I have argued that capitalism faces imminent challenges and internal contradictions that could undermine its stability. This page begins to look toward solutions to those challenges not by positing socialism as a naive alternative to capitalism in the USA but by supplementing capitalism with more basic processes of value creation consistent with democratic practice. This post first appeared on my blog as Livelihood. Part II of this project defines a long term strategy to limit the scope and proportion of capitalism within a fuller notion of the economy and value creation.
However, capitalism might be (awkwardly) rendered in the plural, recognizing various forms from (American) neoliberalism to (German) social markets to (Chinese) state-capitalism. I discuss this a bit in my blog, Capitalisms: plural. Just do not allow a determinism to colonize your mind and to limit the percieved alternatives. I remind you that both Adam Smith and Karl Marx, decades but worlds apart, provided a single case study of England, including Scotland in Smith's case and a bit of Germany in Marx. Regrettably what passes as the academic field of economics in the USA provides only an ideologically soaked course in capitalist enthusiasm (see Shah and Piketty).
My blog post on the Braudel Ensemble has provided background toward an alternative economy that can frame, invert, and shrink capitalism. No, this is not socialism, the ownership of the means of production by the government. Rather, decenter economic life, bring it closer to home and to community, disclose and expand ways of value production outside of capitalism, and conserve and protect the Earth. A guiding light is the 19th century masterpiece by Alexis de Toqueville, Democracy in America.
So, the name to this three-level arrangement, Livelihood, tells the story. The term, often associated with subsistence-based economies, suggests that a localized, small-unit close to the average citizen works best toward promoting a living, local economy.
Following Braudel, I define three layers to material and cultural life while remaining within capitalism: everyday life, the wheels of commerce, and the perspective of the world. Just as Braudel explains the history of capitalism from the 14th through the 18th century, I use his reknowned formulataion to cast ahead thirty years to 2050. I challenge others to provide such a rich history to their competing narratives on this formidable theme. Then, let's talk.
Briefly put, the alternative to capitalism as we know it is robust citizenship and self-reliance, not socialism or big government programs. This sets this approach apart.
Home: The Household and the Locus of Self-Reliance
Home is where you live and love. After work, you go home. Home is where the heart and hearth is. Home envelopes a major part of our lives from childhood through old age. Capitalism has no metric or, frankly, little use for the value produced at home. So let us start by recognizing that having a vibrant, comfortable, secure home is where we need to start an expansion of value in our lives. Care, nurturing, self-reliance are priceless treasures.
Economists include home as households, where the consumer buys commodities, goods and services produced for sale. Households take on the debt of a mortgage, manipulated as securitized debt that led to the financial crisis of 2008-2009. Labor is "reproduced" by raising a family. Leisure emanates from home life. Vital statistics on births and deaths are meticulously kept but the essential value of homelife, largely the (dis-valued) domain of women, is not registered within the purview of capitalism. This omission provides an opening to improve the lifes of people who might be excluded from monetized markets for capital and labor. Households and families are precious in and for themselves not as means for profit or taxation.
Appreciate (investments should appreciate) more fully just how valuable is your home, how much time you spend there, and what a treasure (asset) your home provides. Leisure, neglected in economics but not culture, occurs at home. Care of your home life, embrace it, improve it. The true value of your home and the world within it exceeds the value capitalism places on housing. Expand that realm of being with others.
Home produces immense real value. Labor happens within the home, but is not counted in the GDP statistics. Women do most of this work, activity that is systematically dis-valued by the metrics and the norms of a market society, i.e., capitalism. Not so to your kids.
You can easily gain more value from your home. Home investments, such as in energy, likely provide the best investment that you can make. Time devoted to maintaining your home is not taxed. Look at your paycheck to realize how much money is diverted. .
Self-reliance remains a hallmark value of the USA. Do it. Go home.
