Is it Time to Call “Capitalism” an Existential Threat?

Picture: Lepo Rello (CC)

Picture: Lepo Rello (CC)

Khannea Suntzu writes:

A few years ago I argued that rampant disparity in terms of affluence and poverty (or opportunity versus marginalization) in the world might be interpreted as an existential risk. In other words, a very large number of human beings might literally be pushed in to premature death by the combination of (a) disparity and (b) accelerating technologies. My point in 2007 was that technology is increasingly something that more rich people “purchase” (or invest in), and reap benefits from. So in effect I argued that at some point in the none too distant future technology might create products only for people who have money; lots of people would be without jobs and effectively unable to generate any meaningful income, and be displaced from the basic range of essential goods and services to literally survive.

This point was in some other form made by Jeremy Rifkin, Marshall Brain, Thomas Frey, Frederico Pistono and several others, and each placed the emphasis a little differently.

Essentially this is already happening. Millions of human beings die prematurely as a result of being unable to generate a sufficient income, and in some extreme cases these people starve to death, or otherwise live unacceptably undignified lives. Strikingly, we live in a world where this form of severe disparity does not bother the people in “developed” countries to a sufficient degree as to demand immediate action. It is worse – even very moral people around me will knowingly purchase articles that were made in third world nations under unambiguously severe conditions of slave labour, or severe exploitation. And nobody regards this as morally wrong. In fact many would offer arguments that this is a “good” thing.

My earlier argument didn’t include a range of secondary problems, such as resource depletion, the quickly encroaching state fascism in all “developed” countries (including the EU and US), the secession of rich people from society in to effectively a plutonomy, the collapse of biodiversity, the collapse of quality of goods in the western world (specifically food), global weirding and terrorism. My argument was about the combination of disparity and ‘exponentially advancing technologies’ (assuming the latter is actually occurring).

Fast forward to 2013. The occupy movement has come and gone. The Zeitgeist and Venus project movements have come and gone, and even serious and intelligent people I know wouldn’t even watch the informational videos of these movements, “by and large because they were busy”. I have shared in the last years a nonstop barrage of arguments that at least something is very wrong, and this could end up biting us in the ass as a planetary species.

My 2013 argument goes a little further. I would place the practice of capitalism itself in the spotlight, and argue that the kind of (flawed? Inconsistent?) Capitalism we have world wide today is in effect becoming an existential risk. In other words, IF this can be argued, should we ask as a technoprogressive (transhumanist/extropian,whatever) community what would be moral to say or do? We can all consent in the status quo and just bide our time and maximize our private opportunities, but the end point of “a complacency of the educated” might be a very bleak future indeed.

My question (and accusation) is fairly simple – Capitalism is introducing a very large number of failure modes in the functionality of the world, and yes we do have reasonable alternatives other than “latter day” Capitalism (I can offer you a few if you insist) that might be better than the mess we have today. Capitalism is causing massive problems, far more in number or complexity than I’d care list, and these consequences can very well be argued to cause massive (and absolutely unnecessary) human suffering and premature death well in our lifetimes (before 2050). What would be even worse, a functional collapse of western society (to say it in critical alarmist speech) has become thinkable just a few years ago, and in 2013 is regarded by many not just as plausible, but inescapable. I wouldn’t go as far, but we should avoid the more severe consequences, since we could, and the world has become very small. Apathy today might result in lethal forms of instability, mass-migrations and blowback just a few years down the road.

My question is very straightforward – can Capitalism be reasonably argued to be an existential risk, and if so, what action should we take to negate this risk?

And can we agree on any such action, or are we cast helplessly adrift?

Read more here.

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  • http://twitter.com/TedHeistman Ted Heistman

    Capitalism has a built in dialectic to it. Half of it is about control and exploitation and the other half is about destruction. Most critiques of it fail to take that into consideration.So they end up attacking one side or the other. Like for example a lot of left wingers seem to prefer the idea of a super strong state, even though they don’t come right out and say that. I mean who the fuck do they think could enforece gun control besides a really strong state? But Capitalism can create huge profits by destroying States, while at the same time benefiting from having State sanction and protection. Its almost like nature how in nature life feeds on death. Powerful States protect corporations but Corporations can eat each other and also eat failed states.

