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Arakan

The fight for climate protection and the end of capitalism?

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The more I think about it, the clearer the picture gets. Our fight against climate change / fight for climate protection and the current model of neoliberal ultra-capitalism simply do not mix with one another. An effective fight against climate change needs cooperation, common effort, solidarity, the restrain of the ego / personal (material) wishes in favour of what is best for the community as a whole. Compare this to the dominating ideology of today: greed is good, maximize your personal wealth/profit/goals, the ego / the individual is the centre of the universe, first it’s me then the rest. 

It simply doesn’t work. And I think that’s also the reason why so many conservatives around the world have such a hard time to embrace the fight against climate change. Whether they articulate it or not, they at least feel it on a subconscious level: the ideology they subscribed to is in total opposition to what is needed to protect the climate and our future effectively. 

So we have two options:
- business as usual which will make life for most of humanity absolutely miserable within the next 50/60 years
- take climate change seriously and fight the problem seriously which means saying goodbye to our current model of capitalism 

I know it’s a very nasty and dirty word especially in the US but we need some form of democratic socialism to even have a fighting chance for climate protection. It’s not even about succeeding but damage control only. When people overcome the denial phase, I feel that’s the conclusion. And I also feel that the majority of people can at least be taught to not be (too) selfish. 

Look at The Walking Dead, the protagonists all formed some kind of socialist societies which are successful by the way (and the TV viewers like it!) whereas the bad guys (governor, Neegan, the Wolves, Claimers, and many more) all formed some kind of authoritarian fascist regimes, social darwinism basically, survival of the „strongest“ and „fittest“, which are nothing more than unproductive (in the long run) predators. Why do I take this example? Because many people might not like the word „socialism“ but they actually like the concept. So there‘s hope. 

Leave all prejudices behind, open your mind, try being rational and objective and think about it: will the fight for climate protection be the end of modern capitalism? 

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I dislike neoliberal ultra-capitalism and wouldn't want it even if the climate was peachy, but I think the kind of social democracies that currently exist in Europe possess plenty of tools (many of which aren't being used) to heavily penalise (to the point of making them uneconomical) business models that are not environmentally sustainable and subsidise, promote (or even undertake) environmentally friendly business initiatives. I'm no big fan of the authoritarian socialism that exists in countries like China, but it also possesses the tools it needs to fight climate change (and again, fails to use them to the extent that it should).

 

I think far stronger international cooperation (maybe creating an international organisation which can implement and fund environmental policies across borders) and a national political will to de-carbonise completely should be the first order in the fight against global warming.

 

You're not the first to propose the end of capitalism as the solution to climate change, but the will to enact such a radical proposal is clearly not there if far less radical proposals (which might not be the panacea, but would definitely help) aren't being implemented.  

 

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1 hour ago, Mentat said:

I think the kind of social democracies that currently exist in Europe possess plenty of tools

They're still pretty fundamentally capitalist, hence the reluctance to use those tools against capitalist interests. And even China is more authoritarian capitalist than socialist, with an economy made up of companies trying to maximise their profits even if a lot of them are state-owned.

1 hour ago, Mentat said:

You're not the first to propose the end of capitalism as the solution to climate change, but the will to enact such a radical proposal is clearly not there if far less radical proposals (which might not be the panacea, but would definitely help) aren't being implemented. 

Less radical proposals leave in place the capitalist forces that resist any challenge to their power. If capitalism is a boulder blocking a stream, it makes far more sense to push it out of the stream entirely, rather than to try to hold it up a little to let a trickle of water flow underneath. Moving the boulder is still a daunting task, but the lack of will to hold it up doesn't mean moving it shouldn't be attempted.

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22 minutes ago, felice said:

They're still pretty fundamentally capitalist, hence the reluctance to use those tools against capitalist interests. And even China is more authoritarian capitalist than socialist, with an economy made up of companies trying to maximise their profits even if a lot of them are state-owned.

I'm not saying that economic power and influence is not a thing, as I'm very aware it is, but in a reasonably healthy democracy (as I believe most European countries to be), it certainly shouldn't be the end-all of political decision making. A government might refuse to make a decision because of bribes or promises from wealthy people or corporations if they block it (though this is a crime in my part of the world), but it's far more likely that they don't because they don't personally believe in it, because they believe it's inferior to some other option, because they don't think its the right moment, because they believe it would be unpopular with their electorate, because of some legal issue (they don't have a sufficient majority, a different measure must be passed first, that power has been devolved to regional governments, it would go against EU regulations). Economic interests often compete with each other (if I allow Rich Man A, who owns a factory, to dump toxic water in the sea, it might bother Rich Man B, who owns the nearby hotel resort on the beach) and many groups of people have powerful collective interests that influence political decision making despite their lack of economic power (pensioners, unions, civil servants). Finally, it has been proven quite conclusively that global warming is in fact very bad for the economy, so there's good reason for the wealthy to help fight it rather than do their best to exacerbate it.

