Even hominids 3 million years ago damaged the environment more than other animals. Flakes of flint from stone tools and shavings of wood were negligible waste, but the toll the crafted tools took on plants and wildlife was of some significance.
With the advent of metallurgy, man took a significant step in creating long-lived pollution. By then deforestation was already a problem. The invention of iron axes and plows multiplied the impact.
All life has been severely affected by human technology. Those impacts expanded exponentially since industrialization. Pollution became a ubiquitous consequence: fouling the air, water, and land by our way of life. Mankind has polluted every place on Earth where life may exist.
Human societies are disorganized according to dictates which allow the destructive weed of capitalism to thrive. Capitalism is inherently inequitable and wasteful. Capitalist societies naturally prodigiously produce pollution because capitalism relies upon wasteful consumption to feed its voracious economic engine.
Capitalism is a confidence game. Producers invest to meet an imagined demand that will materialize and sustain itself. Consumers spend only with the self-assuring buoyancy that their income will continue as is or rise.
The key feedback mechanism under capitalism is oversupply. Manufacturers pump out product until prices soften from excess. Thus, waste is inherent to the market system.
The term “market clearing” is used for the theoretical process of supply meeting demand through the so-called “price mechanism,” where the price of a product, or “good,” is flexibly adjusted. For 150 years, from 1785 to 1935, the vast majority of economists took market clearing through the price mechanism to be inevitable and inviolate. This assumption was codified in Say’s law, which was an espoused fantasy from French businessman and economist Jean-Baptiste Say.
What changed economists’ minds about Say’s law was the Great Depression, where the capitalist system showed itself to be grievously flawed with regard to market clearing, and capitalist economists proved incompetent and impotent to cure what ailed the world economy. The global economy only recovered from the Great Depression by a world war, where production was forced to massive destruction – the most absurd possible waste of resources.
Price does not act as an efficient market-clearing mechanism. Contradicting the spirit of his law if not the letter, Say himself observed that the market acts to overproduce, and then dumps the remainders at a loss. In other words, price spurs overproduction, which causes cyclical price gyrations. This dynamic has been observed innumerable times in a wide array of products.
Competitive enterprise is economic anarchy. Price steers investment to exploitation potential. Individual firms are guided solely by their perception of profitable opportunities, without regard to the economy as a whole. Isolated atomic decision-making ensures misallocation, oversupply, and waste. The reason this occurs is that the price mechanism does not support the rationalization of resource allocation. The price signal is a clarion bell lacking clarity.
The other flaw in the price mechanism is what is not incorporated: what are termed externalities of production. Externalities are consequences beyond intended purposes. Technology always has externalities, which range from cerebral to environmental to societal. As most economic activities involve technology, economics is fraught with externalities.
The price of a product incorporates only what it costs to make it: the facilities, tools, materials, and labor involved. Externalities, such as the pollution caused by production, use, or disposal, are not included in a product’s price. Hence, price fails to capture essential environmental attributes of every product. From an economic theory perspective, the abject failure of the price mechanism to incorporate externalities assures that the market system is not sustainable in scale – a fact abundantly proven by the environmental crises humanity faces.
Until the 20th century, economics was known as “political economy.” This was a tacit acknowledge that the economic system was supported by the political regime. The truth of this remains abundantly clear today, as politicians curry the favor of the wealthy and large corporations, and as courts regularly abandon impartial rule of law for bias toward the those privileged with riches. In short, you get all the justice you can buy.
The reason that capitalism prevailed despite gross inequities and incredible environmental destruction is that mass psychology failed humanity.
Inequity is an inevitable cause and consequence of capitalism: the level of inequality produced ranges far beyond any tally of fairness. Yet capitalism thrives throughout the world. This owes foremost to the defective way in which moral judgments are made.
Trade by barter is typically an apples-and-oranges exchange. Values are subjective, based upon respective needs.
Individual mercantile transactions fail to give an impression of unfairness because currency inserts a level of abstraction that blurs any inherent inequity. Owing to its obviousness, price-gouging is a notable exception.
Determining intention is the first step in moral judgment. The market system is not viewed immoral because it ostensibly lacks motive beyond mere exchange. Failure to find malice in transaction fizzles feelings of wrongdoing. Drained of emotion, indignation has no legs.
Human lives as cogs in an abstract inequity machine is too cerebral to provoke prevalent moral condemnation, and it is too easy for apologists to blame instances and not condemn the inherent dynamic. This despite the harm to individual lives from exploitation being widespread and cumulative, as can clearly be seen in nations across the globe.
