either you believe that Trump is appointing poachers who may turn into gamekeepers, or else all his anti-corporate rhetoric in the campaign was just a pack of lies. So in this extraordinary era of post-truth politics, let us remember to watch what Trump does and not be taken in by the words he says.

I said in my last post that this new era of politics, with Trump at its head, is likely to be ugly; and so it is proving. Looking at the appointments in more detail, some worrying trends emerge:

Steven Mnuchin, 53, a former Goldman Sachs banker with a net worth of $40 million, has been appointed Secretary of the Treasury, with a brief to cut corporate taxes.

Scott Pruitt, 48, who as Oklahoma’s Attorney General made his name by opposing climate change policies such as the Clean Power Act, has been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He is on record as saying that the EPA has too much power.

Andrew F. Pudzer, 66, an anti-abortion lawyer turned fast food magnate, has been appointed Secretary of Labour. His experience includes opposing the raising of the minimum wage at his two fast food chains.

Jeff Sessions, 69, with a net worth of $15 million, and who was rejected for a post as judge during the 1980s amid claims of racism, has been appointed as Attorney General. His brief is that there should be less focus on investigating the deaths of black people in police hands.

Mike Pompeo, 52, a lawyer and former soldier who is now a congressman who sits on the intelligence committee, has been appointed as director of the CIA. He believes in the effectiveness of torture and his brief includes a loosening of the rules on “enhanced interrogation” and drone strikes.

Trump’s attitude to the environment is of course a disaster and perhaps it is the impending ecological catastrophe that should worry us most of all. Species extinction is the clearest indicator of what’s happening to ecology, and is the factor that will precipitate its collapse unless we stop it. We are currently losing around 100 species per day. When species loss, soil erosion and climate change turn countries into deserts, as is happening, then the scale of recent migrations into Europe will be dwarfed by what is heading towards us. As the global population heads towards 10 billion, while at the same time, desertification and ecological collapse are reducing the earth’s ability to feed us, many millions of people are going to be on the move in coming decades, and there is also likely to be a drastic population crash. It’s now conceivable that humanity as a whole may not survive into the 22nd century.

Now one could be very pessimistic about all of this and much else, just as George Monbiot is in this article, but as I say, the anthropopper likes to look for the tiniest hints of a silver lining; and in my view it’s just possible that a Trump presidency might wipe out the complacency that would have accompanied a Clinton-led administration, and the belief that if only Hillary were in the White House, we’d be slowly moving in the right direction and everything will eventually get back to normal. Everything is not going to get back to normal. Ecological damage is accelerating, which means that we’re on the path to extinction; and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a smaller and smaller number of people takes away the ability of the rest of us to do anything about it. This would not have been changed in the slightest with Clinton as president or Britain voting to remain in the European Union. Could the sheer unfolding horror of the Trump presidency be part of the shock we need to realise that we’re looking at an existential crisis for the human race; and that business as usual, including the Democratic Party, the European Union and other corporate-controlled institutions, is never going to solve it?

It is impossible to get to grips with our current ecological crisis as long as we have an unfettered capitalist economy. The present day extinctions cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of capitalism, because the constant emphasis on growth, growth, growth is destroying ecology.

Economic growth always results in an increase in spending power and it is of course impossible to ring-fence this increase in spending power so that it’s not spent on material things. Therefore, economic growth has to stop, because it always produces material growth, and we’re already past the limits of the material human economy that can be sustained without damaging ecology. Our economic system is destroying our life support system, and as we can’t afford to lose our life support system, we have to replace our economic system or suffer the consequences. This is simple logic but as the title of this post indicates, for most people it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.

As mentioned above, Rudolf Steiner stated these things 100 years ago. Since then, conditions – not only in big cities – have become much worse. An ever growing inner emptiness can be observed, especially among young people, many of whom, to my eye at least, seem to be aging prematurely. What future do they have, these young people of my daughter’s generation? Some of those I meet are talking of moving from the UK to Berlin, where they might stand some chance of buying their own home one day; they are in despair over Brexit, which seems likely to deprive them of the opportunity to live and work in other European countries; but the real source of the emptiness in their lives lies elsewhere.

In this Age of the Consciousness Soul, it appears to us human beings that we are no longer linked to the world in the same way that people were in earlier ages. This has been an essential preliminary condition for the achievement of our freedom and egohood but as Stewart C. Easton has pointed out in his Man and World in the Light of Anthroposophy, it has meant that our attitude to the world has become necessarily a cold one. It is our urgent task today to overcome this coldness, to change our cold, dead, materialistic thinking into the spirit-infused warmth of living thinking that connects us once again with the earth and all living things. The philosophical basis of this has been set out by Rudolf Steiner in his book, The Philosophy of Freedom, but in essence all that we humans need to overcome our present dilemmas is to have a loving heart and a sense of connection with all of life – and then to act on our knowing.

There is something about the capitalist system which drives out of people’s minds any sense that there are realities other than economic reality. Anything which is not based in economics is dismissed as airy-fairy or unreal. This has led to our present situation in which the human personality, together with the spiritual-soul nature of the human being, is separated from the economic process. We cannot expect this to change until capitalism is changed. Humankind does not willingly prepare for crises. It’s only on the brink that people find the will to change. Only at the precipice do we evolve. The only way I know of in which capitalism can be overcome in a healthy way is through what Rudolf Steiner calls the threefolding of the social organism. After the failure of his efforts to persuade politicians to introduce this at the end of the First World War, he was asked whether another opportunity to do so would occur.  He replied that it would take 100 years before a new chance would arise.  We are now approaching that point and I’ve no doubt that I shall have more to say about this in 2017.

 

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Filed under Anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, Threefolding