Abstract Notes 0.2

Summary: This working document provides free writing notes for K2L.

A preliminary version of this bleak forecast was initiated in 2007 for my classes, my Statement of Concern. The conundrum (capitalism meeting climate) has deepened and climate catastrophe must be incorporated as an active and internal contradiction now, not for the distant future. By 2030, certainly by 2050, the clash will disclose itself with a vengeance. (I hope I'm wrong, so I think this Aporia through, seeking any path to a clearing.)

Part I: KBD

The thesis of this project boils down to this: First attend to the internal dynamics within global capitalism:

  1. Capitalism compels expanding profit and hence growth (Marx), its intrinsic motion, thus creates its internal dialectics (Hegel), which includes its contradictions and tensions. However, the long term (2050 with a 2030 benchmark) remains in doubt. My hunch, of pivotal strategic significance: Expect profits to shrink, competition to become more ruthless, investment and productivity to wither. (Ironically, the cataclisms of climate catastrophe may disclose a Black Swan exigency of the order of capitalism's creative destruction (Schumpeter): the Kontradieff Cycle, generative or parasitic ---- this dialectic provides the climax.)
  2. However, growth may stagnate, a possibility not yet adequately anticipated.  Ironically, stagnation could achieve several main planks of the sustainability agenda:
    1. the steady state compellingly advocated by Herman Daly and for Steady State;
    2. The plea for degrowth, shrinking the (capitalist) economy.
    3. Without shared benefits of growth ( evident in a golden period, PWII to 1975 (Gordon)), capitalism loses support and legitimacy (Habermas), a turn now quite evident.
    4. Inequality, already system-destabilizing,   will intensify, as will populist reaction.
  3. Population growth wil also slow down, meaning the supply of labor, the demands from consumers, and the aging of the OECD population. This downward spiral could resemble the Japanese experience, an abrupt and unexpected stagnation for roughly two decades now. The ecological advantages of lower population will be trivial if population continues to surge in central Africa (mortality and dispossession will soar) and if the people of Asia achieve high consumption as it imitates the OECD nations. Game over.
  4. Inequality means more people are excluded and increasingly alienated from capitalism but the minority who greatly profit enjoy the political advantage of making the rules: Dark Money follows the dictum of the Medici: "Money for power. Power for money." Support for capitalism will continue to dwindle. The resulting class-based geopolitics will inevitability destroy capitalism, civilization, and the Earth. Militarism in service to privilege and profit will enforce a scorched earth plunder of nature, suffering among the dispossessed multitude will spread, and mortality will soar above fertility. Earth's carrying capacity will crash with a horrendous, potentially abrupt, dieoff of life, especially of humanity.
  5. Amidst the catastrophe, profits will dwindle, thus investment and productivity, both of which have already slowed. Dark Money and its political and media cronies intend to co-opt the truly disenfranchised, propping up the growing reactionary nativist populist movement. Thus, the tragedy will turn into an ugly, racist, violent destruction of democracy and the living tissue of society.
  6. Fiscal Crisis based on growing debt (capitalism thrives on debt) will shred the "social safety net." Scapegoats will easily be blamed: fascistd will thrive. Falling corporate profit will demand greater subsidies and the extension of roughshod privileges for global corporations under the guise of deregulation. Public policy will fail.

Climate Catastrophe, Impacts, and Responses

Next consider what capitalism now regards as exogenous, unworthy of serious attention: The impacts and responses to climate catastrophe looming by 2050, with a taste available in today's news and on the 2030 horizon: the climate castrophe will be more aggressive, sooner then expected, and met with totally inadequate responses, except for a mix of local mitigations.

The breakdown of capitalism will be complicated by the impacts of climate, spiraling into a crisis of civilization. Given the lags, the complexity of the climate systems, the prospects of Black Swans (low probability, high impact novel events), the results will be appalling and irreversible.

What has been established by the conservative and dated Stern Commission is that the response to climate crises could claim over 5% of GDP. The fiscal crisis and already defective infrastructure will preclude such spending. The titanic national political struggle will be won by elites but cities and regions can provide a fallback. However, after playing out the feedback loops, count on a decline of GDP per capita of 25% as climate eats up social overhead capital, productivity plummets, and consumption erodes. Nation-states may be forced to choose between climate mitigation or subsidies to corporate clients seeking to profit from events, Disaster Capitalism.

