The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?, Second Edition

The Next Reckoning: Capitalism and Climate Change
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The present situation is comparable to that at the turn of the past century. It was a golden age of capitalism, characterized by the principle of laissez-faire; so is the present.

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The earlier period was in some ways more stable. There was an imperial power, England, that was prepared to dispatch gunboats to faraway places because as the main beneficiary of the system it had a vested interest in maintaining that system. Today the United States does not want to be the policeman of the world. The earlier period had the gold standard; today the main currencies float and crush against each other like continental plates. Yet the free-market regime that prevailed a hundred years ago was destroyed by the First World War.

Totalitarian ideologies came to the fore, and by the end of the Second World War there was practically no movement of capital between countries. How much more likely the present regime is to break down unless we learn from experience! Although laissez-faire doctrines do not contradict the principles of the open society the way Marxism-Leninism or Nazi ideas of racial purity did, all these doctrines have an important feature in common: they all try to justify their claim to ultimate truth with an appeal to science.

In the case of totalitarian doctrines, that appeal could easily be dismissed. One of Popper's accomplishments was to show that a theory like Marxism does not qualify as science. In the case of laissez-faire the claim is more difficult to dispute, because it is based on economic theory, and economics is the most reputable of the social sciences. One cannot simply equate market economics with Marxist economics. Yet laissez-faire ideology, I contend, is just as much a perversion of supposedly scientific verities as Marxism-Leninism is.

The main scientific underpinning of the laissez-faire ideology is the theory that free and competitive markets bring supply and demand into equilibrium and thereby ensure the best allocation of resources. This is widely accepted as an eternal verity, and in a sense it is one. Economic theory is an axiomatic system: as long as the basic assumptions hold, the conclusions follow.

But when we examine the assumptions closely, we find that they do not apply to the real world. As originally formulated, the theory of perfect competition—of the natural equilibrium of supply and demand—assumed perfect knowledge, homogeneous and easily divisible products, and a large enough number of market participants that no single participant could influence the market price. The assumption of perfect knowledge proved unsustainable, so it was replaced by an ingenious device. Supply and demand were taken as independently given. This condition was presented as a methodological requirement rather than an assumption.

It was argued that economic theory studies the relationship between supply and demand; therefore it must take both of them as given. As I have shown elsewhere, the condition that supply and demand are independently given cannot be reconciled with reality, at least as far as the financial markets are concerned—and financial markets play a crucial role in the allocation of resources. Buyers and sellers in financial markets seek to discount a future that depends on their own decisions.

The shape of the supply and demand curves cannot be taken as given because both of them incorporate expectations about events that are shaped by those expectations. There is a two-way feedback mechanism between the market participants' thinking and the situation they think about—"reflexivity. If the supply and demand curves are not independently given, how are market prices determined? If we look at the behavior of financial markets, we find that instead of tending toward equilibrium, prices continue to fluctuate relative to the expectations of buyers and sellers.

There are prolonged periods when prices are moving away from any theoretical equilibrium. Even if they eventually show a tendency to return, the equilibrium is not the same as it would have been without the intervening period. Yet the concept of equilibrium endures. It is easy to see why: without it, economics could not say how prices are determined. In the absence of equilibrium, the contention that free markets lead to the optimum allocation of resources loses its justification. The supposedly scientific theory that has been used to validate it turns out to be an axiomatic structure whose conclusions are contained in its assumptions and are not necessarily supported by the empirical evidence.

The resemblance to Marxism, which also claimed scientific status for its tenets, is too close for comfort. I do not mean to imply that economic theory has deliberately distorted reality for political purposes. But in trying to imitate the accomplishments and win for itself the prestige of natural science, economic theory attempted the impossible. The theories of social science relate to their subject matter in a reflexive manner.

That is to say, they can influence events in a way that the theories of natural science cannot. Heisenberg's famous uncertainty principle implies that the act of observation may interfere with the behavior of quantum particles; but it is the observation that creates the effect, not the uncertainty principle itself. In the social sphere, theories have the capacity to alter the subject matter to which they relate. Economic theory has deliberately excluded reflexivity from consideration.

In doing so, it has distorted its subject matter and laid itself open to exploitation by laissez-faire ideology. What allows economic theory to be converted into an ideology hostile to the open society is the assumption of perfect knowledge—at first openly stated and then disguised in the form of a methodological device. There is a powerful case for the market mechanism, but it is not that markets are perfect; it is that in a world dominated by imperfect understanding, markets provide an efficient feedback mechanism for evaluating the results of one's decisions and correcting mistakes.

