The following is from the essay I wrote in 2010 about what I have learned about our world: That our world is in serious trouble, and we are the cause. This is the first of three posts about who I mean by “we.
I recently heard a theologian give a report on a conference of progressive theologians. He said that the comment was made that the current economic system – Neo Liberal Global Capitalism, is the first truly global theology (or value system).
I think it is safe to say that global capitalism is the dominant system that governs a major portion of human relationships for the vast majority of humans on our planet. Much could be said about the negative affects of Capitalism on the way humans interact. I wrote about this in my post We are Rich Because They are Poor. But that is not the aspect of Capitalism that I am concerned with here. What I am concerned with is the requirement of a Capitalistic Economy that it continually grow. A continually growing economy will force all of the areas of environmental concern mentioned above, to worsen. There is nothing to suggest otherwise.
If a Capitalistic Economy doesn’t continue to grow, it will collapse. Growth is a requirement, not just a desirable outcome.
I have found David Korten’s historical and theoretical distinctions between “market economy” and Capitalism extremely helpful. Adam Smith’s description of a market economy was written roughly 75 years before the term Capitalism was used. Capitalism refers specifically to the role of capital, money, ownership of production, in an economic system. In a capitalistic system, someone lets someone else temporarily “use” their money, and is then rewarded with additional money (i.e., interest), simply for letting their money be used.
Financial analysit, Chris Martensen, has stated, and I agree, that all of the money that is paid as interest in any given year is the exact amount by which the economy must grow in order to not head toward collapse.
It is this fundamental nature of Capitalism – that money earns money – that requires the system to continually grow, and that therefore makes it a completely unredeemable system at this time in our human history.
Yet I have heard no elected official, progressive or conservative, express anything but “grow the economy” as a basic solution to virtually all issues. I recently was at a meeting with MA State Rep. Will Brownsberger, the politician who I believe understands better than any other I have met, the dire environmental situation we are in. Yet I heard him say something to the effect that “when the economy turns around there will be more money for environmental legislation.” The reality is that if the economy turns around, it will be causing substantially more additional environmental damage than any legislation can counteract.
Another example: I recently heard two back-to-back programs on NPR. The first one emphasized the need for people to cut back on their consumption. The second one, on the economy, emphasized the importance of increased “consumer confidence” in order to fix our economy. We, progressive Democrats, like President Obama, who look hopefully for increased “consumer confidence” are the cause of our dire situation.
I have very little to add to what I wrote three years ago. I grieve for the world. I try to remove myself as much as possible from the web of social pressure to consume. I try to make what resources I have accessible for the most vulnerable, especially for when times get really hard. And I try to learn and teach a way of living that makes sense for the future, however ridiculous it seems in comparison with our present surroundings.