Friday, October 27, 2017

If capitalism based on cheapness, what does it mean about us?

Fish don't contemplate the water in which they swim and we don't often contemplate the form of capitalism that our culture has sloshed around in for the last century. But here's an historical perspective on capitalism and what it was based on, 7 cheap things:
Together with Binghamton University professor Jason W. Moore, he [Raj Patel] has written The History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017), which aims to put it all together for us. The seven “things” of the title aren’t physical objects as much as they are a hidden social, ecological and economic infrastructure: nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives. The point being that cheapness is a process of responding to economic crises by devaluing each of those forces so that capitalism can continue to concentrate wealth in the hands of the already-wealthy.

It can be scary to talk about the end of capitalism, heretical even. My career has been about transforming it instead, getting business to see its self interest in sustainability, exploring democratic alternatives to organizational forms like worker owned cooperatives to share the wealth more equitably, increasing employees' power over their workplace with self-directed teams, and reframing the purpose of organizations from making stuff to making a difference.

Capitalism started with the need to have people with lots of money (capitalists) provide the funds to make something happen, be it Columbus's voyage or building an automobile assembly plant. But what happens when we are all producing our own energy and making what we need with 3D printers using apps off the web? When artificial intelligence and robotics do much of our work?

Everything comes to an end, even economic systems. It would behoove us to consider what we want to evolve toward, what principles should drive our economy. Did anyone ever think that the well-being of a society should be based on how much stuff people buy? As if the earth were nothing more than a resource to be plundered instead of the gift we inherited to pass on. The leaders who initially promoted consumerism as a way to improve living standards assumed we would reach a state of 'enough' and then evolve to something else. I think it's time.

Some suggested reading:

Homo Economicus Interruptus, by Darcy Hitchcock

Contemporary American Society, "Consumerism"

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