All that said, I'm not denying the existence of economic interests or the fact they have sometimes acted nefariously (as in oil companies trying to influence climate research). This should not be overlooked and measures should be taken to ensure it doesn't happen again. 

1 hour ago, felice said:

Less radical proposals leave in place the capitalist forces that resist any challenge to their power. If capitalism is a boulder blocking a stream, it makes far more sense to push it out of the stream entirely, rather than to try to hold it up a little to let a trickle of water flow underneath. Moving the boulder is still a daunting task, but the lack of will to hold it up doesn't mean moving it shouldn't be attempted.

I believe this analogy is lacking. Capitalism (as in the existence of a currency, private property, trade, and the right of enterprise) needs balancing out by a strong and stable social democracy that looks out for the rights of its citizens and prevents wealth inequality and abuses, but when it is, I believe it can potentially fight effectively against climate change. That it isn't is worrying, but pointing at Capitalism as the only (or even main) cause for this I believe is inaccurate. That rock is also providing considerable value. Capitalism is very good at providing lots of people with reasonably priced commodities (not only expensive iphones, but electricity, food and water, books, housing, medicines). Our life would be much more miserable without them, and while we all might have to accept a certain degree of misery in the name of our survival, I'd rather it was the least misery possible. 

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13 minutes ago, Mentat said:

Capitalism (as in the existence of a currency, private property, trade, and the right of enterprise) needs balancing out by a strong and stable social democracy that looks out for the rights of its citizens and prevents wealth inequality and abuses, but when it is, I believe it can potentially fight effectively against climate change.

Except it doesn't.

13 minutes ago, Mentat said:

That it isn't is worrying, but pointing at Capitalism as the only (or even main) cause for this I believe is inaccurate.

It seems obvious to me that it is.

13 minutes ago, Mentat said:

Capitalism is very good at providing lots of people with reasonably priced commodities (not only expensive iphones, but electricity, food and water, books, housing, medicines).

I would say this is innacurate.
One very simple example/proof of this is insulin prices in "pure" capitalist systems (i.e. the US) versus insulin prices in socialist-ic healthcare systems (Canada, the UK, France, Israel... etc).

In fact, I have no idea where you get the idea that capitalism provides "reasonably priced commodities." In France, reasonable prices in electricity, food, water, housing, and medicines have all been historically guaranteed by the French state through socialist-ic programs.

13 minutes ago, Mentat said:

 Our life would be much more miserable without them, and while we all might have to accept a certain degree of misery in the name of our survival, I'd rather it was the least misery possible. 

Funny, I personally think our lives can be much better if capitalism is limited to a minimum.

 

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11 minutes ago, Rippounet said:

It seems obvious to me that it is.

It doesn't seem obvious to me, but maybe I'm missing something or I'm simply not as well informed as you are.

12 minutes ago, Rippounet said:

I would say this is innacurate.
One very simple example/proof of this is insulin prices in "pure" capitalist systems (i.e. the US) versus insulin prices in socialist-ic healthcare systems (Canada, the UK, France, Israel... etc).

In fact, I have no idea where you get the idea that capitalism provides "reasonably priced commodities." In France, reasonable prices in electricity, food, water, housing, and medicines have all been historically guaranteed by the French state through socialist-ic programs.

We're definitely not on the same page here. My understanding is that countries like the UK, France and Spain (which is where I live) are indeed capitalist societies where the capitalist tendencies of an unbridled free market are moderated by the social influence of the state. They represent the kind of place where I'm reasonably happy and like to live in, and also the kind of place where I personally find Capitalism not only acceptable but useful. In Spain (which I hope is reasonably similar to France), electricity is produced and sold by private companies (though currently the price of electricity is a problem, and Podemos, which is the party I voted for in the most recent general election, is proposing revising the regulations and creating a public energy provider, which are both policies I'm sympathetic too), I buy my food in the local coop supermarket (though I have plenty other choices, none public owned but all affected by different EU and Spanish regulations, of course), my water from a company originally established by the local government of my town which now has both private and public ownership, I bought my house from its previous owner with a mortgage from Deutsche Bank (we negotiated the price) and I buy medicines at the nearest chemist (which in Spain are privately owned businesses which require a public licence and will sell some medicines at a fixed price, and other medicines and health products at whatever price they decide). To me, all these represent a reasonably balanced coexistence of Capitalism and Social Democracy.

