22. 10. 2007

Capitalism As If The World Matters

Here's a short article about the paperback edition of my book Capitalism As If The World Matters, which launches today:

2007: the atmosphere warms up; the forests crash down; the poor of the world go on getting poorer; water resources in more than 30 countries are running dry; fish stocks decline; an additional 73 million people join the human race; 800 million go hungry while a billion get fat. Just an average year in the life of planet Earth. And still we wait for today’s political “leaders” to begin to get their act together.

This is not a question of disputed science. Even on climate change, the consensus is now overwhelming. Neither it is a question of money. The rich world squanders countless billions of dollars of tax payers money on subsidising life-destroying industries year in, year out. Instead, it is a question of fear and lack of political vision.

Politicians are fearful because they don’t believe the answers can be found within a capitalist framework. And they know they won’t get elected unless they go on offering voters the same kind of “get rich quick, party on politics” that has dominated our lives for the last 50 years.

Whether capitalism really is capable of delivering a genuinely sustainable, equitable economy is by no means clear. But it had better be. It is the only game in town, and will be for many years to come. Precisely those years during which we have to take urgent, radical action to halt the current pattern of damage to the planet and our communities.

Capitalism As If The World Matters is all about confronting that all but unspoken crisis in our political systems. Without inspirational and utterly transparent political leadership, the beneficiaries of today’s feel-good societies will go on thinking that they can go on forever.

Since the first edition of “Capitalism” came out two years ago, its basic thrust has been warmly received by business leaders, academics and campaigners. This edition has been substantially updated, with extended analysis of what is happening in China and the United States (on which two countries our future prospects almost entirely depend), a whole raft of new case studies from the business world, and a deeper treatment of some of the security issues that have such a profound effect on people’s lives.

It also continues to raise difficult questions for the environment movement to address as it struggles to make its voice heard beyond the “already converted” and broadly sympathetic.

Change will not come by threatening people with yet more ecological doom and gloom. The necessary changes have also to be seen as desirable changes: good for people, their health and their quality of life – and not just good for the prospects of future generations. This is a ‘here and now’ agenda, as well as an agenda for tomorrow.

This means working with the grain of markets and free choice, not against it. It means embracing capitalism as the only overarching system capable of achieving any kind of reconciliation between ecological sustainability, on the one hand, and the pursuit of prosperity and personal wellbeing on the other.

That said, today’s particular model of capitalism is clearly incapable of delivering this kind of reconciliation, dependent as it is upon the accelerating liquidation of the natural capital upon which we depend and upon worsening divides between the rich and the poor worldwide.

At its heart, therefore, sustainable development comes right down to one all-important challenge: is it possible to conceptualize and then operationalize an alternative model of capitalism – one that allows for the sustainable management of the different capital assets upon which we rely so that the yield from those different assets sustains us now, as well as in the future?

The case for sustainable development must be reframed if that is to happen. It must be as much about new opportunities for responsible wealth creation as about outlawing irresponsible wealth creation; it must draw upon a core of ideas and values that speaks directly to people’s desire for a higher quality of life, emphasizing enlightened self-interest and personal wellbeing of a different kind.

It is only this combination (sustainable development perceived as answering the unavoidable challenge of living within natural limits, providing unprecedented opportunities for responsible and innovative wealth creators, and offering people a more equitable and more rewarding way of life) that is likely to provide any serious political alternative to today’s economic and political orthodoxy.

Unless it throws in its lot with this kind of progressive political agenda, conventional environmentalism will continue to decline.

All things considered, what is the alternative anyway? If not genuinely sustainable development, then what? And if not now, when?

The paperback of Capitalism As If The World Matters is available from the Earthscan website

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08. 11. 2007

This is an excellent book. Enlightening and progressive. Perhaps it is me not being perceptive enough but, on the crux point of economic growth, I don't feel any clearer on the answer. Do we say: OK GDP is high enough (no more growth) and will that mean mass unemployment and an increase in poverty OR do we continue with the growth policy but make it truly sustainable?

12. 11. 2007
Alan Brown

The whole argument seems to rest upon an assumption that everyone knows what capitalism is - well i know that I don't.

The assumption seems to be that out of those people there's a chunk of people who believe capitalism cannot deliver a clean environment and that this of course is naive as we all know that it can do. All a bit 1980s to me.

24. 03. 2009

Sustainable growth? That's an oxymoron.

13. 08. 2010
John Smith

Haing recently read Nigel Lawson's book on "Fixing Climate" (and subsequently wanting to beat the author to death with it), I find your ideas to be far more sympathetic and relevant; and thusly, worth considering. Wonderful to know that there are people in positions of power unafraid to highlight actual issues and speak out on behalf of the well-being of the planet, instead of the health of the First World's bank balance...

30. 07. 2012
Tim Mazur

No, most ecosystems in nature manage it as can humans with the correct governance and what used to be called 'Good Husbandry' by both men and women.

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