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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Capitalism and the Mad Uncle in the Attic

Capitalism and the Mad Uncle in the Attic

By John Atcheson
Common Dreams
June 24, 2012

Listen. Can you hear the Mad Uncle in the attic?

His muffled shriekings are getting louder as the myths, deceptions
and delusions we’ve been living on evaporate one by one in the
face of reality.

Can you feel that sickening thrill as we poise atop this Sisyphean
peak we call capitalism, right before the inevitable, nauseating
plunge back down into reality?

Can you smell the stench from the soon-to-fail Rio plus 20 meeting
as we con ourselves into believing we can snatch a bit more time at
the peak if only we could steal yet more of our children’s children’s
children’s birthright?

Ah, but we – plutocrats and people alike -- all beg, can’t we
keep this damned Uncle locked up for just a little more time.

Maybe until this election is over. Or until we’ve extracted a little
more money from a fossil-fueled economy based on greed and
exploitation. Or until … oh, I don’t know … until we’ve bled the
last iota of money from the 99%? Or at least until … I get mine?

Can’t we pretend for just one more generation that capitalism
pure, unconstrained capitalism, the kind Reagan promised us
would bring morning to America isn’t instead bringing mourning
to America, and to the world?

Can’t we just pretend, for one more generation, that the whole
infinite growth on a finite world thing isn’t just a giant, tragic
Ponzi Scheme designed to sell out the future?

Can’t we pass this problem onto them?

Can’t we use buzz words and sound bites to drown out
the lunatic? Words like socialist or redistribution or –
most dreaded of all – communism.

Can’t we keep pretending that capitalism is the necessary
handmaiden of Democracy, the only path to prosperity, our
only source of happiness?

No. We can’t. Because deep down inside, in places we don’t
like to visit, we know the Mad Uncle is right. What we’re
doing now isn’t making us all rich. It’s impoverishing us.

Ultimately, all wealth comes from natural capital.

Things like fertile soils; viable forests; intact gene pools;
abundant minerals; clean water and living oceans; sustainable
fish stocks; flourishing ecosystems; a stable, life-sustaining
climate.

We are liquidating these essential sources of wealth as if
they were so much junk offered for pennies on the dollar
at a desperate garage sale.

Our current version of capitalism is good at generating more
currency, not greater wealth. And we forget that currency is
merely a surrogate for things of real value, with no tangible
value in and of itself.

And even the currency isn’t being distributed equally. It’s
being siphoned off by the richest and most powerful in a
spiral of inequity.

It isn't making us happy, it's enslaving us to a life spent
pursuing more and more stuff we don’t need for reasons
we don’t understand.

Bigger; more; faster becomes biggest; most; fastest. But easy,
easier, easiest becomes fatter, sicker weaker.

It isn’t making us free, it’s creating a tyranny of the corporations
and plutocrats.

They weaken government in the name of freedom, only to turn
us into indentured servants to a system that's designed to take
from the poor and middle class and give to the uber rich, even
as it liquidates Earth’s treasures.

But the real tragedy isn’t our own alienation or our economic
and spiritual impoverishment.

It is the diminished legacy we leave the rest of humanity and
indeed, the rest of the biosphere.

It’s our willingness to consume the future in an orgy of gluttony,
drowning out the Mad Uncle’s protests with the noise of our own
slurping, chewing, smacking, munching, crunching as we inhale
our children’s birthright.

Hyperbole?

Not really. Every living system is in decline, and the rate is
accelerating.

In the case of climate change we are at the threshold of igniting
feedbacks that will usher in an inevitable and catastrophic set of
changes that will make life difficult in some areas and impossible
in others.

It’s time to admit that the Mad Uncle is right. Pure, unconstrained
capitalism is the problem, not the solution.

What, then, are we to do?

There are alternatives. We could tie currency to sustainable eco-
systems.

Instead of a gold standard we could have a green standard. Thus,
destruction of a nation’s stock of natural capital would devalue
its currency, and make it poorer.

We could adopt systems of production and ownership such
as Co-ops that emphasized cooperation, equitable sharing
of revenue and stewardship of our natural resources.

It’s not pie-in-the sky, to consider this. Cooperatives already
produce more than $1 trillion in assets, enough to make them
equivalent to the 10th largest economy in the world.

We could insist that trade agreements contain real, enforceable
requirements for equitable treatment of labor and serious
environmental protections, so that globalization ceased being a
race to the bottom for humans and the planet.

Yes, these ideas are unrealistic, naïve, politically impossible and
all the other labels that will surely be affixed to them and other
ideas like them.

But it is worth remembering, that the only thing more unrealistic
than junking our current bastardized system of economics is
supposing we can continue to liquidate the Earth without
consequence.

That’s what the Mad Uncle is telling us. We continue to ignore him
at our peril.


John Atcheson is author of the novel, A Being Darkly Wise, an eco-
thriller and Book One of a Trilogy centered on global warming. His
writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post,
the Baltimore Sun, the San Jose Mercury News and other major
newspapers.

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/22

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