Klein vs capitalism

Naomi Klein

In Climate clippings 106, item 6 I linked to Joe Romm’s part review of Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism Vs The Climate. Romm promised to look at Klein’s program for action in a second post. I’m still waiting. I’ll recap here Romm’s exposition of Klein.

Romm on Klein

Klein, he says, makes three essential points:

1. Because we have ignored the increasingly urgent warnings and pleas for action from climate scientists for a quarter century (!) now, the incremental or evolutionary paths to avert catastrophic global warming that we might have been able to take in the past are closed to us.

2. Humanity faces a stark choice as a result: The end of civilization as we know it or the end of capitalism as we know it.

3. Choosing “unregulated capitalism” over human civilization would be a “morally monstrous” choice — and so the winning message for the climate movement is a moral one.

The time for ‘evolutionary’ strategies is long past. Now only ‘revolutionary’ strategies will get us there. Unregulated capitalism is a Ponzi scheme, which must collapse. The real choice facing us is a moral one.

Unchecked capitalism is immoral and will destroy civilisation as we know it.

Gareth at Hot Topic

Across the ditch Gareth at Hot topic has reviewed Klein’s book. Ultimately, he says, Klein’s vision is a moral one. She seeks

“an alternative worldview to rival the one at the heart of the ecological crisis— embedded in interdependence rather than hyper-individualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy.”

In summary:

We need this not only to create a political context to drastically lower emissions but also to help us through the disasters now unavoidable, where respect for human rights and deep compassion will be all that stands between civilisation and barbarism.

Klein seems to be saying that with a mass movement, as with the abolition of slavery, we can prevail.

She’s really saying, however, that to change capitalism we need to change ourselves. But capitalism has shaped us powerfully to suit it’s needs. Weber’s iron cage comes to mind.

I think the problem is a step up from that faced by the slavery abolitionists. Slavery was only about how the new world acquired labour for farming. When slavery was abolished the price of food may have gone up a bit, but I suspect not much. It has been pointed out that with slavery the landowner kept the whole family. Now farm workers in the New World and elsewhere often work for less than a living wage. Farming in Africa is often practiced by women, whereas the men go off to work in the mines and elsewhere.

Yuval Harari in his book Sapiens: a brief history of humankind reckons that the core concept of modern capitalism is growth. Prior to capitalism, in the first millennium for example, economics was a zero sum game. It was assumed that if you wanted to increase your wealth you would do it by diminishing someone else’s, through plunder, or a landowner screwing more out of the peasants. One’s assumption was generally speaking that the future would be worse than the past.

To skip a bit, by the 19th century we had the industrial revolution and a belief in science and progress. The belief that the future would be better than the past was pervasive. At the same time there were also worlds to being conquered through colonialism and imperialism.

Harari says that obviously exponential growth using more energy and materials must stop somewhere. But, he says, capitalists will tell you that only capitalists can run the world they have created and no-one has much stomach for new versions of communism. Just wait a bit, they say, and goodies will flow to all.

I’ve said elsewhere that our future will not be constrained by a limit on energy. Ultimately we will have access to as much as we need or want. With nanotechnology the same may be true of materials. There is a limit, however, on the goods and services provided by nature.

To cut a long story short, capitalism will I think stay. Our only option is to civilise it. Two of the elements will have to be greater democracy and an expansion of the public sector, the things we do collectively for the good of all. And there will need to be limits to wealth.

We must re-imagine the future. Meanwhile the Scandinavians could be nearer the mark than we are.

Meanwhile also, there is this fascinating interview with Klein.

She’s not a raving revolutionary. She wants to keep markets with greater government intervention and regulation. We are in an existential crisis; she doesn’t know what the next step is, just that we should all take it very seriously and engage. She intends to spend the rest of her life on the problem.