Whatever its form, the assertion of perfect knowledge stands in contradiction to the concept of the open society which recognizes that our understanding of our situation is inherently imperfect. Since this point is abstract, I need to describe specific ways in which laissez-faire ideas can pose a threat to the open society. I shall focus on three issues: economic stability, social justice, and international relations. Economic theory has managed to create an artificial world in which the participants' preferences and the opportunities confronting participants are independent of each other, and prices tend toward an equilibrium that brings the two forces into balance.


But in financial markets prices are not merely the passive reflection of independently given demand and supply; they also play an active role in shaping those preferences and opportunities. This reflexive interaction renders financial markets inherently unstable. Laissez-faire ideology denies the instability and opposes any form of government intervention aimed at preserving stability.

Are We Nearing The End Of Capitalism?

History has shown that financial markets do break down, causing economic depression and social unrest. The breakdowns have led to the evolution of central banking and other forms of regulation. Laissez-faire ideologues like to argue that the breakdowns were caused by faulty regulations, not by unstable markets. There is some validity in their argument, because if our understanding is inherently imperfect, regulations are bound to be defective.

But their argument rings hollow, because it fails to explain why the regulations were imposed in the first place.

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It sidesteps the issue by using a different argument, which goes like this: since regulations are faulty, unregulated markets are perfect. The argument rests on the assumption of perfect knowledge: if a solution is wrong, its opposite must be right. In the absence of perfect knowledge, however, both free markets and regulations are flawed. Stability can be preserved only if a deliberate effort is made to preserve it. Even then breakdowns will occur, because public policy is often faulty.

If they are severe enough, breakdowns may give rise to totalitarian regimes. Instability extends well beyond financial markets: it affects the values that guide people in their actions. Economic theory takes values as given. At the time economic theory was born, in the age of Adam Smith , David Ricardo, and Alfred Marshall , this was a reasonable assumption, because people did, in fact, have firmly established values. Adam Smith himself combined a moral philosophy with his economic theory. Beneath the individual preferences that found expression in market behavior, people were guided by a set of moral principles that found expression in behavior outside the scope of the market mechanism.

Deeply rooted in tradition, religion, and culture, these principles were not necessarily rational in the sense of representing conscious choices among available alternatives. Indeed, they often could not hold their own when alternatives became available. Market values served to undermine traditional values. There has been an ongoing conflict between market values and other, more traditional value systems, which has aroused strong passions and antagonisms.

As the market mechanism has extended its sway, the fiction that people act on the basis of a given set of nonmarket values has become progressively more difficult to maintain. Advertising, marketing, even packaging, aim at shaping people's preferences rather than, as laissez-faire theory holds, merely responding to them. Unsure of what they stand for, people increasingly rely on money as the criterion of value. What is more expensive is considered better. The value of a work of art can be judged by the price it fetches.

People deserve respect and admiration because they are rich. What used to be a medium of exchange has usurped the place of fundamental values, reversing the relationship postulated by economic theory. What used to be professions have turned into businesses. The cult of success has replaced a belief in principles. Society has lost its anchor. By taking the conditions of supply and demand as given and declaring government intervention the ultimate evil, laissez-faire ideology has effectively banished income or wealth redistribution. I can agree that all attempts at redistribution interfere with the efficiency of the market, but it does not follow that no attempt should be made.


The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?, Second Edition [Joel Kovel] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? The Enemy of Nature and millions of other books are available for Amazon Kindle. . There is a newer edition of this item: . "the prime desideratum of the capitalist" and the "First Contradiction" and "Second Contradiction of Capital" (complete with the.

The laissez-faire argument relies on the same tacit appeal to perfection as does communism. It claims that if redistribution causes inefficiencies and distortions, the problems can be solved by eliminating redistribution—just as the Communists claimed that the duplication involved in competition is wasteful, and therefore we should have a centrally planned economy.

But perfection is unattainable. Wealth does accumulate in the hands of its owners, and if there is no mechanism for redistribution, the inequities can become intolerable. The laissez-faire argument against income redistribution invokes the doctrine of the survival of the fittest. The argument is undercut by the fact that wealth is passed on by inheritance, and the second generation is rarely as fit as the first. In any case, there is something wrong with making the survival of the fittest a guiding principle of civilized society.

