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by Ferdinand Scholz and Matthias Kiefer
Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015 at 12:13 PM
Prosperity in large part is based on the ecological and social exploitation of poor countries in Africa and Asia. Today 20% of humanity consume 80% of global resources. The poor are played off against each other while the richest hide billions in tax havens.
CAPITALISM IS THE PROBLEM
Inequality. Capitalism is always hungry for profits like an avaricious wolf – that even devours itself. Billions of people feel this daily. What should be done?
By Ferdinand Scholz
[This article published on 10/7/2015 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.freitag.de/autoren/Ferdinand-scholz/das-problem-heisst-kapitalismus.]
What a paradox! Politicians try to get us to believe “economic refugees are greedy”
, divide people in useful or useless immigrants, and cast this detestable defamation of the new asylum compromise in legal form while exploiting existential fears, fears of descent and dull and dumb armchair slogans. Unfortunately there are many brown persons who think something will be taken from them when refugees come to us. We have everything we need. Then people come from pure hell whether because of poverty or war and seek protection. That politicians prefer to make the borders tight rather than create legal escape routes is shocking. At the moment populism unfortunately has a priority before humanity.
What a shame that there are still people who judge humanliness and protection of human rights according to descent! All rational persons must know better and decide for charity, even with persons from the deepest poverty. Our history teaches this. Our ancestors were all forced to leave their homes in search of a better life. Ignorance about the European past makes the agitation even worse. We are 8 billion persons but humanliness is lacking. Time to explore the radical causes presses!
Nearly everyone knows at least intuitively what our world is like. Today’s prosperity in large part is based on the ecological and social exploitation of poor countries in Africa and Asia. Today 20 percent of humanity consumes 80 percent of the global resources. Over 75% of the global gross domestic product falls to this 20 percent. Exploitation of the environment is joined to wars out of economic interests for power distribution benefiting elites instead of genuine democracy. Is that just? For several billion people, hunger, sickness, exploitation and low wages are the daily routine while a tiny upper class of a few thousand persons swims in extreme abundance. The poor are played off against each other while the richest hide billions in tax havens. That cannot be nothing to any compassionate person regardless of political color. Unfortunately this plight often doesn’t matter, whether out of resignation or ignorance.
The factual situation is clear. Our capitalist economic system to which some neoliberals have a sexual-erotic relation destroys the environment until the earth is uninhabitable and fossil raw materials run low without sustainable counter-measures. Population growth occurs. The capacity of the earth is greatly exceeded. Financial crises as a result of global inequality shake whole states. Values like democracy and solidarity fall by the wayside. In its 500 years, capitalism has created “prosperity” for a good number of people. Capitalism was tamed sop more people could profit from it. But today it has run aground as a whole.
THE EARTH IS FINITE
The finite world hits its growth limits and yet hardly one influential politician notices we will hit the wall – until the crash. On the horizon, a crisis of unimaginable extent is marked out outstripping the recent Great Recession. The food production that could actually feed the whole population of the earth is distributed so unequally that over 800 million persons must starve. In addition we produce “bio-products” in South America that are transported to Europe with terrible consequences for the climate. This is similarly true for animal feed production.
Today there is absurd wealth for a small elite and increasingly precarious conditions for everyone else even in Europe. A community where one rich person can inhabit a whole floor while a dozen must share one room upstairs cannot function. The capitalist system doesn’t have any solutions for all these problems. From the former universal problem solver, capitalism has become the core of the problem. From a basic level of economic power, a further increase of the gross domestic product doesn’t lead to improved human life. On the contrary, exploitation and expansion are a structural necessity in global capitalism. There is no good capitalism since everything is oriented in money, commodification, competition and in the decline and oppression of other people. This is condemned to fail!
“ECONOMIC REFUGEES’ AND PROFIT-MAXIMIZATION – A MORAL DILEMMA
A moral dilemma is revealed in the refugee question today. Europeans transfer subsidies when storms or floods kill thousands – but cheerfully pump greenhouse gases in the air that aggravate natural disasters. 60 percent of eco-systems are endangered. With the exception of 1998, the ten warmest years occurred since 2000. 2014 was the warmest year on record. What is endurable in Europe is hell elsewhere. We build markets in poor countries to drive down prices with subsidized products. We live to shop and buy cheap clothing that is manufactured for peanuts. We buy new inexpensive Smartphones every two years for which minerals are extracted from the earth under catastrophic conditions. We buy fruits from countries that squander their last water reserves for irrigation. Every day 50 square miles of rainforest are deforested for that – equivalent to 18,100 soccer fields! Every year our society produces around 288 million tons of plastics that unlike wood, glass, paper or metal cannot be reused or biologically decomposed. Instead the plastic waste reaches the world oceans and existentially pollutes and threatens the animal- and plant world. By 2100 more than half of all ocean species will be wiped out. What should all this tell us? The answer is clear: a system question is involved, not peanuts!