    So its a very elusive adversary. I would say just do whatever makes you feel most alive, in order to fight capitalism. Like don’t set out to fight it, just set out to be alive. I think people who seek security before everything else are the ones who are most easily exploited.

    • TennesseeCyberian

      I have no love for titanic, monopolistic corporate culture. But I think that people who deny the natural flow of the free market deserve the rigid, centrally controlled economy they ask for.

      Lemmings, these motherfuckers. And as lemmings they will topple over the cliff, where a new hegemony may happily catch them and put them to good use.

      • jnana

        the natural flow of the free market is exploitation and corruption. Economies do obey natural laws. It’s called entropy.

  • rak

    You know what will happen when capitalism is abolished? All huge empire of neoclassical economics – professors, countless textbooks, nonsense papers, Nobel prize winners, etc., all will turn into trash. That is what they call themselves as science – objective and universal. It is not objective and not universal. And its time is up. Go to the trash bin. No recycling.

    • Calypso_1

      Recycling does not entail continuity of form or information content. No need for more landfills, shredders & pulping will do. As for the economists, there’s always reeducation camps.

      • emperorreagan

        Or Soylent Green?

  • Guest

    Can anyone tell me what is capitalism? I can not define it. How can I say if it is good or bad if I can not define it. Capitalism can be good or bad. So the problem is not the system itself, but with ideology which promotes it. If the system is bad, that who is blame to is ideology which promotes that system. Who promotes capitalism just for the sake of capitalism? Neoclassical economics. Therefore capitalism itself is not evil, but ideology which promotes it is evil. There were in the shadow for very long time, they were behind what corporations do. We were blaming wrong guys, we were blaming corporations. We did not see the real evil – neoclassical economics.

    There is something wrong with reality which we live in. We feel that it needs changes. How can we change the system if it backed by neoclassical ideology and enforced by politicians throughout the world? We were waiting long enough when neoclassical economists change their mind. They did not do it, in spite that most of the countries of the world are persistently poor, post-socialist countries failed to create good capitalist economy, even 2008~ crisis could not change anything with their ideology and therefore capitalism.

    If the system has to be changed other way, lets do it. Lets capitalism collapse, and it will, if no more bail outs again. Lets stop totalitarian rule of neoclassical ideology, lets kick neoclassical economists out of academia. Lets start studying what do we really know about capitalism in its varieties, lets people of other countries decide what form of capitalism is good for them.

  • BuzzCoastin

    Capitalism is a brand identity
    used in modern times to cover financial machinations
    it does not really exist except as a brand
    it has some basic precepts
    but it’s a pretty much a free form grab for the cash
    no holds barred, winner take all, let the buyer be fleeced

    trying to take down a well established brand with reason & logic is futile
    if you want a herd to follow
    you have to establish another brand name
    for the alternative you hope create

    me
    I’ll wait an see which way the wind blows

  • http://artasith-m-nasdsnre.tumblr.com/ Simon Valentine

    in the words of Treebeard “i’m on nobodies side, little orc, because nobodies on my side” … Year of the Aquifer. Aquarius. Neptune, Jupiter, Saturn. see: calculus of the centrifugal force.

  • Todd X

    There is no free market. The notion that one is able to sell their labor at fair market value is little more than a fallacy.

    Capitalism in the broad sense does not include the labor to be sold at a fair price. The solidarity of workers across a community, across the state, even across the country has no power in negotiating a fair wage, conditions, or even equality. Instead the very people that would be helped by strong labor willfully disenfranchise their own interests for the capitalist. Marx’s false consciousness nailed it, yet here continues. Teabaggers marching lock-step to ALEC politicians. Defending corporatists that poison not only the food they eat, the air they breathe, and the water they drink, but also the water, air and food their children consume. Think about that for a moment. Legislation is defended that poisons our planet, everything that lives. The capitalists that profit from this are poisoning their children, their parents, their friends. How do you expect to reason with someone like this? So yeah, there is a threat.

    Existential threat is to poetic and softens the reality of the inherent greed in capitalism as it is practiced today and the damage it is has already wreaked.

    Exchanging goods and services for a fair price where labor and resources are considered for a product free from exploitation is an ideal, but not a pipedream.