Recognize Economic Priorities

Capitalism Causes Discord & Its Own End

It’s a ques­tion of when, not if, cap­i­tal­ism will end. We need to rede­fine what we mean by growth, and become more respon­si­ble with­in all our relationships.

Cap­i­tal­ism is at the root of many of the major issues we face today. This is because nature is an inte­grat­ed sys­tem. So demand­ing adher­ence to anoth­er system—the free-market—that strains rela­tion­ships with exploita­tive, cli­mate-alter­ing prac­tices, will only win us hard­ship in the end.

Con­tin­u­ous cap­i­tal growth based in a world of finite resources is impos­si­ble. The more we go against nature’s truth, the more we endan­ger our­selves and oth­ers. The cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem is designed for end­less expan­sion and prof­it. This is prob­lem­at­ic. A body can­not grow unend­ing­ly. To grow in wealth will only result in oth­ers grow­ing in poverty.

One of Hong Kong’s ‘cof­fin homes’, Ben­ny Lam

Look at the signs—the increas­ing instances of: mono­cul­tures, cli­mate change cat­a­stro­phes, and even the inter-per­son­al con­flicts sewn from con­cerns over money—over time, the matured ego-tech­no-eco­nom­ic system’s con­tin­u­ous grind has become the main cause of glob­al mis­align­ment. Envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion under­writ­ten by the cap­i­tal­is­tic sys­tem is a fat, urgent wake-up call.

How might we learn to oper­ate by using renew­able resources and replen­ish­ing what we have tak­en from the Earth? How might we restore integri­ty to our rela­tion­ships with one anoth­er and the plan­et? As cap­i­tal­ism comes to a close, how might we re-inte­grate val­ues of com­mu­ni­ty, cre­ativ­i­ty, and renew­al into what­ev­er sys­tem comes to replace cap­i­tal­ism? We believe that the answer might revolve around the prac­tice of remem­ber­ing and rever­ing the sacred­ness of life in all our activ­i­ties. We believe in the crit­i­cal pri­or­i­ty to work toward estab­lish­ing con­di­tions in which life can thrive.

Mag­ic show poster, Stro­bridge & Co. Lith, 1897
Recognize Economic Priorities

Costs of Production Should Incorporate Byproducts

There’s no such thing as fast and cheap. The true costs of pro­duc­tion mate­ri­al­ize even­tu­al­ly. It’s time to dis­man­tle the facades of mate­ri­al­ism so we can see what’s real­ly hap­pen­ing behind the curtain.

“We are liv­ing the final stages of a very deceit­ful sys­tem that has made every­thing that is very cost­ly for the plan­et, cost­ly for the pro­duc­er, look cheap for the con­sumer. So very high cost pro­duc­tion, with GMOs and patents and roy­al­ties and fos­sil fuel, is made to look like cheap food. Very cost­ly pro­duc­tion that kills the girls in Bangladesh in slave fac­to­ries, is made to look like cheap cloth­ing. This is a fake cheap.”— Van­dana Shiva

Lead­ers of indus­try need to be account­able for the costs of cli­mate change. Big oil com­pa­nies have known about the cor­re­la­tion between fos­sil fuels and cli­mate change since the late 1970s.37 Yet this knowl­edge was ignored, and even lob­bied against, in a des­per­ate cor­po­rate effort to main­tain profits.

Report from the Besieged City 2, Pete Sacks

Com­pa­nies have fought hard to pro­tect them­selves from being account­able to ecosys­tems and mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties. Legal loop­holes have allowed harm­ful busi­ness prac­tices to con­tin­ue for gen­er­a­tions. Through deceit­ful pro­pa­gan­da, the mat­ter of account­abil­i­ty has been obfus­cat­ed. Those who are most vul­ner­a­ble have paid most dear­ly. This behav­ior must be reconciled.

The esca­lat­ing effects of pol­lu­tion, pover­ty, and cli­mate change show us how inter­con­nect­ed we real­ly are. In Feb­ru­ary 2018, Cap­i­tal Insti­tute founder John Fuller­ton and spir­i­tu­al teacher Thomas Hübl sat down to dis­cuss regen­er­a­tive eco­nom­ics.38 Their con­ver­sa­tion raised the ques­tion: Why is it that the glob­al­ized cap­i­tal­is­tic sys­tem isn’t real­ly work­ing for every­one? In many cas­es, tax loop­holes allow giant com­pa­nies to pay almost noth­ing in tax­es while also suc­cess­ful­ly avoid­ing pay­ing any finan­cial price for any of their envi­ron­men­tal crimes. The most obvi­ous solu­tion to this prob­lem is for com­pa­nies to pay tax­es and become finan­cial­ly account­able for the effects of their actions. Yet, that kind of quick rem­e­dy, has to set the stage to make even more last­ing changes.