When will we humans as rational beings finally come to the insight that the western kind of economics will be the main cause for global escape movements of the future and new injustices can’t be continued and created? In the next 20 years, climate change alone will bring 25 to 200 million climate refugees. By 2050, a billion people will be forced to leave their home on account of the consequences of our throwaway society. All this is because of consumption.
Capitalism means buying things one doesn’t need with money one doesn’t have to impress persons one cannot endure. This way of thinking inflicts enormous suffering. In the 19th century, Marx recognized the commodity fetish. Since then the commodity fetish has increased enormously… Half of humanity has less than 1% of the wealth. 2.4 billion people have no access to clean drinking water. This will even intensify given the worldwide redistribution from bottom to top. These people live in garbage. Their lot is partly worse than before industrialization. Who causes this misery? The answer is obvious. The imperial lifestyle of the rich North with its stinking rich is responsible. Capitalism could not have arisen in the 18th century without slavery in North- and South America and could not exist today without economic exploitation, neocolonialism, and dependence on big banks and big businesses as results of capitalist expansion pressure. Who suffers because of this? The global South suffers. That is our guilt. First we robbed them of their development chances through our colonialism (for example, three-country trade). Now they must cope with the climatic consequences of our actions. An historical compensation would be more than appropriate! This would not be so difficult.
We give trillions to banks in the “beautiful” North while ignoring that a trillion euros are lost annually through tax evasion of the super-rich. But supposedly there isn’t enough money for humanity. For years, nothing changed. Today an admission freeze for refugees is on the way in rich Europe. This cannot be! Worldwide growth doesn’t solve problems any more… Growth lives from social inequality! In 1987 there were only 180 multi-millionaires; today there are more than 1400 super-rich. So our world has developed for centuries – unfortunately – particularly in the 21st century.
WESTERN GROWTH FETISHISM
Why are we so dependent on growth? The answer is simple. Nothing else really matters in a system of competition. The “investment chains” cannot break. In other words, firms only invest when they expect profits. For the aggregate economy, these profits are identical with growth. Without growth, businesses must fear losses. As soon as profits do not arise, businesses do not invest any more and the capitalist economy collapses without investments. An uncontrollable downward spiral starts that recalls the terrible worldwide economic crisis from 1929. Jobs are lost, demand falls, production shrivels and more jobs disappear.
One thing is immediately clear. Capitalism is condemned to ruin. Capitalism needs growth but infinite growth is impossible in a finite world. Raw materials become increasingly scarce. Persons destroy their own foundations of life by contaminating the environment. Capitalism will collapse in a chaotic and brutal way. Therefore we must initiate a change here and today – before it is too late. A “status quo orientation” or “path dependency” would mean struggles for water and food leading to contamination and massive migration streams with the danger of totalitarian reactions, even nuclear wars as between China and India. Exponential growth affects all areas including the environment. Its pollution also grows exponentially with the raw material consumption. The world would collapse if all people were oriented in the western lifestyle. One American consumes three times as much water as a Chinese who consumes four times the amount of an African. This careless consumption leads to breakdown. No one wants this, regardless of where he or she comes from.
INEQUALITY IN INDUSTRIAL COUNTRIES
Much is going bad in industrial countries which are certainly peanuts compared to the global South. Poverty is all-pervasive today even in the West. Being poor means poverty in chances, good health care, education- and advancement possibilities as well as communication, not only deficiency in financial means. The number of insecure, shattered work-, life- and family relations increases to an alarming extent. A large-scale exploitation occurs under the mantle of the flexibilization of the labor market. The promise that the children will be better off is not fulfilled any more. Inequality has soared noticeably in the West, not only in countries that first turned late to the market economy like Russia, China and Vietnam.
The US is an example. Never since the 1920s were chances and affluence distributed as unequally as today. More than half of the income goes to the richest one percent. Every fourth American has no health insurance. At the same time tax fraud by big businesses costs the country 0 billion in tax revenue.
