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Is Capitalism in Crisis? Latest Trends of a System Run Amok

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, August 4, 2017

Having survived the financial meltdown of 2008, corporate capitalism and the financial masters of the universe have made a triumphant return to their "business as usual" approach: They are now savoring a new era of wealth, even as the rest of the population continues to struggle with income stagnation, job insecurity and unemployment.

This travesty was made possible in large part by the massive US government bailout plan that essentially rescued major banks and financial institutions from bankruptcy with taxpayer money (the total commitment on the part of the government to the bank bailout plan was over $16 trillion). In the meantime, corporate capitalism has continued running recklessly to the precipice with regard to the environment, as profits take precedence not only over people but over the sustainability of the planet itself.

Capitalism has always been a highly irrational socioeconomic system, but the constant drive for accumulation has especially run amok in the age of high finance, privatization and globalization.

Today, the question that should haunt progressive-minded and radical scholars and activists alike is whether capitalism itself is in crisis, given that the latest trends in the system are working perfectly well for global corporations and the rich, producing new levels of wealth and increasing inequality. For insights into the above questions, I interviewed David M. Kotz, professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (Harvard University Press, 2015).

Your Personal Consumption Choices Can’t Save the Planet: We Have to Confront Capitalism

By Kate Aronoff - In These Times, July 18, 2017

New York Magazine’s latest 7,000-word cover story about climate change freaked a lot of people out. Like the reality of climate change itself, the story is depressing. Author David Wallace-Wells—collating several academic papers and interviews with climate scientists—meticulously lays out the possibility of melting ice caps releasing literal plagues, our air becoming unbreathable and geopolitics devolving into endless war. 

The response among climate wonks took a few different forms. Climate writer and meteorologist Eric Holthaus pointed out a series of factual errors in the piece on Twitter, and The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer detailed several points where Wallace-Wells’ narrative diverges from accepted science. Scientists like Michael Mann argued on Facebook that the article leaned too heavily on doomsday scenarios, barraging readers with scenes that Wallace-Wells himself states are unlikely to come to pass. “The evidence that climate change is a serious challenge that we must tackle now is very clear,” Mann wrote in a Washington Post response to the story. “There is no need to overstate it, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness.”

The debate about the article has also orbited around the question of whether fear is an effective motivating factor in getting people to try to change things, which—however you feel about the piece—clearly needs to happen. Environmental scientist Jon Foley said no, and called Wallace-Wells’ storytelling “deeply irresponsible.” David Roberts at Vox counters that fear shouldn’t be avoided: “It may be that there are social dynamics that require some fear and paralysis before a collective breakthrough. At the very least, it seems excessive to draw a pat ‘fear never works’ conclusion.”

Less discussed in the aftershock of New York Magazine story has been exactly what kind of response fear provokes, whether in individual people or the institutions they belong to. 

Like almost everything else, our reactions to fear—climate-based or otherwise—have been conditioned by 40-plus years of neoliberalism. Shortly after September 11, 2001, George W. Bush advised a reeling U.S. public to “get down to Disney World.” As the recession loomed, he told us to keep shopping. That proposed solutions to the climate crisis have taken a similar tone isn’t surprising. For years, mainstream climate activism centered around changing lightbulbs and riding more bikes. Shop green, in other words, and the earth will follow.

That’s started to shift, thanks to movements like Occupy Wall Street and hard-fought battles by indigenous activists, joined by a younger and more militant generation of environmentalists. Pushes to stop the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and to divest from the banks that finance them and the companies that build them, have injected environmentalism with an anti-corporate spirit, predicated on collective action.

Ian Angus interview: How can we save the planet?

Ian Angus interview - Climate and Capitalism, July 18, 2017

On July 7-9, I was in London (UK) to speak at the Marxism Festival, an annual conference organized by the Socialist Workers Party. I have some political differences with the SWP, but I was impressed by the enthusiasm and commitment of the 2500 participants, and by the number of sessions that were devoted to environmental and scientific questions. 

I was the featured speaker at two sessions, one on Facing the Anthropocene, and one launching my new book, A Redder Shade of Green. Both sessions were recorded: I will post links when they are available. After my second talk, I was interviewed by Dave Sewell for the SWP’s weekly newspaper Socialist Worker.


HOW CAN WE SAVE THE PLANET AND STOP CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE?

The environmental conditions that have sustained human civilisation throughout its history are collapsing, capitalism is to blame and only socialism has the solution. That’s the warning sounded by Ian Angus, author and editor of Climate and Capitalism website. He told Socialist Worker,

“The planet is going to change substantially. Big parts of it will be uninhabitable by the end of this century if we don’t do something now. It’s very likely that in this century ocean levels will rise by at least a meter or two, maybe more. That would mean the Thames is going to overflow and flood much of inner London. Many cities are right next to oceans. They will be flooded—not tomorrow but within our children’s lifetime or our grandchildren’s lifetime.