Capitalism warps the psychology of those that live under it. At best, poverty lowers the self-esteem of those afflicted with it. At worst, impoverishment provokes pathologies and crime.
Conversely, for those who have, an entitlement mentality becomes entrenched. People think they deserve what others cannot attain by lack of opportunity.
The meat of the capitalist sandwich – the middle class – struggle as wage slaves for their entire adulthood. Employment is a continuing source of stress, and unemployment an even greater one.
Moral judgment must be framed with both intention and consequence as considerations. As the proverb goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Unintended consequences do not absolve responsibility. Most saliently, a system which corrupts minds and destroys lives cannot be justified by what good it does bring, especially when a better alternative is at hand. This is the case with capitalism.
The modern market system is not a natural order. Capitalism is a cancer that is killing humanity and much other life, and it must be eliminated, or we are doomed.
Earth past the tipping point of an accelerating mass extinction event in 1940, the 1st year of the 2nd World War. In that year, if mankind had miraculously mended it profligate environmental destruction, humanity may have survived another millennium. That, of course, was not to be. The decades since shortened the time that may have been bought before self-extinction snuffed us out. Now, absent drastic measures, world civilization will surely collapse within the next half century, possibly sooner. It seems increasingly unlikely that any humans will be alive at the dawn of the 22nd century.
Having studied the projections of global warming models and considered their inadequacies, a conservative estimate is that average global surface temperature in the year 2100 will be at least 5 °C above pre-industrial level and may easily be 10 degrees or more. Humanity has only the barest possibility of surviving. It is already too late.
Look at the exponential curves in graphs of plastic production and carbon dioxide emissions since 1940 and you catch the concept of acceleration – like a speeding runaway train that is about to hit a sharp curve. The global seafood bounty will be gone by mid-century. What do you eat after all the livestock have died, when the crops have all withered or can’t be grown? Well before then, economic collapse is assured. Civilization is a thin veneer.
There was no sensible reason for the Great Depression, and none of the world’s leaders had the courage or wisdom to do what it took to productively rescue the people they were responsible for. Today’s elected politicians are no better, and the impending crisis at our collective doorstep is much worse: a literal fight for survival that will require rejecting the evils which have been considered acceptable. As it is, Donald Trump looks more like a satanic trend than he does a destructively idiotic one-off on the world stage.
Do you really think there won’t be wars over water and food shortages? Given current callous disregard for immigrants, how many climate refugees do you think will survive? Dying is easy; living is hard, especially in a world where our economic interdependence is taken for granted and given no thought.
Capitalism is chaotic and ruthlessly exploitative by nature. The problem is systemic and cannot be remedied by piecemeal measures. That has already been tried and always found wanting.
To have any chance of survival, societies must become better organized. Having shown itself as a dismally failed experiment which throws up more deplorable clowns than sages, democracy must be ditched for responsible leadership. Put the competent and wise in charge. There are enough of them about – people smart enough to not be willing to prostitute themselves in the circus of electoral politics. Even among the political mercenaries in office now there are a few which may serve their societies some good if they did not have to whore themselves out for campaign contributions and moronic popular appeal.
As is obvious to any political observer with a lick of sense, democracy is a societal sinking to the lowest common denominator. Populism is a recipe for electing the most atrocious liars and scoundrels. American elections are rigged, and the courts corrupt, thanks to Republicans and plutocratic conservatives generally.
Capitalism must be abandoned for an economic regime that works to preserve Nature, not exploit it to utter exhaustion. What I am proposing is a revolution of the mind – toward greater empathy for others – and politically – to enforce goodness rather than tolerate reprehensibility.
There are more than enough resources for everyone to enjoy life and live productively. The only reason that this has not already happened is because the rich want to keep the bounties to themselves to an obscene degree, only sharing to the extent that their conscience impels them; and such miniscule conscience they have.
Corporations and other organizations plan their activities. Imbued with compassion, a planned economic system is practical and would vastly improve every society, by employing and providing for everyone. Humanity’s best possible chance is eusocialism on a global scale. My book, The Pathos of Politics, outlines how eusocialism could be enacted, and what its guiding principles would be. My considered plans run to much more detail than what is described in the book.
The difference between capitalism and eusocialism is like night and day. If capitalism is continued, there will be no dawn, only the darkness of death. The status quo is a surefire formula for doom. And so humanity extinguishes itself, on account of greed and stupidity unchecked.