Germany is an example. The burden for small incomes increased again and again while the tax burden on capital and inheritances fell continuously for many years. One percent of the population has over a third of all wealth in Germany – more than the bottom 80% and more than twice as much as the bottom 70%. The richest 0.1% alone has around 16%. The lower 80% of the population have hardly more than 20% of the wealth in Germany. 1.5 million depend on food assistance, twice as many as 2005. In 2018, 531,000 people will have no housing, an increase of 60% over 2014. Luxury apartments are built. The likelihood that a worker’s child will reach high school is 6.5 times less than an academic’s child. More than papa’s money purse is involved. Other factors shift the starting blocks. Ascent through education and diligence? Instrument error! Our consumer habits with cheap goods leads to the loss of jobs and strengthens national and global inequality. In no other place of the Eurozone is wealth allocated more unequally than in Germany.
Great Britain is an example. The richest five families have more than the poorest 12.6 million. The United Kingdom is divided in two camps: the few happy owners above, the “beati possidentes” and millions upon millions of persons who fall back in the hurdle-race around the future and a stable foundation for themselves and their children. Wealth is distributed more equally in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, China, India, Russia and Turkey. It is shocking that the increasing western poverty is passed off as worldwide luxury… Greed is often stronger than humanliness.
THE FILTHY SIDE OF CAPITALISM
Capitalism as Goethe recognized before Marx is always robbery and never only exchange and the market economy. “War, trade and piracy” were a “trinity” for Goethe that cannot be separated. This contradiction that was glaring with colonialism and industrialization should be mitigated regionally through Ludwig Erhard’s social market economy. However socially restrained capitalism that arose after the Second World War and predominated until the middle of the 1980s was always only a compromise in which the economic and political elites of the West agreed. Even the conservatives were for that. Reagan in the US and Thatcher in England initiated the turn – a change of direction to pure capitalism known today as neoliberalism in the first half of the 1980s amid the first signs of the dissolution of the eastern bloc. Germany followed a decade later.
NEOLIBERALISM AS SUCCESSOR OF THE SOCIAL MARKET ECONOMY
Social balance takes a back seat again today. The productive side of capitalism was lost in large part while greed and exclusive pursuit of profit prove destructive today. Destructive greed appears in the financial markets that trigger crises, monopolies and lobbyism and in the social consequences. This system only benefits one percent of the population, the top in wealth and income while the living conditions of large parts of the population permanently deteriorate. In the times of neoliberalism, fraudsters, the rich and super-rich, banks, hedge-funds, insurances and big businesses are the only ones who really profit from higher economic output. On the other hand, millions of children grew up in Hartz IV households.
For decades, workers fell to the enticements of the neoliberal ideology of performance, flexibility and personal responsibility. Falling real wages and the undermining of the social state were among the consequences. The shareholder-value doctrine is standard today and is deeply anti-social because investors are only interested in short-term profit maximization. Inherited, not earned wealth is passed down through unjust taxation. TTIP and CETA continue this development by undermining democracy, lowering environmental- and consumer standards and stimulating redistribution again from the poor to the rich.
In view of this development encouraged by political leaders, the disadvantaged may not lose hope and turn to misanthropists from rightwing populists to Nazis. During the industrialization that began in his time, Goethe held to the claim and confidence that persons in the long run will not accept a society that lets its most valuable qualities – compassion, social responsibility, capability for love and longing for dignity and beauty wither and to set its most unappealing qualities – avarice, egoism and social ignorance – at the top of the social value canon. Since social movements are arising more and more in industrial countries as a result of impoverishment, one could think this optimism will be victorious and that returning to the social market economy would solve all problems. Many believe this. However unfortunately it is not so simple. These are only measures that stimulate the economic growth that stagnates more and more. This resulted in the crash of 2008: the market was destroyed by growth itself. Growth always creates new social inequality and ecological devastations and hardly removes them. Only repairing the capitalist system is not enough.
