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Silvia Federici is one of the most important political theorists alive today. Her landmark book Caliban and the Witch demonstrated the inextricable link between anti-capitalism and radical feminist politics by digging deep into the actual history of capital’s centuries-long attack on women and the body.

In this essay, originally written in 2008, she follows up on that revelation by laying out her feminist anti-capitalist vision, and how it extends beyond traditional Marxism. This piece is comprehensive – long but far-reaching. At times seeing the truth requires seeing in the dark – acknowledging the true horrors of the world as it currently is manifest.

This essay was updated and published in Silvia’s new anthology Revolution at Point Zero, and I have made a few small additional edits.  Enjoy! [alex]

The Reproduction of Labor Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution (2011 edition)

capitalism-domestic-labor“Women’s work and women’s labor are buried deeply in the heart of the capitalist social and economic structure.” – David Staples, No Place Like Home (2006)

“It is clear that capitalism has led to the super-exploitation of women. This would not offer much consolation if it had only meant heightened misery and oppression, but fortunately it has also provoked resistance. And capitalism has become aware that if it completely ignores or suppresses this resistance it might become more and more radical, eventually turning into a movement for self-reliance and perhaps even the nucleus of a new social order.” – Robert Biel, The New Imperialism (2000)

“The emerging liberative agent in the Third World is the unwaged force of women who are not yet disconnected from the life economy by their work. They serve life not commodity production. They are the hidden underpinning of the world economy and the wage equivalent of their life-serving work is estimated at $16 trillion.” – John McMurtry, The Cancer State of Capitalism (1999)

“The pestle has snapped because of so much pounding. Tomorrow I will go home. Until tomorrow Until tomorrow… Because of so much pounding, tomorrow I will go home.” – Hausa women’s song from Nigeria

INTRODUCTION

wagesagainsthouseworkThis essay is a political reading of the restructuring of the (re)production of labor-power in the global economy, but it is also a feminist critique of Marx that, in different ways, has been developing since the 1970s. This critique was first articulated by activists in the Campaign for Wages For Housework, especially Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Selma James, Leopoldina Fortunati, among others, and later by Ariel Salleh in Australia and the feminists of the Bielefeld school, Maria Mies, Claudia Von Werlhof, Veronica Benholdt-Thomsen.

At the center of this critique is the argument that Marx’s analysis of capitalism has been hampered by his inability to conceive of value-producing work other than in the form of commodity production and his consequent blindness to the significance of women’s unpaid reproductive work in the process of capitalist accumulation. Ignoring this work has limited Marx’s understanding of the true extent of the capitalist exploitation of labor and the function of the wage in the creation of divisions within the working class, starting with the relation between women and men.

Had Marx recognized that capitalism must rely on both an immense amount of unpaid domestic labor for the reproduction of the workforce, and the devaluation of these reproductive activities in order to cut the cost of labor power, he may have been less inclined to consider capitalist development as inevitable and progressive.

As for us, a century and a half after the publication of Capital, we must challenge the assumption of the necessity and progressivity of capitalism for at least three reasons.

Read the rest of this entry »


In fact it’s no mystery at all. It’s been well-documented for half a century now that the main cause of cancer is industrial pollution and the immense and growing quantity of toxic shit in our air, water, food, and bodies. 

There’s no escaping it either. You can eat healthy and vegetarian, live out in a rural area where there’s no factories spewing death into the air, avoid filling your life with plastics and chemicals, and you’ll still be at risk, because even polar bears on the North Pole are getting dioxins built up in their fatty tissue.  Dioxin, by the way, is the most toxic and carcinogenic substance ever seen on the face of the Earth.  It can give you cancer from even a few parts per trillion – that’s 12 zeros. Dioxin is shot up into the air as a consequence of PVC production, and now it’s in our food, our bodies, and mother’s breast milk. (See “Dying from Dioxin” by Lois Marie Gibbs – on Google Books)

This article by Alan Grossman is succinct and clear. Studies show that cancer is caused by human activity, or more accurately, by industrial activity. I would go further and say that cancer is caused by the capitalist system, because in a human-scale and democratic economy, we could incorporate rational decision-making and say, “OK, if PVC is so fucking toxic, maybe we should make something that costs a bit more but doesn’t give us cancer.” 