This social Darwinism is based on an outmoded theory of evolution, just as the equilibrium theory in economics is taking its cue from Newtonian physics. The principle that guides the evolution of species is mutation, and mutation works in a much more sophisticated way. Species and their environment are interactive, and one species serves as part of the environment for the others.

There is a feedback mechanism similar to reflexivity in history, with the difference being that in history the mechanism is driven not by mutation but by misconceptions. I mention this because social Darwinism is one of the misconceptions driving human affairs today.

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This was often, but not always linked to racial oppression and discrimination, as one US interviewee emphasised: Environmental injustice in the United States started when indigenous people were put on reservations, on the worst land; when people lived in slave quarters; when nations, like Puerto Rico, were invaded; when land that could have been used for growing was used to locate polluting industry Some authors are less drastic and foresee or hope for either a post-capitalistic world Mason, or a reform of capitalism in order to save it Reich, Lastly, and this may at first seem to contradict the previous point, the family offers a huge advantage: it is a relatively flexible institution its forms have significantly diversified over the past thirty years. Messer, L. Now that part-time female workers have filled these positions, this benefit has been withdrawn!

The main point I want to make is that cooperation is as much a part of the system as competition, and the slogan "survival of the fittest" distorts this fact. Laissez-faire ideology shares some of the deficiencies of another spurious science, geopolitics. States have no principles, only interests, geopoliticians argue, and those interests are determined by geographic location and other fundamentals.

This deterministic approach is rooted in an outdated nineteenth-century view of scientific method, and it suffers from at least two glaring defects that do not apply with the same force to the economic doctrines of laissez-faire. One is that it treats the state as the indivisible unit of analysis, just as economics treats the individual.

There is something contradictory in banishing the state from the economy while at the same time enshrining it as the ultimate source of authority in international relations. But let that pass. There is a more pressing practical aspect of the problem. What happens when a state disintegrates? Geopolitical realists find themselves totally unprepared. The analysis described here focuses on the interview material from this mixed methods study, drawing on over interviews with officials, policy makers, and civil society leaders.

The letter argues that there is an apparent propensity for capitalist processes to exacerbate, rather than reduce, environmental problems and inequities though the pursuit of relentless economic growth and profit accumulation. Therefore, we should perhaps let go of efforts to resolve environmental injustice within the constraints of capitalism and, instead, build an alternative economic system that can meet human needs in the context of a harmonious and respectful relationship with nature.

Content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author s and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI. Environmental justice, while a contested concept, can be said to embrace ecology, equality and democracy.

It can be more specifically defined in terms of a healthy environment substantive environmental justice , an equitable distribution of environmental 'goods' distributive environmental justice ; and fair, participatory and inclusive structures and processes of environmental decision making procedural environmental justice see Bell This wide definition covers most of the aspects of environmental justice covered in the academic literature on the topic e. It implies that environmental justice solutions cannot be considered to be socially 'just' if they merely displace environmental or social problems elsewhere, whether structurally, spatially or temporally.

Therefore, environmental and social problems and solutions must be conceived of holistically, as contextualised and interconnected.

This seems a reasonable approach in view of the recent evidence reporting multiple environmental and social crises, of which climate change is but one. Hence, to deliver environmental justice, we must address a whole range of interconnected and urgent issues. It, therefore, makes sense to look at macro policies and overall structures to assess whether they support the resolution and integration of these issues and the achievement of environmental justice in the round.

Some believe that capitalism is compatible with, or even ideally suited to, this task for example, Gore , Porritt whilst others have suggested that the market economy, as the source of these crises, could never be part of its solution for example, Foster et al , Kovel , Pepper , Magdoff and Foster , Parr This paper responds to recent calls for greater research and discussion in relation to this debate e. Fuentes-George , Pearse It begins with a short review of the discussion to date, outlining the various theoretical positions. Following this, the question of whether capitalism can deliver environmental justice is examined with reference to the interviews undertaken as part of a wider study undertaken by the author on 'Achieving Environmental Justice' Bell which looked at environmental justice and injustice in a range of countries with varying degrees of marketization.

Finally, conclusions are drawn as to the likelihood of capitalism delivering environmental justice and some proposals and offered in the form of general principles about how an environmentally just world might best be achieved. This section very briefly outlines the relevant debates around markets, capitalism, the environment and environmental justice from a pro-capitalist, as well as a more critical perspective.