THE FAIRY TALE OF GREEN GROWTH
We come to a discussion of principles. Many progressives, whether social democrats, Greens or leftists, cannot free themselves from growth fetishism. Still the idea of a sustainable growth is a contradiction in itself. As mentioned, there cannot be unlimited growth on a limited planet. All saving in consumption is more than eaten up by increased consumption. Thus goods production is expanded and energy consumption rises and doesn’t fall. Take holiday traffic. Money saved from fuel for the car is then spent for a journey by air. Whoever has a hybrid car drives more with a good conscience. Germany produces more in a low-carbon way today than in the past. In a countermove, the new work benches of the world with China leading the way are marked by a rapidly increasing emission of harmful climate gases. This so-called “rebound- or boomerang-effect” is manifest in greater emissions despite efficiency gains. This has been a well-known reality since the 1970s. A second example is the first jeans-collection from recycled plastics from the Pacific. More and more plastics are produced, consumed and thrown away and the waste in the oceans grows and doesn’t disappear.
The problem of industry is that ever greater quantities are produced in ever shorter intervals, obsolescence leads to avoidable ecological damage and miserable working conditions in textile factories. The problem of industry is not that there are not enough raw materials. The most efficient businesses must always bring new products to the market ever faster to survive. Consumers crave new products and status products. We have a psychological problem with this.
Growth is always connected with raw material- and energy consumption, however innovative. Both are not possible without destruction of nature. If an uncoupling of consumption and emissions from economic growth were really possible, this would be a genuine miracle. The growth- and consumer oriented system which is responsible for the ecological and a social damage is not the solution. A few mistakes must be corrected. The system is the problem. The system presses us mercilessly to act unsustainably. Therefore all past initiatives of rich countries for sustainable development and a “Green New Deal” broke down. Politics clings unswervingly to an illusion. A green jet engine will not save us! The universal answer of economics, improving efficiency, testifies to ecological illiteracy. To believe anything else would be naïve and cynical.
A CHANGE OF MENTALITY IS NECESSARY
Given much bad news, we may now fall into a “dictatorship of the present.” We must combat the world misery and the continuous injustice inherent in capitalism. Climate change is system-immanent and doesn’t threaten a functioning system. The motto “no renunciation, no restrictions, end of guilt feelings is condemned to fail. What should be done? A desirable future is only possible if social and ecological progress can be separated from the pressures of capital accumulation and growth. Citizens and the state must be freed from the omnipotence of capital and the solidarity of the community of nations strengthened. We must learn to share things and live from what we have. There are too many fossil fuels, not too few. They must remain in the earth so the earth’s climate does not explode.
In the next years, more and more people will realize that life on credit leads to total collapse. Even the ambitious sustainability programs of the United Nations will not attain great success. They do not change the principle that our way of life causes so much suffering. The number of people who endure hunger all over the world increases day by day and doesn’t decrease.
Only a permanent growth renunciation of the richest societies joined with a temporary growth strategy for the poorest will lead to a better world (modern subsistence economy, not catch-up industrialization). Therefore hardly any goal can be really achieved. Millions of small farmers will flee into the slums of cities because they have no perspective – because they have no infrastructure and because we resist fair prices. These persons will then be exploited in the cities. This must be ended! Contraception is urgently needed. When there are 10 billion people on earth, the resources will never be enough for a dignified life for everyone. By 2100, Africa will accommodate 4.4 billion people – as many as inhabitated the whole earth in 1980. The climate change triggered by the West appears strongest there and makes food scarce.
The growth economy leads to exploitation and impoverishment of subsistence (housework, global South, nature) and exponentially increases (feminine) reproduction. Women must finally be on equal footing worldwide both legally and with chances… An oracle is not needed to foresee that today’s streams of refugees are only harbingers of future waves of migration. What happens when over 10 billion live on the earth in 2050? The global migration lever will be turned by us. These people who make a dangerous journey want their piece of prosperity that we created over centuries at their expense. That is absolutely justified. Therefore we must immediately rethink. A long-term plan to reorganize society and the economy is needed so these people don’t have to leave their homes. Our conduct today, whether as exploitation or climate sins, is part of the problem and not external to the system.
FOR RENUNCIATION AND SUSTAINABILITY
Finally, we need the awareness that all this cannot happen without renunciation. A flight from Frankfurt to New York emits 4.2 tons of CO2 per person; a flight to Sydney emits 14.5 tons – every earthling may emit at most 2.7 tons annually so the 2 degree centigrade goal is not exceeded. The idea of a decarbonized, growth-based world economy also runs aground here. What would other approaches look like?
No one really improves his life with the constant struggle for more and more status products. The growing economization of all areas of society only leads to resignation by setting profit over people. Public interest must be at the center of all economic activity. Money should serve us and not govern us! The humanity that could have such a marvelous planet may not decay to the slave of the economy and the financial world. That it could be even worse is only because persons can be regarded as consumer goods that can be used and thrown away. Cosmetic surgery is a slogan. Slavery, feudalism and colonialism are not abolished. No, we have promoted them from the political to the economic plane and transferred them almost completely to developing countries. In the Congo, people must mine rare metals that are sold to foreign businesses under the worst health conditions. Local warlords pocket all the profits. The raw materials then help operate our cell-phones and laptops. Hardly a consumer or business is bothered by this. Low cost is the main thing. So human cruelty is carried out in the 21st century!
HUNGER AND DISTRESS ARE DAILY ROUTINE TODAY
Worldwide more than 1.2 billion live on less than .25 per day in slums, mines, ruins and exploitation centers often organized as concentration camps. Feeding and clothing oneself on 33 euros a month and financing school for one’s children is beyond all powers of imagination. People must manage with this every day. On the other side, 85% of worldwide wealth comes to the richest 10% of humanity. 3.5 billion have less than 1% of worldwide wealth. Over 50% of the world’s population must live from less than a day. Occupy Wall Street was completely right with its slogan.
Unfortunately refugees have it even worse. Persons in refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan only receive 0.50 euro daily in support. That isn’t even enough for a little food. Why does this happen?... Greed is sexy… Many states gladly cooperated with the apartheid regime in South Africa and the economy profited. This is the much invoked “western value community.”
THE FAILED STRATEGYOF DEVELOPMENTAL AID
This community runs aground in simple things like economic aid to developing countries. In 1970, 45 years ago, all UN states obligated themselves to spend 0.7% of their gross domestic product for that. Now it is a great Merkel promise that Germany will meet this goal by 2030. Germany is actually at 0.4% or 12.5 billion – 10 billion too little. European Union assistance for African states south of the Sahara, the poorest region of the world, was even scaled down from to billion per year – a decline of one-third. Money for the earthquake victims in Nepal has still not arrived a half year later. Much talk but no action. That is a true disgrace!
The method of developmental assistance is also a problem… In large part, the human situation has not improved. On the contrary, the payments mostly flow to the ruling elites and corrupt dictatorships that misuse their power. The poorer population groups hardly share in the economic gain. They have to live with poverty, hunger and high child mortality. We can see how gigantic is this abuse in a simple number. Through black money transfers abroad, 1 billion is lost annually to developing countries. Investments in education are not made. The vicious circle of poverty turns again and again.
The high growth numbers produced with western engagement are also a problem. In Africa, they lead to massively contaminating the environment. The flora and fauna are partly destroyed and many farmers are impoverished. The foundations of life were taken from these people through oil-contaminated fields and rivers, expanding wildernesses and corruption. Now they have to live in the most bitter poverty without work and outside any solidarity community. For many people, raw material wealth is often more a curse than a blessing.
This is one of the inner contradictions of capitalism” we want to help but destroy. The European economy contributes to this. We send fishing fleets to Africa’s west coasts, fish the ocean dry and sell the animals at high prices. The local fishers, self-sufficient for centuries, lose their foundation of existence. The export policy is also culpable. Europe supplies the cheapest agricultural products to Africa’s markets. Local farmers who live from traditional agriculture cannot keep up, become impoverished – and are forced to escape. The cultivation of cash crops that pay off in the short-term is promoted by industrial states and leads to desertification and famines. The traditional sustainable subsistence economy is destroyed. Unfortunately this is an explicit goal of developmental policy.
This is hardly “developmental cooperation.” Subsistence was a synonym for under-development, poverty, scarcity and miserable life. Subsistence means a balanced life in harmony with nature. But that isn’t true any more. At the same time, over 10 million tons of food is thrown away annually in Germany; only 1% of all food is fair traded. Feeding millions upon millions of people and ensuring better local living conditions of people would only cost a few cents more.
For most states of the earth, wars are wars for raw materials, not for human rights or democracy. The US invasion of Iraq against international law brought nothing to the people there, neither democracy nor prosperity. No, the war eroded the relative social peace and led to the rise of IS. Burning oil had far-reaching consequences for the region several years later. A year long drought as a consequence of climate change contributed to the outbreak of the revolution in Syria… We buy the oil from the Middle East but completely ignore the desolate human rights situation. The profit from the sales lands with kings and oligarchs while the population receives hardly anything. In China, the middle class is better off while the massive lower class must live in slums from degrading dumping wages.