“In some parts of the world it’s going to be too hot to work. Many of these are places where a lot of our food comes from, so we’ll have to deal with problems with food production too.”

Ian has played an important role in popularising the concept of the “Anthropocene” on the left. Many geologists argue that the relatively stable environment conditions in place since the Ice Ages ended are giving way to something much more chaotic.

The Fortress World of Capitalism vs. the Beautiful Possibilities of Cooperation

By Cynthia Kaufman - Common Dreams, July 7, 2017

Our beloved world is entering an increasingly unstable period, full of dangers and also full of possibilities. In many countries, old political parties are crumbling faster and anyone thought imaginable. Old geopolitical alliances have come unglued as the US comes to exercise its role as world hegemon in new and unpredictable ways. The development of the internet, of mobile phones and of apps has led to incredible disruption of many aspects of many societies: from how we pay for and listen to music, to how we consume and propagate information and news, to how we shop for almost anything. All that is solid is melting into air.

At this crossroads it is possible that the global community will move in the direction that the dominant social forces seem to be pushing us towards. That possibility has been called “fortress world.” It is a world where we continue to burn fossil fuels and destroy the atmosphere; where climate refugees desperate to leave Africa are forced by military means to stay in a continent with a decreasing ability to produce food; where finance capital fashions a “market” that continue to squeeze working class people to into extreme poverty; where xenophobia rises in the wealthier countries and keeps masses of people voting for politicians who serve the masters of an extractive and unequal economy. That fortress world is a real possibility and the election of Donald Trump is certainly a sign that this worse future may be on the way.

But it is also possible to build a future where fossil fuels are phased out very quickly, where the political forces that oppose the domination of finance capital come to win elections, and where we work hard to create an economy where no one needs to work very hard.

The technical solutions to the climate crisis are already well at hand. Renewable energy is now economically competitive with fossil fuels, and alternatives to dirty technologies have emerged in virtually every sector of production. The problem of poverty and wealth is also an easy one to solve on a technical level. The world produces enough food to feed everyone, and our technology has developed to the point where we can meet our needs with very little work.

To give one simple illustration of how within reach a better life for all is: take the total personal income in the United States. Divide it by the number of people, and multiply by four. It turns out that the average family of four could have $220,000 per year to live on if we had income equality.  Imagine raising minimum wages, taxing the wealthy, and providing a guaranteed minimum income as ways of distributing that income. Imagine reducing work hours so that, as productivity when up, work time could go down, and work could be shared among those who needed an income. One of the main arguments against this approach is that without the profit incentive our technology would not develop. Imagine worker owner cooperatives developing better ways of doing things and sharing the wealth that comes from those developments with the people who work on them.

A new wave of automation is about to hit the world’s economies so hard that millions of service jobs will be lost in the coming period. People are starting to talk about the need for a guaranteed minimum income to deal with that displacement. If that wave hits the US with the current political consensus in place, it will mean another giant step toward the fortress world, as some people profit enormously while others have no access of the means to survive.

A Resistance Movement for the Planet

By Ethemcan Turhan and Cem İskender Aydın - Entitle Blog, July 7, 2017

Juan Cruz Ferre (JCF): There is overwhelming evidence that demonstrates how anthropogenic climate change is out of control and will lead to global environmental catastrophe – without a major overhaul of energy production. In the February 2017 issue of the Monthly Review, you point out that although we have been presented with precise and indisputable estimations, science and social science institutions have failed to come up with effective solutions. Why do you think this is the case?

John Bellamy Foster (JBF): We are in an emergency situation in the Anthropocene epoch in which the disruption of the Earth system, particularly the climate, is threatening the planet as a place of human habitation. However, our political-economic system, capitalism, is geared primarily to the accumulation of capital, which prevents us from addressing this enormous challenge and accelerates the destruction. Natural scientists have done an excellent and courageous job of sounding the alarm on the enormous dangers of the continuation of business as usual with respect to carbon emissions and other planetary boundaries. But mainstream social science as it exists today has almost completely internalized capitalist ideology; so much so that conventional social scientists are completely unable to address the problem on the scale and in the historical terms that are necessary. They are accustomed to the view that society long ago “conquered” nature and that social science concerns only people-people relations, never people-nature relations. This feeds a denialism where Earth system-scale problems are concerned. Those mainstream social scientists who do address environmental issues more often than not do so as if we are dealing with fairly normal conditions, and not a planetary emergency, not a no-analogue situation.

There can be no gradualist, ecomodernist answer to the dire ecological problems we face, because when looking at the human effect on the planet there is nothing gradual about it; it is a Great Acceleration and a rift in the Earth system. The problem is rising exponentially, while worsening even faster than that would suggest, because we are in the process of crossing all sorts critical thresholds and facing a bewildering number of tipping points.