Heal­ing needs to occur between not only peo­ple and plan­et, but between groups of peo­ple who have been exploit­ed for the prof­its of oth­ers. In much the same way that can­cer is a lack of regen­er­a­tive health, in its own way, so too is pover­ty. A regen­er­a­tive eco­nom­ic sys­tem can play a vital role in reestab­lish­ing health to com­mu­ni­ties, and espe­cial­ly those which have been under­served or over-policed. Work­ing on heal­ing rela­tion­ships between com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple will have a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence on the over­all health expe­ri­enced around the world.

Rec­og­niz­ing that a the­o­ry of eco­nom­ic and social jus­tice is not just a fringe top­ic but the main con­ver­sa­tion that can take root in pol­i­cy-mak­ing, will help shift con­scious­ness on a large scale. The effects will be sub­stan­tial. At the present moment, we’re hav­ing trou­ble see­ing our­selves out of the mess we’re in because we haven’t yet had mass access to a sus­tain­able, regen­er­a­tive mod­el of soci­etal orga­ni­za­tion. Humans are great at cre­at­ing abstract arti­facts like eco­nom­ic mod­els. So let’s design a new mod­el, one that deliv­ers sus­tain­able out­comes in a way that’s intu­itive, auto­mat­ic, and regenerative.

Recognize Economic Priorities

The Convenience of ­Consumption Blurs Life-Cycle Relationships

We make choic­es based on effi­cien­cies for time man­age­ment. But if time’s trap­ping us into an arti­fi­cial val­ue-sys­tem bank­ing on the premise that “time is mon­ey”, we real­ly ought to hop off the clock and move on to a more nat­ur­al rhythm.

“We are not atom­ized pro­duc­ers and con­sumers: We are part of the Earth fam­i­ly, we are part of a human fam­i­ly, we are part of a food com­mu­ni­ty. Food con­nects us. Every­thing is food…”
— Van­dana Shiva

There are many ways to become more informed about what we use. The sim­plest change we can make is to buy and use less stuff. But, to go a step fur­ther, if we become more enmeshed in the process of cre­at­ing what we use, we will con­tribute more to a pos­i­tive con­ser­va­tion of our planet’s resources. Even just by cut­ting down on fast fash­ion and fast food we will auto­mat­i­cal­ly share a greater stake in the out­come of how our plan­et feels.

Con­tin­u­ing to rely on refined oil for our cars and oth­er gas-pow­ered machines is a pret­ty direct road to plan­e­tary dete­ri­o­ra­tion. But the major­i­ty of food we’re eat­ing, the clothes we’re wear­ing, and the trans­porta­tion we’re tak­ing all share a neg­a­tive envi­ron­men­tal con­nec­tion as well: most like­ly, none of these prod­ucts are things we our­selves cre­at­ed. If we did, we would prob­a­bly place a much greater val­ue on them. Instead, the major­i­ty of us rely on cheap, for­eign pro­duc­ers for a vari­ety of tools, clothes, food, and sup­plies of all mat­ter. And this reliance upon com­pa­nies to con­trol pro­duc­tion and set the price for these items makes us more will­ing to seek sav­ings. We also become blind­ly incen­tivized to nev­er ques­tion how those prices were set so low in the first place.

The Great Bar­ri­er Reef pho­tographed in 1893. Half of the coral in the reef has now died.

In his essay for Aeon in Novem­ber 2018 about the prob­lem of not being involved in the cre­ation of that which we con­sume, and espe­cial­ly our increas­ing reliance upon the effi­cien­cy of algo­rithms for our deci­sion-mak­ing, cura­tor and writer Glenn Adam­son points out, “Such auto­mat­ed deci­sion-mak­ing is extreme­ly effi­cient, but it has con­tributed to a cri­sis of account­abil­i­ty. If no one under­stands what is real­ly hap­pen­ing, how can any­one be held respon­si­ble?”39 If we adopt a more farsee­ing mind­set, that we all share a stake in the out­come of every activ­i­ty and unit of pro­duc­tion, then per­haps we can begin to make wis­er choic­es about what we decide to bring into our lives. In this way, we can cre­ate a clos­er rela­tion­ship to that which we con­sume. And, once we’ve adopt­ed this mind­set, then the vision and real­i­ty of what we col­lec­tive­ly make and con­sume will improve dra­mat­i­cal­ly. We must strive to buy into the val­ue of shar­ing in the cre­ation of the objects, mate­ri­als, and tools we engage with everyday.