Globalization leads to falling wages and job losses, reduced social services, increased inequality and pollution of the environment, not to prosperity for everyone. Jean Jaures said rightly: “Capitalism bears war in itself as clouds bear rain.” Reality testifies to absolute human cruelty. The greed for wealth and raw materials whatever the cost – for centuries – is glaring.
CAPITALISM AND MORALITY – A GREAT CONTRADICTION
The problem of capitalism is that it functions better the more it distances itself from ethical-moral values and democracy. Look at China. Armed to the teeth, we fight for peace and are amazed at our lack of success. We gas male children and commit murder a million times. But prosperity for a few that is bought with environmental destruction, animal torture and injustice is not a basis for a civilized society. The majority of Germans see this. The hope for reason and human learning capacity is not groundless. According to Enmid, 80% of the population is convinced we need a new economic system. But that a majority is lacking for a morally indispensable global redistribution everywhere in the West is a sad unfortunate fact.
FOR A NEW GLOBAL APPROACH
More than ever it is time for an outcry, for a new approach supported by international values. Another better world is possible! All people must rethink in the interest of the 90% or 99% - away from cheap clothes, intoxicating consumption with luxury goods, waste and free trade – to sustainability, recycling, fair trade and just wages – a regional circulation economy – away from deregulation, privatization, low taxes on millionaires – to a balanced society, a global redistribution (in which the richest persons and countries must bear the main burden), reuse and reapplication – away from a pure profit- and power maximization, away from capitalism to a public interest economy that makes possible a life in dignity for everyone and doesn’t rely on an ever smaller strata of the privileged, to a society where the well-being of everyone is at the top, where human dignity, human rights and ecological responsibility really count, a society without exclusion, hatred and racism, without religious fanaticism, a society of humanity and tolerance. That must be the highest goal!
A future-friendly post-growth society will not need to grow at any price to stabilize itself. Businesses and economies would not be condemned to expansion, accumulation and increased production. Resource-intensive branches would be scaled back to not completely overstrain the ecological limits while branches like health care and nursing would be developed. Bio-farming and renewable energy could replace conventional methods. Concrete needs would be in the foreground in food provision or the definitions of prosperity and justice – not profit, purchasing power or abstract numbers like the GDP that do not consider an intact environment. Environmental- and health damages should be removed. In other words, the growth model should also be understood as a growth-oriented reduction of raw materials and the destruction of the natural environment as desirable progress. For example, a songbird has a purely material value of 3.10 euros but is worth more than 300 euros in the ecological context. Precaution plays no role in capitalism.
THE PROBLEMATIC OF THE GDP
A high GDP does not necessarily lead to life satisfaction. Rather the opposite is true. Life satisfaction in many African states and other poorer countries is higher than in industrial countries where dissatisfaction is even growing. One cannot eat money. In Great Britain, income doubled since the 1970s but human satisfaction decreased (divorce rates etc). Thus a new standard for prosperity is needed that includes data like life expectancy, education involvement and participation in public life. The relation of society and nature must be redefined. The economy should serve the value of life and not the exploitation of capital. The de-commercialization of nature and common property, the decentralization of the production machine and the redistribution of wealth and power are vital. Instead of maintaining the separation of nature and humans, their re-reconciliation should be encouraged and the separation abolished. This is only possible by demanding the rights of nature on a global scale alongside human rights. Adequate food, proper life expectancy and social participation must be assured all people in a finite world.
A MODEL FOR SUSTAINABLE CHANGE
How could this change be achieved concretely? Firstly, private property and the pursuit of profit must be limited. The global growth-driver, the western consumer style (consumers disproportionately consume the environment)… must be overcome. For that, drastic cuts for the global markets are necessary. But that is not enough. Big businesses where managers often earn 100 times as much as a normal worker often only known their own law. We see this in the VW-scandal. Adam Smith, the founder of economic liberalism, recognized this problematic. We see the greed and brutality on the world markets. We notice the cost-whatever-it-may profit maximization… Democratically-elected representatives could take over the function of shareholders. The profits would then be gained according to a socially balanced and sustainable concept and flow into the public budget. Through strict regulation, the profits could be distributed more justly. Our economy could be gradually regionalized.