34 minutes ago, Rippounet said:

Funny, I personally think our lives can be much better if capitalism is limited to a minimum.

I'm sure we could agree on many left-wing policies that would limit some of the worse effects of capitalism, redistribute wealth more fairly with a more progressive taxation system and ensure that the less favoured in a society are well taken care for. We probably wouldn't agree that private property is theft or on the abolition of free enterprise.

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@Mentat

You are from Spain? Then you should be aware of the effects of public spending. Spain until the end of 80s/beginning of 90s can be classified as a relatively poor country. The Spanish infrastructure 1990-2010 was to a large degree financed by the European Union (difficult to get aggregated figures but somewhere around 50-60%), meaning taxpayer money. This is solidarity. 

Anyway, Europe is or was always more of a social market economy, a mixture of shades of grey. It’s just that people don’t care or don’t know how „socialist“ we are or we were only 30 years ago. 30 years ago public property in Germany, now largely privatized: energy production, transmission, distribution, water, telecommunications. 

We were told the privat market is much more efficient and so for the benefit of the customer. Bullshit of course. What happened is that oligopolies formed and the customer became the cash cow. 

Anyway, we see it with our own eyes but we live in denial: with capitalism you won’t be able to fight climate change. It’s simply not possible. The intrinsic reasons why can be found in the OP. If someone can disprove it, I am all ear. 

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29 minutes ago, Mentat said:

We're definitely not on the same page here. My understanding is that countries like the UK, France and Spain (which is where I live) are indeed capitalist societies where the capitalist tendencies of an unbridled free market are moderated by the social influence of the state. They represent the kind of place where I'm reasonably happy and like to live in, and also the kind of place where I personally find Capitalism not only acceptable but useful. [...] To me, all these represent a reasonably balanced coexistence of Capitalism and Social Democracy.

Let's start here.

Despite the fact we use this word so much, "capitalism" is a real bitch to define. One thing for certain, in my humble opinion, is that private property (of the means of production) alone is not enough to have "capitalism." Private property is very old, while capitalism is generally considered to have emerged around the 18th century (a few centuries earlier for some historians or economists). I believe Polanyi uses 1834 for instance.
To my eyes, "capitalism" requires capital, i.e. "investments that are determined by private decision" (to take the Merriam-Webster definition), and its primary mechanism is accumulation of capital.
So in my opinion, none of the things you listed require capitalism, are typical of it, or can be attributed to it.

Electricity aside perhaps, I would argue that the local economic system you describe could easily operate in a pre- or post-capitalist society.

29 minutes ago, Mentat said:

It doesn't seem obvious to me, but maybe I'm missing something or I'm simply not as well informed as you are.

It's absolutely not a matter of information. The question here is mainly semantical.

Imho the one thing that can undoubtedly attributed to capitalism is the mass production of non-essential goods and services.
- Mass production as opposed to production. It is self-evident, I think, that pre-capitalist society could not reach the quantitative levels of production that were reached after the Industrial Revolution(s).
- Non-essential goods and services. I'm thinking mostly about consumer goods and services: cars, electric appliances, modern gadgets, mass tourism... etc. The reason I'm making this distinction is because in many countries (that may or may not be called "socialist" or "social democracies"), essential goods and services have often been provided through the public sector and/or heavily regulated private sectors in which capital accumulation is almost impossible.

As you can see, given my definition of capitalism, it has to be the main cause for climate change.

29 minutes ago, Mentat said:

We probably wouldn't agree that private property is theft or on the abolition of free enterprise.

Wouldn't we? :P
I strongly support the idea of each person having full ownership of their means of production, what I would call "pure" private property.
I also have no problem with free enterprise as long as it isn't harmful to society and all participants (workers) have freely and willingly entered a fair contract.

You see, it's all about how we define things. ^_^

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1 hour ago, Arakan said:

You are from Spain? Then you should be aware of the effects of public spending. Spain until the end of 80s/beginning of 90s can be classified as a relatively poor country. The Spanish infrastructure 1990-2010 was to a large degree financed by the European Union (difficult to get aggregated figures but somewhere around 50-60%), meaning taxpayer money. This is solidarity. 

I'm a big fan of both the EU (for other reasons as well as it's very generous contributions to Spain) and of public spending. One of the goals of public spending in a democracy should be to reduce interpersonal and inter-regional inequalities.