Ron Cobb, 1969

As Jun­gian ana­lyst Dr. James Hol­lis observes in his book, Liv­ing an Exam­ined Life: Wis­dom for the Sec­ond Half of the Jour­ney,40 “It does mat­ter whether we serve some­thing redemp­tive or some­thing demon­ic. And it mat­ters even more that we dis­cern the ori­gins of what­ev­er we do and whether doing so serves some­thing heal­ing in us or some­thing that binds us in new ways to the dis­abling past.” In this spir­it, we can become more clear about what serves us as an inex­tri­ca­bly con­nect­ed peo­ple and plan­et. Once we gain that clar­i­ty, we can begin to make more con­sci­en­tious deci­sions about how we live and how we con­strue val­ue in our lives.

Recognize Economic Priorities

Scarcity Is a Fabrication

There is enough time, mon­ey, and pow­er to sus­tain life equi­tably on Earth. The idea that there’s nev­er enough comes from a cyn­i­cal and greedy perspective.

“The ide­ol­o­gy of cap­i­tal­ism is that it is a sys­tem that gen­er­ates immense abun­dance (so much stuff!). But in real­i­ty it is a sys­tem that relies on the con­stant pro­duc­tion of scarci­ty.”— Dr. Jason Hickel

There’s no such thing as a scarci­ty of love, even if it feels in short sup­ply. When fear takes over our emo­tions, how­ev­er, our sense of calm and secu­ri­ty can eas­i­ly feel threatened.

Still from “They Live”, 1988

Scarci­ty of time, mon­ey, or even atten­tion, can feel all too real. There is hard­ly enough time in the day to accom­plish every­thing we want to get done. But we feel it’s impor­tant to ques­tion our sense of how much we feel we’re sup­posed to accom­plish with­in a sin­gle day. After all, so many of our expec­ta­tions are social con­struc­tions, which might defy our own intu­ition. And if we dig a lit­tle deep­er, we begin to real­ize that many of these con­struc­tions have come about because of the promi­nence of exploitive sys­tems and practices.

Much harm is done with­in the rigid con­straints of a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety valu­ing mate­r­i­al wealth over the var­i­ous sac­ri­fices enabling that wealth. As long as we are being sold goods, our sens­es are bom­bard­ed by heat-seek­ing mis­siles of adver­tis­ing and com­merce aimed at our brain’s deci­sion-mak­ing cen­ter. Buy, vote, choose this and not that, feels like the wrong mes­sage to spend so much effort and resources propagating.

Free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism makes a great daz­zling spec­ta­cle out of all the choic­es on offer when, in fact, we’re often being sold the same large, fun­da­men­tal mis­truth: that we don’t have what we need. Scarci­ty, indeed, is cre­at­ed to sup­port the myth that time, ener­gy, and atten­tion should be devot­ed to attain­ing increased amounts of mon­e­tary wealth. By fol­low­ing this pat­tern, Dr. Jason Hickel—an anthro­pol­o­gist, author, and a Fel­low of the Roy­al Soci­ety of Arts—points out that peo­ple eas­i­ly adopt an

“Incwa­di Yami”, British Library, 1887

ide­ol­o­gy of growth as an indi­ca­tor of val­ue rep­re­sent­ed by aspects like more jobs and more goods to make and acquire.41 Growth comes to be seen as an indi­ca­tor of suc­cess. The ide­ol­o­gy of growth is such that we come to believe in this myth of defin­ing suc­cess through the man­i­fes­ta­tion of more stuff.

With­in the ide­ol­o­gy of growth, mech­a­nisms for acqui­si­tion and reten­tion become more impor­tant than mech­a­nisms for estab­lish­ing healthy mod­er­a­tion. Scarci­ty is con­stant­ly employed in the name of cap­i­tal­is­tic expan­sion. This sys­tem has come to more and more pri­va­tize that which ought to be free for all to expe­ri­ence and enjoy.