In the last step of a long-term process speeded up by civil society, a base-democratic society could arise in which the economy serves the public interest and entrepreneurial freedom is regionally possible. Central areas of the economy would be socialized, global market mechanisms pushed back, market relations dismantled and women would be on an equal footing. We would have a functioning, strictly regulated market economy in which the causation principle would be unrestrictedly valid, a system without craving for profit, and a system with some positive planned economy elements. This system would be democratic, liberal, locally sustainable and just – all this with regional currencies, an economy unlike today where less than one percent of the biggest businesses have over 66% of all sales. Instead of misuse of power and greed, the commons (common property used communally according to rules oriented in sustainability and fairness to prevent overuse) and solidarity would be in the center – with the economy and the state subject to democratic control – active in worldwide institutions and united through global cooperation. If market freedom only results in a boundless consumerism, that has nothing to do with a social contract. Societies that promote social and ecological conduct function much better. Our motto must be: think globally and economize regionally. We must replace capitalist forms of finance and ownership with a system consistent with egalitarian values. Nature and resources are not free of charge. Carrying this out is our way to a better future!
THINK GLOBALLY AND ECONOMIZE REGIONALLY
Business success must be measured in public-interest-oriented values like human dignity, solidarity, joint determination, transparency, social justice and ecological sustainability and not in the greatest profit. We find this in its beginnings in local and communal social businesses like communal energy projects and local farmer markets. Still that is not enough. Common ownership of a large share of the social means of production, for example in regional cooperatives, is vital. We could reduce working hours and create full employment. Basic and maximum income could ensure a just distribution of wealth while definitively wiping out poverty. At the same time a just achievement-principle could be upheld.
“A SOCIALIST CAN BE A CHRISTIAN; A CHRISTIAN MUST BE A SOCIALIST” – ADOLF GRIMME
Human relations are determined by one’s relations. In capitalism one is brought up to be an egoist to survive. Therefore a reform of nearly all areas of life is necessary to make possible a better world. Climate change is unstoppable today because it is promoted by all dominant institutions. Therefore we also need a fundamental institutional change of contemporary living conditions. No stone will remain on another stone. An economy that concentr4ates on the regional production of long-life products and services is the future. Politics must adjust to this and also the architecture of our cities with more green spaces. More than 90% of production and distribution would be better locally. In the light of the constant price war over wages, environmental standards and prices in growth-greedy capitalism, this is impossible but inevitable for our future. This is a system question.
GOOD LIFE IN A FINITE WORLD
Good life for everyone in a community with nature, with public spirit, equality, sharing, participation, exchange, sustainability and fulfilled life while maintaining our natural foundations of life – all this in a perfect circulation economy – would pave the way to a better future. The economy could carefully shrivel with prosperity and happiness increasing. No one would have to starve, die of curable sicknesses or work the whole day. Today we in the West buy so many more things than we actually use. We can and must renounce on these things; we simply don’t have the resources. This luxury is often only a concern of the elites. Germany’s ecological footprint must be limited because we far exceed the capacity of our planet, the long-term reproduction of resources… The past western lifestyle cannot be endured any longer.
An essential change of structure and values is necessary! We must finally speak honestly about the advantages of worldwide cooperation. Sensible collective labor must be set against the estranged capitalist over-production that makes some rich but not happy while most are poor and unhappy. Some businesses try to fool us today. There could be so many new possibilities. For example, the Internet and information technology could gain a very different meaning. A community in surplus without gainful work where everyone could concentrate on creative and social activities – is entirely possible as an ultimate goal. All these arguments flow into a simple statement. A sustainable world needs sufficiency and subsistence. For the well-being of everyone, we must consume less and produce less while distributing worldwide more justly and more equally. Can less be more? A dignified economic system could make this convincing. This is a counter-design to exploitative globalization which is always the cheapest globalization, whether with environmental or labor costs. Obviously this leads to a restriction of freedom as in intercontinental flights. But all freedom is subject to limitations imposed on us by the finitude of resources and the size of the world population.
LESS IS MORE!
What would a world be like where people all over the world live ins mall villages and cities surrounded by green gardens full of flowers, vegetables and fruits, hemmed in by forests, fields and meadows that belong to the general public and are not private property, a world where persons, animals and the environment are held in high esteem and treated with love and affection, a world without war, poverty and exclusion. How fulfilling it would be to revive the social structures of little cities away from economization and acceleration! How beautiful would humanity be that follows a fundamental moral principle: we live with each other from what the nature in which we live offers us, a life galore, and a life in contentment. This would be a golden age in which people share with others and everyone can lead a good life, an age with an economy of giving and sharing. Who would not say yes to that?! The earth could be so beautiful.
