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The Devil Capitalism

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Okay, here’s the proposition — you can have a good job, decent pay, lots of overtime, but only if you give me your grandchildren or maybe your great-grandchildren.

Would you make this deal with the devil?

This is pretty much the choice currently offered workers by the captains of the carbon extraction, transportation and burning industries.

In fact, in a more general sense, it seems to be the choice being forced upon many governments around the world by the devil, which has taken the form of our current economic system.

Capitalism is asking us to choose between jobs and the future livability of our planet. Capitalism tells us it makes sense to flood some of the best food growing land in B.C. and build a dam to provide electricity for Alberta’s tar sands; capitalism says build more pipelines across B.C. and allow hundreds more oil tankers every year to sail through pristine waters; capitalism doesn’t care that more carbon extraction will guarantee our planet is cooked.

Capitalism, especially the current neoliberal version, says profitability should be the sole criteria by which we decide what gets built, what services are provided and who works. If there’s a profit to be made, let’s invest in it. Don’t do it if there’s no profit to be made. The ‘invisible hand’ of the market will solve all our problems.

Profits bring jobs, the capitalist devil whispers in our ears. Jobs! So you can overcome or avoid the misery of unemployment. Jobs! So you won’t fall behind on your mortgage, your credit card payments or your student loan. Jobs! So you will be able to buy ever more stuff that you don’t really need but somehow those great commercials convince you otherwise.

“Think about the jobs!” the devil/capitalism repeats over and over again. When brave critics ask: “What about the consequences to our environment?” the devil/capitalism answers: “Don’t listen to those Leap-ing people. They’re radicals. They’re tree-hugging, moonbeam-chasing hippies. They’re Indians. They’re anti-development. They’re socialists. They’re from downtown Toronto. Think about the jobs!”

So what do we do? Listen to the devil and build more pipelines, tar sands plants, fracked oil wells, housing that requires ever more carbon-spewing automobiles and tell ourselves that we are not responsible for what happens to our grandchildren?

Or do we cast out the devil? Tell the beast we do not have to choose between jobs and the environment, that in fact there will be more jobs in a sustainable energy-based economy. Proclaim loudly that, if forced to choose between capitalism and the environment, we will choose the environment every glorious day on this wondrous planet.

The truth is the devil’s way leads to hell on earth. Building our economy solely on capitalist greed for profit has placed us all, lobster-like, into a pot of hot water that is only a few degrees away from cooking our great-grandchildren. Our most critical task right now is figuring out a way of getting out of the pot and turning down the heat.

The good news is the devil’s way is not the only way, despite the constant media bombardment proclaiming that to be so. Humankind has followed the devil/capitalism path for only a relatively short time. We have tens of thousands of years of history proving that we can organize our lives around values other than greed for profit. Even today, in the midst of the most capitalist-dominated period ever, most of our lives, outside of paid work, is based on love, caring, sharing, solidarity, respect and doing what’s best for our collective future. This is called family and community.

If we can just come to the understanding that an economic and political system can also be based on these ‘community values’ we would have a path to building a viable alternative to the mess we are in.

The devil promotes the idea that we have no alternative to the way things are, but if all the people who care about their grandchildren come together to talk about a better way we can have jobs, lower the temperature and save our planet for future generations.

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Gary Engler is a Canadian journalist, novelist (The Year We Became Us) and co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite (www.newcommuneist.com).  He is currently working on the first great hockey novel tentatively titled Puck Hog.

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