Peak Capitalism?


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. 

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred
October 07, 2015
Nancy Scheper-Hughes
Witness to a Troubled Saint-Making: Junipero Serra and the Theology of Failure
Luciana Bohne
The Double-Speak of American Civilian Humanitarianism
Joyce Nelson
TPP: Big Pharma’s Big Deal
Jonathan Cook
Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again
Joseph Natoli
The Wreckage in Sight We Fail To See
Piero Gleijeses
Cuba’s Jorge Risquet: the Brother I Never Had
Andrew Stewart
Do #BlackLivesMatter to Dunkin’ Donuts?
Rajesh Makwana
#GlobalGoals? The Truth About Poverty and How to Address It
Joan Berezin
Elections 2016: A New Opening or Business as Usual?
Dave Randle
The Man Who Sold Motown to the World
Adam Bartley
“Shameless”: Hillary Clinton, Human Rights and China
Binoy Kampmark
The Killings in Oregon: Business as Usual
Harvey Wasserman
Why Bernie and Hillary Must Address America’s Dying Nuke Reactors
Tom H. Hastings
Unarmed Cops and a Can-do Culture of Nonviolence
October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism