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!