Why Capitalism Can't be Sustainable

'For fear, perhaps, of arriving at a different conclusion, there is an unspoken (and largely untested) assumption that there need be no fundamental contradiction between sustainable development and capitalism. That assumption stands in stark contrast to the prevailing view of many radical academics and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that there are profound (and possibly unmanageable) contradictions which demand a completely different world order.'

So writes Jonathon Porritt in his book Capitalism as if the World Matters. He concludes not that we should seek to replace capitalism with a better, fairer and more ecologically friendly economic system, but that we must work with capitalism since it is the only show in town. I would beg to differ: see my presentationWhy capitalism is not sustainable (ppt, 6607 K).

Capitalism Closing Down Sale

Capitalism is an economic system where production is controlled by the people who organize exchange, or trade, rather than the producers. This is wasteful, since value is extracted by people who are not productive. A green economy cannot be a wasteful economy since we must reduce our consumption of the earth's resources and so have to ensure that those we use are used efficiently.

Capitalists seek to accumulate capital to increase their power in the market. This is also wasteful. The system also requires constant growth and the search for new markets leads to wasteful production and exhausting and unsatisfying consumption (my paper relating the relative definition of poverty (pdf, 141 K) to economic growth can be downloaded here). A green economy would rather be a provisioning economy where we met our emotional needs through community rather than consumption and where we would produce high-quality goods which would be valued and mended, rather than merely creating demand through stimulus mechanisms like built-in obsolescence.

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