Mission and Goals:
The intention of the EEEE project tracks the vulnerabilities in prevailing global capitalism, called Capitalism Breaking Down, to realizing the potential of a comprehensive alternative, dubbed Social Ecology. The proposed deficiencies within prevailing capitalism include the tendency toward stagnation, inequality, climate change and the debasement of nature, and disabling fiscal crises. These are elaborated elsewhere.
My Statement of Concern, articulated in 2007, provides my North Star. The gambit: Social Ecology inverts capitalism around untapped human potential and the dynamism within Nature.
- Frame the EEEE project around the Anthropocene. Thus merge human social history and Earth history. The neologism Anthropocene provides a conceptually enticing but problematic long-term overview of Earth's occupation by the human species.
- According to the Anthropocene, the centrality of fossil fuel burning causes the imminent threat of climate change. This implies the thorny issue of who owns and who consumes petroleum, natural gas, and coal --- and who will therefore protect the market value of those potentially stranded assets, perhaps $75 trillion. These giant industrial complexes, built infrastructure, and culturally ingrained habits will, in my opinion, fail to transform in enough time to curtail the hurtling climate catastrophe. The inertia, political resistance, and ideological obfuscation will likely prevail. The lags within this complex system will reinforce such resistance.
- This framework points to the historic project of capitalism initiated in imperial Britain in the 18th century. Note that Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher, and Karl Marx, a German Hegelian, both contributed seminal interpretations of the case study of imperial Britain, the hegemonic (dominant) capitalist nation of the era. Their concepts of free markets and class conflict are still with us, a framework enriched by many others. Capitalism creates for elites and privileged middle classes economic growth through monetization around manipulated, state protected oligopolistic markets. This arrangement must be challenged, no mere feat but central to the agenda of this project.
- The shift of focus to capitalism, industrial and otherwise, offers a dynamic but intensely ideological framework. Moreover, the attention to capitalism probes the well established internal dynamics unfolding within the global political economy. Few academics will relish the challenge of a future-oriented critical encounter with such a pejorative theory as that surrounding capitalism. The reader will find no such reluctance here.
- I thus aim to provide here a synoptic overview that adopts a longer view to 2030. Why 2030 you ask? It's personal and practical.
- Since I was born as the atomic bombs demolished Nagasaki and Hiroshima in August, 1945, I might survive until 2030, a ripe old age of 85. I want to be around to witness 2030. I consider grounded political economy my core discipline.
- The Anthropocene considers the end of World War II as the start of the Age of Acceleration. Consider this: The world's human population in 1945 was around 2.3 billion, now more than tripled to 7.8 billion, so study this. However, GDP has grown far more rapidly, more than 80 times. Human population growth and economic growth, as monetized by GDP bundles of commodities, currently increase at a much slower rate. (My colleagues in the Degrowth Movement appear not to recognize the significantsecond-derivative change in slope: Second derivatives will be used throughout EEEE.)
- A general rule of forecasting states that projections should digest historical periods at least twice as long as the forecast. A historic period ripe for molting, as I surmise we are not engulfed, requires the identification and exploration of not just straight-line trends but a systematic grasp of the unfolding future. However, exceeding a decade outpaces our, certainly my, ability to grasp the future that lies ahead, especially at the pace of change now upon us. So, 2030, requires an awareness that starts at 1950 or so, an 80 year horizon. This adds to the challenge pursued here, but makes sense to me.
- So what has happened in the Age of Acceleration of population, consumption, environmental damage and resource depletion, and monetized, market-based economic growth? Inequality as (poorly) measured by GDP has soared. The cyclical tendencies inherent in capitalism, such as the bubble of 2008 and the current Covid- pandemic, persist. The surge in debt during the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates a long-term fiscal drag. Climate change, a product of greenhouse gas emissions, climbs without serious abatement. That conundrum (stagnation, inequality, fiscal crises, and climate) will dynamically and systematically interact producing unknown results. Yes, pesky Black Swans (maybe Brown or Green as well) lurk over the horizon.
My Statement of Concern, articulated in 2007, provides my compass its North Star. Here is my thesis: Livelihood must invert capitalism. I audaciously propose the refounding the global capitalist political economy at its base: the household, the community, and its culture and material existence within bioregions. My aspiration enhances
- human potential, which Aristotle dubbed hylomorphism;
- nature, understood as phusis, a lively generative process that we now plunder, dominate, and disregard in our quest to reduce progress to material greed.
This simplified framwork above carries several implications:
- While Anthropocene theory contends that human activity has altered the Earth's biosphere since the late 18th century, historians have long characterized that period as the Industrial Revolution (Toynbee). Adam Smith's seminal explication of capitalism, The Wealth of Nations, and the widespread use of coal-driven steam-power coincide with the definition and the expansion of industrial capitalism. The literature on capitalism, however, vastly exceeds in breadth and depth the nascent Anthropocene and the Industrial Revolution. I go with capitalism here. (Side note: Smith never raised coal or industrialism in his 1776 book even though James Watt was Smith's friend. The catchphrase of the market, the invisible hand, first appeared in Smith's earlier classic, The Theory of Moral Sentiment, as the divine Invisible Hand. Look it up.)