Community, Commerce, and Civics
Braudel entitled his second massive volume The Wheels of Commerce. The original definition of commerce was a convivial activity involving face-to-face communication, not the abstraction of anonymous monetized transactions.
Communities form vital but largely unnoticed social capital, an enduring set of relationships that serve our direct mutual needs. Commmerce embedded interactions make sense and take on a human face. We worship in community, find care, and togetherness. We share. Embrace community life (Putnam).
Commerce in Scottish villages was idealized by Adam Smith in his seminal The Wealth of Nations. To the ancient Greeks, the agora, the place where commerce was transacted, was a vital community-building space. The Medieval City that wrested material life from the barons of feudalism, the marketplace took place within or just outside of the nascent trading towns: "Stadt Lucht macht Frie," meaning "City air makes you free." Commerce and community need to be integrated again, accompanied by an active exercise of citizenship, the essence of democratic practice.
Karl Polanyi advocated a socially and culturally embedded market at a human scale. We all have experienced the excitement of a marketplace, perhaps a local farmers' market. Nurture the local economic base around commerce serving the local community, including accessible and fair local finance.
There are technical aspects to community-building that must carfully nurture the local economy. Much of our economic lives surrounds us as transportation, energy, local taxes and services, education, shopping, health care, etc. Like our home, our community must be valued, protected, safeguarded, and nurtured. This will be explored more fully soon on my website.
All such activities, despite Adam Smith, is peripheral to contemporary capitalism. Like the home, the community has not been appreciated as the economic the economic entity that it surely is. You and I know this as we live our lives.
The community/commerce/civic nexus provides the building-block to counter the larger domain that Braudel called the World System. To that we must turn next.
As cosmopolitan citizens of the Earth and our species, the level of our capability to meaningfully participate seemingly has been greatly exceeded. Once we have lost that efficacy, we lean on (ideological) abstractions replace to direct contact. without this alienation the institutions of globalization, such as trans-national corporations can run amok over us --- and the only planet we inhabit. We are neutered as citizens. We are rendered powerless.
We must respond strategically: "Think globally and locally but act strategically" (Bookchin).
I will point out how Adam Smith, the shrewd Scottish nationalist and professional philosopher, handled this dilemma. I will argue that Smith has been greatly misunderstood so that instead of being a hero of neoliberal capitalism he, like John Maynard Keynes (the champion of big government), advocated localism and community. Again, my purpose is to invert capitalism and to rebuild from the local base around Livelihood. This is not socialism, but citizenship. We must learn how to turn critique into praxis, thooughtful and efficacious participation. Hang on.
I will take a dramatic step here. I regard external political economic forces as dis-placing our legitimate place in the world with their placing us within their Matrix of profit and control --- to be explained soon. We must resist respectfully and intelligently:
Our assertive cosmopolitan localism guides our contesting the forces that rip us apart, replace local autonomy with global remote control, rips off the surplus value produced locally, and, perhaps worst of all, precludes our taking effective action to instill Livelihood in our homes and communities.
Our response to the dysfunctions and contradictions of capitalism builds on our cosmopolitan citizenship, an expression of our active, expanded liberty. These are the steps to take:
- Build Livelihood within our home communities and regions. Identify and resist the domination of outside influences. Go local. Think as a strategic, engaged cosmopolitan citizen within a potentially hostile world.
- Appreciate our homes, our families, that which we love and care for every day, our neighbors. This is our personal foundation that defines our place in the world, our self-reliance./li>
- Nurture our communities around locally-supportive commerce and engaged citizenship. Extend this action and spirit to our neighboring communities and the bio-regions that nestle us on Earth. Build social capital.
- Estend citizenship into concerned care for Earth but recognize the political, economic, communicative, and ecological forces that will displace our autonomy with their attempt to place us within their Matrix.
The outline delaborated above, complemented with my critique of capitalism, provide my manifesto toward a just, sustainable, climate-benign 2050. Now, I must spell out the detailed analysis and then synthesize.