Those who favour market solutions, so-called 'market environmentalists' assert that improved efficiency, technological innovation, free trade and pricing mechanisms can be effective means of addressing environmental problems, perhaps even bypassing the need for regulation. The changes that are needed, it is argued, are more likely to occur within capitalism since its competitive aspect drives companies to become more efficient and innovative so as to out-perform rivals and create new profit-making market opportunities.

From this perspective environmental problems can be seen as primarily an outcome of the fact that the expense of destroying the Earth is largely absent from the prices set in the marketplace e. Hawken et al , Juniper Hence, it is proposed that nature be quantified in monetary terms 'given value' to enable its reduction into tradable commodities, implying the privatisation, commodification and monetisation of nature as embodied in, for example, 'payments for ecosystems services'.

Any social inequality that persists or increases alongside these environmental policies is seen as either a separate, or an unimportant, issue; or else a problem that is remediable through yet more marketization and increased economic growth with perhaps some adjunct regulatory measures. Hence, the market approach assumes that environmental issues can be fixed with new technology, smarter economic incentives and impartial management within current societal structures.

Furthermore, it is argued, capitalism cannot be held responsible for environmental harms and injustices because socialism has a worse environmental record e. Hence, some assert, it is the type of capitalism that is problematic for environmental justice, rather than capitalism per se. This view rests on the idea that there is no monolithic capitalist system, as 'varieties of capitalism' VoC analysts assert.

There has been little application of this approach to environmental issues, though one VoC study looked at the question of whether differing environmental impacts would result from the various VoC Mikler and Harrison However, the VoC approach has been critiqued by those who point out the actual lack of variety to be found in different manifestations of capitalism e. Howell and the need to reassert a Marxist understanding of capitalism which has commonality in its emphasis on competition e. Coates From this position, it is the logic of capitalism that is undermining environmental quality, rather than any specific manifestation of it.

Those who take this view, including a wide range of academics, commentators and social movement activists, consider market environmentalism a harmful project and emphasise the contradictions between capitalism and environmental and social justice e.

The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?

They see capitalism as inhibiting, rather than encouraging, innovation since private industry will only develop those technologies that it believes will be profitable. Furthermore, they point to the inherent need, within capitalism, for companies to endlessly produce more and more so as to maintain profits and be competitive against rivals. In a capitalist system, they argue, production and consumption are driven so that the system can survive, rather than to meet social needs and enhance environmental wellbeing.

Because the system requires constant growth, excessive natural resources are depleted and unsustainable levels of waste are created. Moreover, the drive for profit encourages cost cutting, putting pressure on corporations to choose the cheapest processes. Companies have to make short-term decisions based on what will help their business to survive, even if this harms society and the environment. This potentially means exploitation of people and the rest of nature in the form of low wages, casual work, unsustainable extraction, irresponsible handling of waste and periodic as well as localised crises that tend to be borne by the worst-off.

At the same time, much of the wealth created is siphoned off to elites, enabling vast concentrations of affluence as recently documented by Picketty Hence, in , an Oxfam report showed that the richest people in the world earned enough that year to end extreme poverty, worldwide, four times over Oxfam Such levels of inequality are problematic for environmental justice because wealth and income usually determine access to environmental resources and the ability to avoid environmental harms. Inequality also undermines procedural environmental justice because wealth enables control over environmental decision-making.

The richest have the most resources with which to defend their interests and so they are able to subvert local and national environmental democracy through funding anti-environmental movements and election candidates and forming powerful lobbies to shape government policies to protect their economic interests see Faber and O'Connor , Faber , Magdoff and Foster As Magdoff and Foster point out, as a consequence of the power of these wealthy elites, a culture develops among political leaders in capitalist countries based on the assumption that, what benefits capitalist business, benefits the country as a whole.

Therefore, the state in capitalist societies has played a very limited role in environmental protection. From this perspective, the environmental destruction that occurred under socialism was the result of the productivist mindset that characterised early 20th Century modernity, in general Foster whereas environmental destruction and injustice within capitalism are part of its inherent logic.

These very divergent views about the role of capitalism in relation to the environment and environmental justice will now be discussed in relation to the interviews carried out for the study on 'Achieving Environmental Justice'. This research project explored the intra-national within country environmental justice situation in seven countries—United States, South Korea, United Kingdom, Sweden, China, Bolivia and Cuba. For example, Cuba had been found to be the only country in the world to be sustainably meeting human development standards WWF while South Korea had been praised for its leading role in developing a Green Economy UNEP The study spanned six years and included mining secondary datasets, undertaking document reviews, carrying out semi-structured interviews and engaging in participant observations.