- To provide a supportive alternative framework, given the rich intellectual legacy of capitalism, I choose the theme of Social Ecology and its offshoots (Bookchin, Schumacher, Zimmerman). I start not with the already mature market economy depicted by Smith and Marx. The breakdown of feudalism by the rise of markets radiating from cities (Pirenne, Polanyi) initiated capitalism.
- Social Ecology, as originally concieved (Bookchin), provides a rich, critical understanding that advocates a decentralized, communitarian, more self-reliant recontruction. Social Ecology offers an alternative to capitalism with a rich tradition that still lives.
- Social Ecology envelopes capitalism's historical origins, building upon principles demonstrated in such classical periods such as Hellenic Greece, the Medieval city, and colonial America. Remembering the principles embedded in these historical examples opens up a lost vocabulary:
- oikos refers to the extended largely self-sufficient household. The medieval manor and monestary (Mumford) also illustrate this cooperative division of labor. The semantic but divergent origin of both ecology and economics), polis (the political assembly such as the New England town meeting), the agora (the open transparent local market), nous (the spiritual grasp of what might elude an empirical, material outlook), logos (a higher truth and deeper understanding), phusis (the inherent dynamism within all forms of life), telos (a hierarcy of ends), ethics (based on Aristotle but clearly distinguishes ends from means), utopia (a good place), aporia (no path to the destination, suggesting a challenge of discovery), and thus telos (the hierarchy of the good, the ends, implicit or explicit). These principles have guided historical gems. "Stadt lucht mach frei," the mantra of the medieval city that founded capitalism exemplifies this outlook. The depiction of the colonial USA by Alexis de Toqueville fits Social Ecology. Such a vibrant civil society demonstrates that we can recover this tendency in the contemporary USA.
- This framing achieves its teleological endpoint in the arresting statement by Vlademer Vernadsky after encountering Teilhard de Chardin in Paris in 1927: "The biosphere is the cradle of the noosphere." See the original article on the Anthropcene. The utopian Noosphere transcends the boundaries of the material interpretation of the dilemma posed here. The notion of the Noosphere discloses a culminating spiritual dimension: The telos of co-evolution of humanity and nature that we now dub the Anthropocene points to the communicative, spiritual, and cooperative potential inherent in Creation embodied in the Noosphere. The Noosphere fulfills my North Star.
I hope that the elevation beyond the confines of a market-based capitalist political economy through a decentralized federation to the telos of Noosphere inspires you as it does me. Rather than elaborate a dreamy, romantic endpoint, I must now return to the hard realities of New Jersey, USA, in 2020. This is the starting point of the journey.
This mission then begs the question: How does one transcend capitalism to arrive at a better place? How might capitalism molt from a dominant force that tends to a totalitarian state of being to becoming a viable toolkit of means that support the telos of a better place? And soon. The flaws of capitalsm (inequality, crises, stagnation, and the undermining of nature) deepen, carrying potentially catastrophic outcomes.
That challenge provides the strategic focus of this ambitious project.
Aspects and Discussion
Capitalism anticipates the future very well for a year out or so. The longer view appears not to produce preparation. Since the widespread capture of the State by capitalist interests, expect a paltry response to a multi-year time horizon. Some within capitalism, such as re-insurance companies and rare advocates for Corporate Social Responsibility, have expressed unease. The imperative for profit to expand and the stalemate within public policy will thwart the prevention and mitigation of the damage caused by climate change effects. Many will suffer as a few others, those in control, continue to profit and consume. That divide, the ecology of rich and poor (Adanasiou), now intrudes into daily life, but intensifies rapidly. The USA, my beloved home country, will offer the principal case of this generational schism. I will watch closely throughout this project. You will find little optimism herein.
The vision posed above requires some elaboration:
- See the background to the project, including my intention.
- Part I: KBD:
- [jk1 EG and productivity: pages for both]; [Start with growth prospects and forecasts.]
- Inequality: Stiglitz, Piketty: just links and overview, such as Global Issues but authoritative;
- Fiscal Crisis: JOC
- Geopolitics of WSE
- The high emissions scenario RC8.5 offers a glimpse of climate catastrophe.
- Black Swans: Taleb;
- CCIR: as a major section on its own.
- Transition to Livelihood: values, Braudel/Polanyi synthesis.
- Part II: Livelihood = Home + Community/Commerce/Social Capital + Earth Care WSE
- Trends, scenarios
- Strategies such as consumption
- Potential directions for Noosphere.
- Bibliography, annotated
- Notes & appendices