FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Peak Capitalism?

by

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s recently released long-term predictions for the global economy through 2060 (Paul Mason, “The best of capitalism is over for rich countries – and for the poor ones it will be over by 2060,” The Guardian, July 7), economic growth will stagnate to something like two-thirds its present level and economic inequality will increase. But growth will continue at a higher level in the developing countries until mid-century, because there are still significant gains to be achieved through the diffusion of the West’s existing technological advantages to the rest of the world. Still, the price for even this level of economic growth — obviously, from the perspective of the neoliberal wonks at OECD — will be growing inequality.

We all know, or should know, the problem with indefinite extrapolations from present trends. They ignore negative feedback effects making those trends unsustainable. Remember those “America’s Energy Future” PSAs by the fossil fuels industries, where Brooke Alexander said growing demand would lead to 60 million new cars on the road in America by mid-century? Ain’t gonna happen. Industry numbers crunchers came up with that statistic by extrapolating from current trends, without considering that total output of petroleum has peaked and will steeply decline in the future (along with steeply rising in price). Those trends in auto use can’t continue. Instead, people will modify their behavior.

Another problem with OECD’s analysis is that it equates an increase in quality of life with “economic growth,” when in fact what the economic output statistics measure is the consumption of inputs and monetized activity. But the new technologies that show the most promise of increasing our quality of life — garage-scale micro-manufacturing with open-source CNC machinery, free and open-source informational goods, Permaculture, high-tech vernacular housing technology — will also result in the implosion of the monetized GDP, since they require less in the way of capital and labor inputs. The natural tendency of such technology is toward a world in which the capital required to meet our consumption needs can be raised by small cooperative groups of producers, those needs can be met with fifteen or twenty hours of labor a week, and the official GDP figures collapse because everything is so cheap.

The only way to prevent this collapse of official economic output metrics and maintain present levels of economic inequality is for the economic ruling class, the propertied elites, to act through their state to enclose technological progress as a source of rents. But the legal framework these enclosures depend on is untenable. We’ve already seen what Wikipedia has done to dead-tree encyclopedias and file-sharing to music and movie industry profits. The shift to micro-manufacturing of most goods in neighborhood shops, using pirated digital design files to produce knockoffs of patented goods or just producing better designs without built-in obsolescence, will do the same to the industrial corporations.

We’re headed for a world where the transaction costs of networking together are near zero, where ordinary people can associate to produce most consumption goods with capital outlays equivalent to a few months’ factory wages, and there’s nothing all the regulations, patents and copyrights on paper can do to stop us.

As the subtitle of the Guardian article cited above says, “Populations with access to technology and a sense of their human rights will not accept inequality.” The people of the world will simply not allow economic elites, with the help of the state, to maintain toll-gates between us and the technologies of abundance, skimming off most of the benefits in return for letting some of them trickle down.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory.

Kevin Carson is a senior fellow of the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org) and holds the Center’s Karl Hess Chair in Social Theory. He is a mutualist and individualist anarchist whose written work includes Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and The Homebrew Industrial Revolution: A Low-Overhead Manifesto, all of which are freely available online. 

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail