Friday, September 25, 2009 ran an article titled

"World Consumption Plunges Planet Into 'Ecological Debt', Says Leading Thinktank

Consumption exceeds Earth's annual 'biocapacity' today amid warnings of dependence on overseas food and energy"

It made me think of how Michael Moore's new movie apparently dares to ask 'why is capitalism so great again?'. It made me think how I can't help but agree with that questioning, and how weak the pro-market reply seems to actually be.

A bottom-line observation I find every day more difficult to disagree with: "Ecological devastation, resulting from the insatiable need to increase profits, is not an accidental feature of capitalism: it is built into the system’s DNA and cannot be reformed away" The authors (the one I'm most familiar with is an academic who, by his own admission, got creamed by Nader in the Green Party primary of 2000) go on to clarify: "the capitalist economic system cannot tolerate limits on growth; its constant need to expand will subvert any limits that might be imposed in the name of “sustainable development.” Thus the inherently unstable capitalist system cannot regulate its own activity, much less overcome the crises caused by its chaotic and parasitical growth, because to do so would require setting [untenable, unacceptable] limits upon accumulation..." The above is from the so-called "Belem Ecosocialist Declaration", distributed at the World Social Forum in Belem, Brazil, in January this year. I'm an avid reader of (the non-technical literature of) Dean Baker, Paul Krugman, and Joseph Stiglitz, even Jeffery Sachs up to a point, but somewhere along the line it becomes pretty clear that these guys and their visions of reforming the market system from within--particularly given the speed and depth of what needs doing such that industrial society can be brought into some kind of accord with the finite renewable limits of the natural world--just aren't speaking to the power-relations of the world as it is. The failure of democracy + capitalism to meet this front-and-center challenge is both a tragedy in itself, but also a compelling proof that the 'hypercapitalism' of our age and its "magic of the marketplace" have been

(a) a very thoroughly-conducted and global experiment for demonstrating what free markets can offer humanity, and
(b) this experiment, while having lots to say for itself, and being a really energetic, neat and elegant system, what with the self-regulating price equilibration, financing of all sorts of projects, lightning quick movement of funds from one end of the globe to the other, is in fact a failed experiment. It is, in its essence, a 'parasitical' system that leads to steep social pyramids and ghastly exploitations. There are over 20 million slaves living in the world today. Over 50 million children btw 5 and 11 yrs old who work all day rather than playing and being educated. A non-trivial percentage of these children are sex workers. Ecology aside, this is unacceptable. Intolerable. But the natural world is not a thing to be put 'aside' of course, as the 'ecological debt' article makes clear.

It's also clear, it seems to me at least, that nothing will change. Not until (and even then it's no sure bet) climate change begins to undeniably manifest it's truly mass-murderous and globally destabilizing potential. This might still not be enough to turn the heads that matter (ask a person from Darfur how much difference it makes that the world is made to recognizes a an appallingly high and rising pile of corpses). Assume it would matter. By then we'll be well into irreversible cascades of ecosystemic imbalance, which recent evidence suggests (see George Monbiot's recent column in the Guardian, "Not Even Wrong") may very possibly mark a dystopian moment well beyond the point of no return. What a stupid, stupid system, then, to find 'ourselves' (the 'royal we' as they say) so enthralled with. you don't hear the Thatcherite slogan TINA much anymore ("there is no alternative"), but that's because it's unnecessary to bother to say aloud. It's understood.

Obama and his party of the American left (insert rimshot here)
  • can't (or won't) manage to cap credit card interest 30 fucking persent;
  • they can't/won't legislate a profit-free single payer health insurance system, even as thousands die every day for lack of such a thing;
  • they can't/won't effectively cap CEO salaries,
  • or legally (re)open the labor market to any reasonable chance for widespread labor-union regeneration;
  • won't staunch a foreclosure crisis with "right to rent" legislation (see Dean Baker), and
  • won't address a campaign financing system that cripples our democracy (reforms which the president once upon a time championed as a candidate, then dropped like a bad habit).
And they won't move us to a green economy, nor into any ecologically "stable state" economy, even in a rare historical moment where a massive public-sector mobilization--a green New Deal--is not only a possibility, but

(a)would offer desperately needed work to a nation on it's knees with underutilized capacity and joblessness,
(b) would offer a glowing example to the rest of the world in a moment of existential ecological threat not a little spearheaded by ourselves and our Anglo antecedents, and
(c) would offer brand spanking new SUSTAINABLE public infrastructures on which to build generations-worth of follow-on prosperity.

From a certain point of view, one can see the difficulties faced by the President and his Congress. Beset by Blue Dogs, an inherently conservative and incrementalist Constitution, a volatile undercurrent of demagogued, angry and well-armed rightist populism, a very unhelpful media environment, and a very well-institutionalized corporate sector long accustomed to calling the shots whenever push comes to shove. I'm sure there's more--complications of federalism, a reactionary-dominated Supreme Court--but that's a pretty good start. On the other hand, this is a guy--and an insurgent party--who came to power with promises of reform and changemaking. I recently heard it said that Obama himself has been known to quote Frederick Douglass' dictum that 'power concedes nothing without a fight'...recognizing the need for a fight, then, one can only be bitterly disappointed that the blue team isn't bringing--it's impossible to imagine it's being brought by this crowd, in fact--to this fight the paradigm-shifting best, most compelling and most transformative agenda possible. So long as the market and it's corporations remain in the saddle, and so long as market thinking works a kind of 'fascism reigning in the heads' (Foucalt) of even (or especially) our most self-consciously 'progressive' elites, we're up shit's creek without a paddle. With a seriously wicked storm blowing in, to boot.


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