Can a better world be imagined? The future will be worse than today, not better if we have no consciousness of responsibility today. If we have no insight today, a gigantic global catastrophe will occur. The prosperity of today destroys the prosperity of tomorrow! Then we would need a new planet. Escaping persons rightly demand our solidarity. They also want to lead a dignified life – and simultaneously improve our life. Today’s situation should be our incentive. All life would profit from a humanity in solidarity including the environment. Still this is a utopia. But weren’t all ideas visions? This change will be hard because it must occur worldwide. Two great systems that are basically different, competition and growth and the other cooperation and stagnation cannot exist parallel. But it is not too late to begin. Social changes are always gained by struggle and are never purchased – even from a self-satisfied upper class. For that, courage, solidarity, determination and faith are needed, not pseudo-reforms a la plastic jeans, so we the people can bring about the changes we desire.
TOGETHER FOR A BETTER WORLD
Exploitation and poverty are not inevitable. A democratic process for a more just world is necessary, a world that covers the needs of all people for food, clothing, housing, education and health care and makes possible a life in dignity for everyone, a world that emphasizes cooperation instead of competition. Developing a new socialism, socialism with a human face, a democratic eco-socialism, for the public interest and people’s sovereignty instead of a totalitarian system like finance capitalism is crucial.
A base-democratic upheaval or deep-rooted change is vital – for the long-term interests of people and the environment instead of the short-term goals of capital. Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno – one for all, all for one!
Make Capitalism History! For a Better World!
THE SYSTEM IS AT AN END
By Matthias Kiefer
[This article on the Ecumenical Social Initiative is translated from the German on the Internet.]
The past economic system dominant for 200 years in industrialized countries comes to its end because it is neither sustainable nor future-friendly. The crisis symptoms are varied and include the ecological realm: climate change, increasing resource exhaustion, worldwide decline of fruitful soil and drinking water, the dying of species… There are also many non-ecological symptoms of non-sustainability: state debts that narrow possibilities of rising generations, constant mass unemployment in many states, growing social tensions even in early industrializing countries, mounting mental work-referring sicknesses and so on.
The Ecumenical Social Initiative reacts to this future-forgetting development in its 5th thesis. It urges anchoring ecological sustainability in lifestyles and economic styles. Unfortunately the term is not defined more exactly. The well-known appeals to “moderation” are usually limited to “living well instead of having much” or to the new modesty in consumption in favor of more quality of life in individual life management. While moderation or “sufficiency” is necessary in many areas, this can hardly be enough to ensure a future-just development. Defeating the crises will not succeed without changing economic styles and structural adjustments. Answers to the unsolved questions of the idol “growth" are imperative. The premises of our economic system must be discussed. The social question must be crossed with the ecological question. Emphasis on the ecological-social market economy must be more than a cheap word husk. The hope for the “green economy,” an economic growth with simultaneous uncoupling of resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is deceptive. That hope can help in partial areas and in a transitional way but is hardly fit as a total strategy of sustainable lifestyles and economic styles.
Faith in the biblical creation God challenges Christians to promote a permanently future-friendly life on this planet for everyone, even the non-human creatures. The signs of the times speak a clear language. The injustices of our economic styles come to light more and more openly. That millions of people are already threatened by climate change is unjust although they are hardly responsible for the tiniest part of greenhouse emissions. A global industrialized farming exhausts the soil and contributes to the dying of species. While a billion people are oppressed and another two billion are malnourished, we persons living today unjustly narrow the chances of future generations enormously. Christians face these challenges because they appeal to Jesus Christ who did not measure successful happy life in worldly-material criteria of success but in God’s justice. The message of God’s coming reign is not of this world; it isn’t worldly – and wants to transform the world, God’s creation.
Christians can bring their message of hope against all hope, against all legitimate future pessimism in political and social debates the more credibly the more strongly their own communities, the churches, practice the consequences of this message… The pastoral dimension means being a model in serious searching for truth in the midst of the crises. This includes answering the question about the ground of hope supporting Christians. Pope Francis proposes: the public respect and acknowledgment that come to him should be enough motivation to respond wholeheartedly to his way to a sustainable world worth living in.
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