1 hour ago, Rippounet said:

Despite the fact we use this word so much, "capitalism" is a real bitch to define.

Very true, and I've seen it used in many different ways (often in the same thread). When I use the word, what I mean to say is an economic system characterized by the existence of a currency, private property, trade as the main means to acquire goods and services and freedom of enterprise. This last one is probably what you refer to as "investments that are determined by private decision".

1 hour ago, Rippounet said:

Electricity aside perhaps, I would argue that the local economic system you describe could easily operate in a pre- or post-capitalist society.

I'm not sure about this. When you say pre-capitalist society feudalism comes to mind, and when you say post-capitalist, Star Trek does. What economic system exactly are you talking about?

1 hour ago, Rippounet said:

Imho the one thing that can undoubtedly attributed to capitalism is the mass production of non-essential goods and services.

I'm not sure I agree. Mass production is a result of applying technology and industry to traditional production methods, rather than an inevitable consequence of an economic system. It is also the most efficient way to produce goods and services for a large number of people (whether essential or not). Capitalism strives for efficiency because it's economic and it produces profits, but public spending should also strive for efficiency (because public funds are scarce with regards to the many public goods and services people need). Now, there are two questions here. One is if a certain good (Mobile Phones, Cars, Cat Fountains...) should be produced in the first place. Any good you choose would be up for debate, but if the final consensus is that it should be produced, then (provided it's a consumer good and not a Hadron Collider) I contend it should be mass produced (so that it is produced in the most efficient way and so that it can be made available to as many people as possible rather than to some lucky few). The other is if the way we're producing it is sustainable, as well as efficient (and if the answer is no, then laws should be passed to make sure it is made in a sustainable way, even if it's not as efficient, or not at all). Depending on how essential of a good it is and how inefficient a sustainable way of production is, the government could consider subsidizing it. There are lots of non-essential goods (like fantasy books, video games, holidays in Italy, a bottle of good wine...) that give me a great amount of pleasure and happiness. I won't say they're worth a climate hecatomb, but I will say my life would be sadder and greyer without them.

1 hour ago, Rippounet said:

I strongly support the idea of each person having full ownership of their means of production, what I would call "pure" private property.
I also have no problem with free enterprise as long as it isn't harmful to society and all participants (workers) have freely and willingly entered a fair contract.

We could probably agree on taxing property over a certain threshold, taxing the negative externalities of production/consumption and strong labor laws that protect workers.

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2 hours ago, Mentat said:

When I use the word, what I mean to say is an economic system characterized by the existence of a currency, private property, trade as the main means to acquire goods and services and freedom of enterprise. This last one is probably what you refer to as "investments that are determined by private decision".

I suspect not.

I use a pretty common definition of capitalism which focuses on the role of capital as investment. The big idea is that something changed in economics around the 18th century - with the end of mercantilism. It's a bit abstract, but it had huge consequences.

Most humans use money as a means, not an ends. If I work extra hours to renovate my house, I'm providing a service in exchange for money, and then use this money to pay a carpenter. I've used money as a means of exchange, and in the greater picture I've exchanged my labor for someone else's labor.
This is not capitalism. At no point in this operation did money become "capital" that could be invested.

On the other hand, if I borrow money from the bank to renovate my house, then I will have to pay interests to the bank. The bank gives me money, I use the money to buy the carpenter's labor, and the bank earns money in the process. This is capitalism.

In economics we write that there is a difference between C-M-C' in which C and C' are commodities (and I would include labor as a source of commodity) and M is money, and M-C-M'.
In the first case (C-M-C'), humans strive to earn stuff. There is a clear objective in mind (in my case, having a nice house) and the end goal is C', a commodity.
In the second case (M-C-M'), humans are making money with money. The point is capital accumulation. Even if M is an investment, the end goal is always M', i.e. moare money.
This is why it is sometimes said that what characterizes capitalism is greed.

All this is, of course, Marxist theory, but I'm not aware of anyone defining capitalism better than Marx did.

2 hours ago, Mentat said:

I'm not sure about this. When you say pre-capitalist society feudalism comes to mind, and when you say post-capitalist, Star Trek does. What economic system exactly are you talking about?

It could be many different ones, really. It could be the economic system of a province in medieval China, or the economic system of an autonomous commune in the French countryside today. As I said, most humans use money as a means, not an ends, so even today, many local economic systems function with very little or no capitalism.

OTOH, capitalism is very powerful and even a little of it can have a huge impact on people's lives. There's a reason why it ends up dominating our lives, even we are not ourselves capitalists.