JCF: If conversion to renewable energy could halt or reverse the march of environmental crisis, why aren’t we moving in that direction at the right pace?

JBF: The short answer is “profits.” The long answer goes something like this: There are two major barriers: (1) vested interests that are tied into the fossil-fuel financial complex, and (2) the higher rate of profitability in the economy to be obtained from the fossil-fuel economy. It is not just a question of energy return on energy investment. The fossil-fuel infrastructure already exists, giving fossil fuels a decisive advantage in terms of profitability and capital accumulation over alternative energy. Any alternative energy system requires that a whole new energy infrastructure be built up practically from scratch before it can really compete. There are also far greater subsidies for fossil fuels. And fossil fuels represent, in capitalist accounting, a kind of “free gift” of nature to capital, more so than even solar power.

Five Days that Shook My World, Part One: The Making of a Critical Thinking Community

By John Foran - Resilience.org, July 5, 2017

I spent five days in June at a most unusual gathering.  Unusual, because unlike the many academic conferences, the workshops, the handful of “symposia” I’ve attended, this one seemed right on the mark, existentially and politically, for our moment.

Dubbed B.Y.O.B., for “Bring Your Own Brain,” and put on by a collective of students from Big Sky High School in Missoula, Montana who go by the hashtag #freeusfromclimatechaos (FUCC, in case you don’t get the biting but playful humor at the heart of their critique), this had been nine months in the making, assisted by their Spanish teacher, Jay Bostrom and a crew of adult allies from their school and mentors from the local activist community affinity group the ZooTown Zaps.

It was, in fact, a pretty credible incarnation of a North American, youth-led experiment with Zapatismo; recall that to the thousands of queries the Zapatistas have received from activists over the past twenty-three years about what they should be doing, the consistent answer has been:  “Go and do what we do, but in your own way, in your own place of origin, your own home, your own community.”

Some of these students – and their teachers – had already made a trip to Chiapas, to see the Zapatista revolution first hand.  A year ago, they had engaged in a Skyped event with indigenous activists from around the world.  Last summer, based on those conversations, they decided that this year they would go to the root of the problem, and they arrived at … climate chaos.  All of this would be unusual even for a college class in the United States.

If You Want to Be Realistic, Be Radical

By Robert Jensen - Resilience, June 27, 2017

Students will sometimes ask me — often hesitantly, out of fear of offending — if it’s true what they’ve heard, that I’m a liberal.

“Don’t you ever call me a liberal again,” I tell them, feigning outrage. “I’m a leftist and a radical feminist.” Once they realize I’m not angry, I explain the important differences between left and liberal.

A distinction between left and liberal may seem esoteric or self-indulgent given the steady ascendancy of right-wing ideas in U.S. politics. Is now the time for this conversation? Liberals ask leftists to put aside differences toward the goal of resisting the reactionary right, and I’m all for pragmatic politics (coalitions are necessary and potentially creative) to mount challenges to dangerous policies. (Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Paul Ryan pose serious threats on ecological, social and economic fronts.)

But strategies should be based on a clear understanding of shared values. And with a carnival-barker president leading a party so committed to a failed ideology that it’s willing to risk ecocide, radical left ideas have never been more compelling. In the face of conservative and liberal failures to deal with our most basic problems, leftists offer reality-based solutions.

Let’s start with a general distinction: Liberals typically support existing systems and hope to make them more humane. Leftists focus on the unjust nature of the systems themselves. Two of these key systems are capitalism (an economic system that, to a leftist, celebrates inequality and degrades ecosystems) and imperialism (a global system in which First World countries have long captured a disproportionate share of the world’s wealth through violence and coercion).

Liberals don’t oppose capitalism or U.S. imperialism, arguing instead for kinder-and-gentler versions. Leftists see the systems as incompatible with basic moral principles of social justice and ecological sustainability.

Things get more complicated with white supremacy (historical and contemporary practices rooted in white or European claims of a right to rule) and patriarchy (men’s claim to a natural role over women in systems of institutionalized male dominance). Leftists disagree among themselves about how these systems interact with capitalism and imperialism. Some on the left focus on class inequality and decry “identity politics,” which they define as reducing all political questions to race, gender or sexual identity. Others reject putting economic inequality alone at the center of politics and argue for an equal focus on white supremacy or patriarchy.

Complicating things more are leftists who disagree with radical feminist opposition to the sexual-exploitation industries of prostitution, pornography and stripping, arguing that women’s participation means the industries can’t be challenged and shifting the focus away from why men choose to use women.

