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Capitalism as the Engine of Global Crisis

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posted on Jan, 29 2008 @ 11:01 AM
Original Content at

January 28, 2008

Capitalism as the Engine of Global Crisis

By Richard Mynick

It's increasingly evident to thoughtful persons that humanity has entered a period of unusual danger on multiple fronts. The months and years ahead may bring catastrophe through military conflagration, environmental disaster, economic collapse, or any combination of these. This essay will argue that these problems are all ultimately linked; that they are fundamentally rooted in corporate capitalism, and moreover that none of them can be solved within the framework of capitalism. I will focus on the role of capitalist ideology in precluding resolution of the gathering tensions; and on the idea of capitalism as a system that can be analyzed somewhat as mechanical systems are analyzed.

Infinite Growth in a Finite World?

Capitalism seeks to maximize growth. "Growth" is calculated in a way that overlooks fundamental quality-of-life determinants such as the social cohesiveness of communities, clean air and water, access to healthcare and education, well-maintained parks, leisure time, and the like. Meanwhile, such noxious "goods and services" as mind-numbing TV commercials, hideous real-estate development, and high-tech weapons systems are counted as "positive contributions" to GDP.

The obsession with growth is oppressive and objectionable, even in times not threatened by imminent systemic crisis. But when consumption nears certain natural limits, such as the exhaustion of vital resources, a unidimensional insistence on growth becomes the enemy of reason and planetary well-being. You can't have infinite growth in a finite world -- yet capitalist theology provides no adequate mechanisms for recognizing and responding to such limitations.

The capitalist apologist might argue that as certain processes (climate change, water pollution, the destruction of rain forests and various biological species, etc) approach critical points, a set of price rises should signal economic actors to desist from the offending processes, & to develop alternatives. However, this simple "Econ 101 supply-and-demand" view does not factor in the ability of corporate monopolies and cartels to overwhelm society's information-processing abilities. The simplest example is the threat posed by global warming -- where, rather than facing the crisis, oil corporations are able to simply buy or bribe media outlets and government into denying that the crisis even exists.

This last example -- the power of cartels -- reflects another increasingly destructive and destabilizing aspect of capitalism: the inexorable tendency towards concentration of wealth. The adage that "the rich get richer" is widely acknowledged in American culture. The phrase itself has a kind of "folk wisdom" status. It's often spoken with a rueful chuckle, then dismissed -- as though it were simply "the way of the world" -- as natural and inevitable as the sun setting in the west.

But what underlies the adage is no laughing matter. An economic system in which the dominant social class becomes ever wealthier and more powerful is ultimately incompatible with democratic governance. The only possible endpoint for such a system is a two-tiered society consisting of a ruling class, and everyone else. The only governmental form possible in such a society is plutocracy, in which the machinery of state becomes purely an instrument of class rule. The Bush administration, and the concurrent lack of a real opposition party, are merely bitter foretastes of the blatancy these tendencies must eventually achieve.

The system dynamics here deserve serious reflection, because the basic process is a "self-reinforcing feedback loop." To wit: the wealthier the ruling class gets, the more influential it becomes. The more influent

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