2 hours ago, Mentat said:

I'm not sure I agree. Mass production is a result of applying technology and industry to traditional production methods, rather than an inevitable consequence of an economic system.

There are several factors, but I would argue that the economic system was crucial in our case, i.e. the industrial revolutions throughout the Western world.

As to what's desirable... We might agree here, after a lengthy discussion.
Paradoxically, I do agree that capitalism is surprisingly efficient at doing some good things, and that as a mere historical stage, it may help build a better society.

2 hours ago, Mentat said:

We could probably agree on taxing property over a certain threshold, taxing the negative externalities of production/consumption and strong labor laws that protect workers.

Certainly. But I would go much further than that and legislate to prevent the accumulation of capital. ;)

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Another reason why neoliberal capitalism is the worst system to fight climate change is its short-terminism. Key is amortization time and everything longer than 5 years is basically distant future (in a few cases a time horizon of 10 years is possible). 

That’s the biggest problem. We have to do something NOW to prevent consequences in 20 or 30 years. 

Nope. My inner Vulcan tells me: no chance to fight climate change with our current system. And I gave another reason.

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As long as Western countries can largely export the externalities and issues to other countries without penalty and without real enforcement of anything, we will not be able to do a whole lot about it.

Does anyone think that the world is going to cut China or India right out? Come on. 

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18 hours ago, Arakan said:

Leave all prejudices behind, open your mind, try being rational and objective and think about it: will the fight for climate protection be the end of modern capitalism? 

It depends on how exactly you define modern capitalism, but probably not. The fundamental reason is that nobody has managed to come up with anything better thus far. Our lives require extremely complex supply chains that stretch the length of the world and modern capitalism is how we manage these structures. Getting rid of them altogether is not a realistic option except for apocalyptic scenarios so unless somebody thinks of something better, we're stuck with capitalism. It might be rolled back to something like the 1950 version though.

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1 hour ago, Jaenara Belarys said:

Oh, so socialism is better? *checks history book. Curious. It seems like a bunch of socialist countries went down the tube, I wonder why?

Sure sure :). If this is all you have to say to the challenges of the future then may God have mercy with our souls. This is the „argument“ of a 12 year old on YouTube or someone whose knowledge of the world comes from cartoons. 

All of Europe‘s social market economies (all with a very high HDI) have incorporated so many socialist ideas and principles. I would even dare say until the 1990s my country Germany was the perfect balance (50/50) of socialism and capitalism (nowadays it’s more like 40/60).
Obviously during the Cold War this was always downplayed but the Cold War is over. 

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26 minutes ago, Altherion said:

It depends on how exactly you define modern capitalism, but probably not. The fundamental reason is that nobody has managed to come up with anything better thus far. Our lives require extremely complex supply chains that stretch the length of the world and modern capitalism is how we manage these structures. Getting rid of them altogether is not a realistic option except for apocalyptic scenarios so unless somebody thinks of something better, we're stuck with capitalism. It might be rolled back to something like the 1950 version though.

The current internationally domineering version, neoliberal capitalism. 

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2 hours ago, Jaenara Belarys said:

Oh, so socialism is better? *checks history book. Curious. It seems like a bunch of socialist countries went down the tube, I wonder why?

The two options are neoliberal capitalism or 20th century state communism. That's it. There are literally no other ways to organise human affairs.

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The „ideal market“ (many suppliers, many buyers, very limited market power for each participant) on which all well-meaning capitalist theories build upon doesn’t exist, cannot exist because it’s fundamentally opposite to the nature of capitalism. Capitalism is a hierarchical system where competitors try to outcompete each other which, if unregulated, always leads to a market concentration and an accumulation of market power on the supplier side. End result: Oligopols or monopolies. That’s the very nature of the system. And as we all know Oligopols and monopolies are bad and inefficient from a macroeconomic point of view. Now for a society as a whole this is the only relevant point of view. The oligopol might maximize their profit but society as a whole loses out. 

I will give two practical examples of why a market solution is not always the most efficient as the neoliberal propaganda wanted us to believe: telecommunications and railways. If someone is interested I will explain in detail. 

 

Edited by Arakan

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4 minutes ago, Liffguard said:

The two options are neoliberal capitalism or 20th century state communism. That's it. There are literally no other ways to organise human affairs.

That’s the problem. In order to discredit socialism, its opponents always play the Stalinism card. It’s so stupid. Like arguing religion as a whole is bad because witch burning. The intellectual dishonesty and ignorance of these people makes rational discussions basically impossible.

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