The logic can be set to systems dynamics. I intend to offer diagrams and data to strengthen the argument above. The dilemma now appears to be an Aporia, meaning there is no obvious path through the crisis. In this conundrum, solutions may be found external to conventional capitalism, globalization, and power politics. Citizens can step outside of the boundaries of capitalism into the immediacy of cooperative, decentralized, innovative sollutions. As Herman Hesse wrot in his powerful Siddhartha: "Do not seek. Find."

Part II: Livelihood, Civics, Commerce

Another perspective on capitalism has been presented by Fernand Braudel and by Karl Polanyi, in structure (Braudel) and in dynamics (Polanyi). Braudel, in his magesterial study of capitalism and civilization, defines three layers, or logics:

  1. Material culture within households and communities, largely self-sufficient (not autarchies, however) forms a foundational legacy that can be activated as a devolutionary turn available all over.
  2. Commerce within cities and their hinterlands can be redirected into embedded, diverse, community-oriented spheres of activity, thus effectively defining bio-regions and political communities. A glance a Henri Pirenne's seminal Medieval Cities illustrates the dictum: "Stadt Lucht macht Frei," translating into "City air makes you free."
  3. Globalization will falter, already has (The Economist). Thus the domain of true capitalism, long based around long-distance trade, could forfeit its legitimacy and its hegomoic claims, expressed in Margaret Thatcher's prosaic screed: "There is no alternative."

Given the potential for capitalist crisis and breakdown, disorder begins (probably as imminent recession, overdue since the 2008-2009 meltdown of capital) in the highest level, globalization, but ripples through the other domains. Retreat into autarchy can be the last resort at the level of the household and its surrounding environs, while the cities can become contested zones, each subject to local conditions.

Within this rubble, a program of Livelihood can be envisioned, built on the foundation of households and their neighborhoods/communities: witness rebellion in Hong Kong as I write in mid-August, 2019, and disruptions in supply chains emanating from the trade war between the USA and China (Economist). Look to the prospects of growth in 2030, ten years hence. The harbingers are all around us.

The arena can devolve to cities and to rural bio-regions as they wrestle control from nation-states, frozen in fiscal crisis, and ineffective remnants of the PWII institutions forged at Bretton Woods. The loss of legitimacy and the overall paralysis at the national and supranational level opens opportunities for rebuilding at local levels, although each will be unique and certainly contested. The triumph of the polis, the political economy of place, offers a path toward resolution.

Karl Polanyi anticipated the current run of neoliberalism as globalization and capitalist ascendancy dominated the world scene roughly since the mid-1970s (Harvey). His masterpiece depicted the dialectic of laissez faire followed by international breakdown, then by a Double Movement emanating from below. Today, we can envision a Cosmopolitan Localism, even a Cosmopolitan Regionalism, based on the imperative of survival at the local level, all over the globe.

Global capital, however, could attempt to divide the planet into a matrix of economic zones, each with a function within a dismembered matrix based on the needs of capital for markets, labor, and nature's plunder. However, each "cell" in the matrix exhibits a life-force, an intelligence, and means to propel its own Double Movement. This outlook evokes the consciousness of Cosmopolitan Localism and the shared invention of a strategic sustainability. This is the point of this project.

The wreckage, even carnage, of climate catastrophe, meanwhile, will deepen, presenting situations particular to the specific regions and their active social agencies within cities. The decentralization of responses will oppose a diabolical Disaster Capitalism propelled by Dark Money. The outcomes cannot be predicted except to say that the arena will be hotly contested.

This defines the project: Capitalism to Livelihood, 2050.

Sources, Citations, and Background Notes

The sources annotated support this topic will be provided in a linked annotated bibliography.

Capitalism Breaking Down 2050 Project Web Site |
© Wayne Hayes, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Sustainability, Ramapo College | ™ ProfWork wkhayes@gmail.com
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