Recent­ly, how­ev­er, a pos­i­tive move­ment has risen to com­bat this men­tal­i­ty as con­ver­sa­tions around social­ist ini­tia­tives (like uni­ver­sal health care and free access to pre-school and high­er edu­ca­tion) have begun to gain momen­tum from increas­ing num­bers of econ­o­mists and politi­cians. The idea of grant­i­ng uni­ver­sal access to resources to those who typ­i­cal­ly can­not afford them pro­vides an anti­dote to the myth of scarci­ty. Humans ben­e­fit from increas­ing amounts of knowl­edge, wis­dom, and healthy rela­tion­ships. These are the areas in which we want to see growth. Per­haps, in this con­text, the fab­ri­ca­tion of scarci­ty and oth­er dri­vers of mate­ri­al­ism won’t be so promi­nent in our soci­etal rubric in the years to come. And with this con­tex­tu­al change, a rede­f­i­n­i­tion of growth can be estab­lished to sup­port an abun­dance of true wealth in the form of indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive wellbeing.

Recognize Economic Priorities

Recognize the Roots of Systemic Change

Under­stand how to effec­tive­ly address the symp­toms of a fail­ing sys­tem before it falls apart completely.

“The future is already here—it’s just not very even­ly dis­trib­uted.”— William Gibson

The cur­rent eco­nom­ic sys­tem keeps widen­ing dis­par­i­ties because that’s what the sys­tem was designed to do. The more we make adjust­ments to increase eco­nom­ic efficiency

Karl Bewick, 2019

or pro­duc­tiv­i­ty along the lines of the cur­rent sta­tus quo (whether through extend­ed intel­li­gence, automa­tion, or oth­er­wise) we are, in fact, help­ing to approach a break­ing point at which the surest cor­rec­tive means will become rev­o­lu­tion­ary revolt. The peas­ants pick up pitch­forks. The pro­le­tari­at raise their ham­mers and sick­les. Peo­ple demand change by any means necessary.

Right now we’re col­lec­tive­ly plac­ing risky bets on the peo­ple with the most wealth rec­og­niz­ing the lessons learned from events like the French Rev­o­lu­tion cen­turies ago. Leg­isla­tive reg­u­la­tion might be a far more effec­tive approach to ensur­ing a more equi­table future. Yet, for now, a pos­i­tive sign of hope can be seen in the state­ment issued by 181 Amer­i­can CEOs com­pris­ing The Busi­ness Round­table on the organization’s web­site.42 These busi­ness lead­ers wish to rede­fine the “pur­pose of a cor­po­ra­tion” as an orga­ni­za­tion that should pri­or­i­tize mean­ing and dig­ni­ty in the lives of work­ers rather than share­hold­er val­ue.43 While it remains to be seen how exact­ly this inten­tion will play out in actu­al­i­ty, the state­ment itself sig­nals a shift away from the pre­dom­i­nant think­ing of Amer­i­can busi­ness since the 1970s. Around that time, econ­o­mist Mil­ton Fried­man wrote an opin­ion piece in the New York Times assert­ing that com­pa­nies do not have social respon­si­bil­i­ty, and instead are respon­si­ble only for share­hold­er val­ue. Friedman’s essay can be under­stood in back­lash to the chang­ing social atti­tudes of the late 1960s counter cul­ture (which we feel is surg­ing through the col­lec­tive con­scious­ness once again). As always, the pen­du­lum of social norms, atti­tudes, and pre­vail­ing eco­nom­ic ideas shifts back and forth.

What we feel is dri­ving this new shift in think­ing is, not only 2020 Amer­i­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates like Bernie Sanders and Eliz­a­beth War­ren ral­ly­ing against cor­po­rate pri­or­i­ties for prof­it, but also a resur­fac­ing desire to ease the ten­sions between haves and have-nots. We know that strug­gle is con­stant in all cor­ners of this plan­et, yet so is per­se­ver­ance, deter­mi­na­tion, and the desire to work as a team.

In that spir­it of team­work and grit, we can see the roots of change grow­ing strong beneath a cracked sur­face of sys­temic malfea­sance. From these roots, a more robust and inte­gra­tive soci­ety will emerge. And this bur­geon­ing soci­ety will ulti­mate­ly mature into future gen­er­a­tions ele­vat­ing the base­line expo­nen­tial­ly toward sus­tain­able, equi­table, and bal­anced liv­ing systems.

Andres Umana, 2018