Due to limited space, it is not possible to describe each method and its findings in sufficient detail here and so this paper draws only on the interview material, though it is important to point out that this material generally reinforced the data derived from the other methods see Bell for a more in-depth account of the entire study. The interviews n were with state representatives, civil society organisers, local 'experts', academics, workers and residents. A minimum of sixteen interviews were carried out in each country and each interviewee generally represented a much larger group i.

The interviewees were selected using 'purposive' because they had particular knowledge or experience and 'opportunistic' because they were available sampling methods. At the same time, care was taken to include a diversity of voices in each country, in terms of varieties of opinion, as well as demographic characteristics such as class, age and ethnicity. To facilitate more unrestrained speech, only those participants who represented an organisation have been identified, and only where they agreed to be named in the subsequent research outputs.

Before and during data-gathering on the specific countries, a list of environmental justice indicators was developed as a structure to provide a solid base for the research, acting as a detailed series of research questions. These covered the extent to which people had, and believed they had, equal, sufficient and adequate access to a range of environmental goods as well as equal and adequate protection from a range of environmental disruptions such as hurricanes and flooding and potentially hazardous substances, such as harmful chemicals, GMOs, radiation, and EMFs.

In addition, the questions asked covered a series of procedural issues, including whether those affected by environmental decisions were invited to contribute to the decision-making process; whether environmental decisions were made publicly; whether all parties had access to sufficient material resources to enable them to participate in environmental decision-making on an equal footing; whether the environmental decision-making process was open to all questions and alternatives; whether those affected received accurate and accessible information; and whether those affected had control of the outcome of decisions ideally, proportional to how much they would be affected.

The questions ranged, for example, from asking whether they thought most people living in the country were able to eat a healthy diet to asking them what their experience, if any, had been of challenging a planned or existing development on environmental grounds. Hence, a range of topics were covered in recognition of the interconnected and multi-faceted nature of environmental justice. The data was analysed according to themes, in two phases initial coding and explanatory analysis , following Framework Analysis methodology.

This included identifying themes in the literature as well as creating new themes from the data itself around typical and emerging environmental injustice issues and explanations. What does such gloom look like in the flesh? Small glasses, neat side parting and moustache, a backpack, a smart anorak and at least a decade younger than his 70 years. The scenes are tightly cropped, with characters that jostle and stare at the viewer.

Their mordancy is a tonic to Streeck, who laughs with delight. The threat of violence! Then comes The Taking of Christ , a dark, dense painting that shows Jesus just after his betrayal by Judas. Gripped by his treacherous former disciple, Christ looks down, ready to be bundled off by the armoured Roman centurions. Like Caravaggio before the explosion, Streeck has been hanging around this crash scene for years — long before the plane came hurtling down and the centrist politicians and pundits began rushing around. At a time when macroeconomists have failed and other academics have retreated into disciplinary solipsism, Streeck is one of the few other exceptions include Mark Blyth, Colin Crouch and the Centre for Research on Socio-Cultural Change to have risen to the moment.

Many of the themes that will define this year, this decade, are in his work. The breakup of Europe, the rise of plutocrat-populists such as Trump, the failures of Mark Carney and the technocratic elite: he has anatomised all of them. This summer, Britons mutinied against their government, their experts and the EU — and consigned themselves to a poorer, angrier future. Such frenzies of collective self-harm were explained by Streeck in the lectures later collected in Buying Time :.

Professionalised political science tends to underestimate the impact of moral outrage. It will look less like Hillary than Donald:. Politicization is migrating to the right side of the political spectrum where anti-establishment parties are getting better and better at organising discontented citizens dependent upon public services and insisting on political protection from international markets.

In such long, precise, comfortless sentences, Streeck sets out the crises facing Britain, the US and the continent. Which makes him the most interesting person on the most urgent subject of our times. Eight years after Lehman Brothers keeled over and nearly took the entire banking system down with it, capitalism remains broken.

British workers are suffering their most severe pay squeeze in at least seven decades. And even though politicians and the policymakers have pulled on every lever — cuts, investment, housing boom, hundreds of billions pumped into the markets — still the engine refuses to purr. Not for the first time, the sandwich board-wearers are declaring the end of capitalism — but today Streeck believes they are right. In its deepest crises, he says, modern capitalism has relied on its enemies to wade in with the lifebelt of reform. Compare that with now. Over 40 years, neoliberal capitalism has destroyed its opposition.

We forced our opponents to change their minds. The result?