Lies That Capitalists Tell Us

By William Hawes and Jason Holland - CounterPunch, June 26, 2017

While idiotic supporters of our two-party system wring their hands over the sensationalist nonsense reported by the mainstream media, we thought it might be worth touching on the most dangerous lie of all-time: capitalism. It’s an all-encompassing delusion, including: the myth of continual technological progress, the mendacious assumptions of endless economic growth, the lie that constant bombardments of media and consumer goods make us happy,  and the omissions of our involvement in the exploitation of the planet and the resources of distant, poorer nations, among other things.

We’ve taken the time to hash out some of the most pernicious mendacities we’ve come across in our (relatively) young lives, in the workplace, in our private lives, and in the media. ***

Please share these counter-arguments far and wide, in order to educate your fellow citizens, and, if necessary, to provide the intellectual beat-downs needed when arguing with pro-capitalists. So without further ado, here is our list of the most devious “Lies that Capitalists Tell Us”:

1) Wealth will “trickle down”

It’s hard to believe an economic policy that conjures images of urination could be wrong, but the idea is as bankrupt as the lower classes who have been subjected to the trickling. Less than ten people now have the financial wealth equivalent to half the planet, and the trickling seems a lot more like a mad cash-grab by the (morally bankrupt) elites. Rather than trickle down, the 1% and their lackeys have hoovered up the majority of new wealth created since the 2008 crash. After 40 years of stagnant wages in the US the people feel more shit on than trickled upon.

It’s not a mistake that the elite reap most of the profits: the capitalist system is designed this way, it always has been, and will be, until we the people find the courage to tear it down and replace it with something better.

The reversal of privatization and an urban coming of age

By staff - Rabble.Ca, June 23, 2017

A gentle revolution is underway in Barcelona, Spain. Until recently, prevailing wisdom has been that efficient, quality and cheap services are best provided by handing everything over to the private sector. These days are gone. From energy supply to kindergartens to funeral services, the municipality is providing more and more of the basic needs of its citizens at affordable and transparent prices. Following a city council motion in December 2016, Barcelona is now aiming to municipalize its water service. Since the progressive coalition Barcelona en Comú gained power in the Catalan capital, the city has introduced a wide-ranging policy of remunicipalizing outsourced public services and creating new ones.

Barcelona is not unique in this respect. Thousands of public officials, workers, unions and social movements are working to create effective public services that address the basic needs of people and respond to social, environmental and climate challenges. They do this most often at the local level. Reclaiming Public Services, a new report, found that there have been at least 835 examples of (re)municipalization of public services worldwide in recent years, involving more than 1,600 cities in 45 countries.

Cities and towns around the world are following different models of public ownership, with citizens and workers involved in a variety of ways. People are moving away from private options and developing new, public ways to deliver services. Far from being an anomaly, bringing services like transport, health care and energy back under public control is a worldwide trend -- and one that makes sense.

Privatization has been given ample chance to succeed and has come up short. The persistent myth that public services are by nature more expensive, inefficient and outdated, and that we, as citizens and users, should resign ourselves to paying ever higher tariffs for ever lower standards has not yet abated. Nor has the idea that service workers have no choice but to accept ever more degraded conditions. Because everything is seen to have a price, many politicians have lost sight of the common good, while "taxpayers" are sometimes only interested in their own individual pursuits.

The remunicipalization movement tells a very different story. While it is still in its infancy in Canada, the remunicipalization movement in Europe can be seen as a response to austerity policies and is being carried forward by an increasingly diverse array of politicians. Successful (re)municipalization experiences inspire and empower other local authorities to follow suit. We see it in the way municipalities and citizens have joined forces in Germany to push for energy democracy. In France and Catalonia, networks of public water operators pool resources and expertise, working together to deal with the challenges of remunicipalization.

There are many examples from outside Europe too. In India, the city of Delhi began the process of delivering affordable primary public health care in 2015 by setting up 1,000 Mohalla (community) clinics in 2015. Since then more than 2.6 million of its poorest residents have received free quality services.

These locally rooted changes are providing improved services as well as savings for local authorities and the public. The Nottingham City Council in the U.K., for example, decided to set up a new energy supply company in 2015 after finding that many low-income families in the city were struggling to pay their gas and electricity bills. Robin Hood Energy offers a cheaper service than private providers because it neither extracts profits nor confuses customers with complicated pricing schemes. The company, which offers the lowest energy prices in the country, has the motto: "No private shareholders. No director bonuses. Just clear transparent pricing." They have also formed partnerships with other major cities. In 2016, the city of Leeds set up the White Rose Energy municipal company to promote simple no-profit tariffs throughout the Yorkshire and Humberside regions. In 2017, the cities of Bradford and Doncaster agreed to join the White Rose/Robin Hood partnership. Meanwhile, campaigners with Switched on London are pushing their city to set up a not-for-profit energy company with genuine citizen participation. The motivations in these diverse cities are similar: young municipal companies can simultaneously beat energy poverty and play a key role in achieving a just and renewable energy transition.

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