Bill Moyers’ recent program on the plutocracy offers insights into the pathological politics and psychology of the super-rich. But what about the pathology of the economic system out of which the super-rich emerge? The problem is not abuses within capitalism, but capitalism itself. Such a predatory, amoral system not only leads to incredible inequality within the human family but also is undermining the capacity of the ecosphere to support human life as we know it. Several recent articles and books help us think about the basic problems of capitalism and begin sketching alternatives.
Sociologist Allan G. Johnson weighs in with a good concise essay, “If Not Capitalism, What? You are critical of capitalism, but what is the alternative?” Johnson reminds us that industrial capitalism “is not organized to meet the needs of the people who participate in it.”
This means that when a small portion of the population manages to take most of the wealth for themselves, the system is simply operating as it is designed to do. If millions of people don’t have enough food or shelter or decent healthcare, or if roads and bridges and schools are falling apart, or if the planet and other species are being degraded or destroyed, none of this is taken as a sign that the economic system itself is failing.
Political economist Gar Alperovitz, who gave a great talk in Austin last month, co-wrote a piece with Steve Dubb titled “If You Don’t Like Capitalism, and You Don’t Like Socialism, What Do You Want?” They ask, what happens if a system neither “reforms” nor collapses in “crisis”? In exploring “The Possibility of a Pluralist Commonwealth and a Community-Sustaining Economy,” they write:
As the global and domestic economic, political and climate change crisis both increase pain and force people to ask ever more penetrating questions, there is a need for — and hunger for — new understanding, new clarity, and a new way forward that is intelligible and intelligent.
Cynthia Kaufman’s new book, Getting Past Capitalism: History, Vision, Hope, offers a clear assessment of the problems:
When capitalism comes to dominate society, when all other ways of meeting our needs come to be devalued and pushed out, when governments operate to serve the interests of privately owned capital rather than the needs of people, we have a serious problem. That problem is capitalism.
and a path forward, realizing that
there are realistic alternatives to capitalism, that we thrive in those alternatives right now, and that society can be transformed to the extent that those alternatives can become stronger and more predominant in our lives. … We can begin to think of fighting capitalism as we think of fighting a fungus or a virus that has damaged our body politic: it has become entangled with our cells and needs to be fought from within and from without by complementary treatments.