Unfortunately, in our capitalist system Big Business runs the show and their concern is not rationality, but profit. Period.  That’s why capitalism is not only giving so many of us and our loved ones this deadly condition, capitalism is itself is a form of cancer. Capitalism sees ALL life, human or otherwise, through the lens of profit. “Can this make money?” is the bottom line for why our biosphere is under assault in so many forms – from the Gulf spill to the melting of the climate.  As the late Edward Abbey once quipped, “Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

So I ask you, dear reader, is it fair to proclaim that the only cure for cancer is an end to the capitalist system?  Because that’s what it looks like to me.

[alex]

Cancer – The Number One Killer – And Its Environmental Causes

by Alan Grossman

Originally published by Huffington Post, August 17, 2010.

The World Health Organization projects that this year cancer will become the world’s leading cause of death. Why the epidemic of cancer? Death certificates in the United States show cancer as being the eighth leading cause of death in 1900.

Why has it skyrocketed to now surpass heart disease as number one?

Is it because people live longer and have to die of something? That’s a factor, but not the prime reason as reflected by the jump in age-adjusted cancer being far above what could be expected from increased longevity. And it certainly doesn’t explain the steep hike in childhood cancers. Is it lifestyle, diet and genetics, as we have often been told? They are factors, but not key reasons.

The cause of the cancer epidemic, as numerous studies have now documented, is largely environmental — the result of toxic substances in the water we drink, the food we eat, the consumer products we use, the air we breathe. (Some of the pollution is voluntarily caused — by smoking. But most is involuntary.)

As the President’s Cancer Panel declared in May, in a 240-page report titled “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now,” : “The American people — even before they are born — are bombarded continually with myriad combinations of these dangerous exposures.” It said: “With the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures to cancer, the public is becoming increasingly aware of the unacceptable burden of cancer resulting from environmental and occupational exposures that could have been prevented through appropriate national action.”

It pointed to chemicals and radiation as major causes of cancer and stated: “Cancer continues to shatter and steal the lives of Americans. Approximately 41 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, and about 21 percent will die from the cancer. The incidence of some cancers, including some most common among children, is increasing…The burgeoning number and complexity of known or suspected environmental carcinogens compel us to act to protect public health.” Read the rest of this entry »


How can we move beyond capitalism? What kinds of economic models can we look to, to ensure that the economy is both sustainable in its relationship to the Earth, and empowering of communities on the ground level?

As YES! Magazine regularly does, this article highlights examples of people stepping up to answer these questions of our age. Here they describe how different communities around the US are creating solutions that are both locally rooted and cooperatively run.  [alex]

A Different Kind of Ownership Society

by Marjorie Kelly and Shanna Ratner
YES! Magazine
Aug 03, 2010

Photo by Brent Danley.

Innovative strategies for cooperative local ownership make it possible for prosperity to be shared as well as sustainable.
Drive across southern Minnesota near the city of Luverne, and you’ll see clusters of wind turbines poking up through the cornfields. Climb into one of these sleek, gleaming, white towers, and you’ll find sophisticated computer controls monitoring dozens of factors every moment (wind speed, pressure on the blades, and so on). Yet the way the turbines are funded and owned is just as innovative as the technology that runs them.

These wind developments were created by Minwind Energy, a limited liability company that is structured as a cooperative. Back when only corn was harvested in these fields, Minwind invited hundreds of local residents to make investments of $5,000 apiece, eventually raising $4 million to fund the turbines. In return, the residents became owners of the project—alongside the farmers on whose land the turbines stand.

With a policy that no individual can own more than 15 percent, the ownership design is aimed at spreading wealth widely and keeping it rooted locally. According to the Government Accountability Office, keeping a project like Minwind locally owned means that local communities get three times more economic benefit than if the project had absentee owners. Rather than flowing to Wall Street investors or major companies, the dollars generated by these wind farms will flow first through local communities, going to pay local workers, local investors, and local suppliers of all kinds. Wealth stays local.

If sustainable technologies are about the what of the living economy, local and shared ownership designs are about the who: who will own the productive capacity of the nation, who will control it, and who will benefit from the wealth created.

Minwind Energy is also an example of shared ownership, an emerging, broad category of ownership design in which ownership is shared among individuals (as in cooperatives or employee-owned firms) or between individuals and a community organization (as in a community land trust, where families own their homes while a nonprofit owns the land they stand on).

Shared ownership, like local ownership, is a valuable tool for enhancing community wealth over the long term. Both represent the innovations in social technologies that must evolve alongside innovations in physical technologies—like wind turbines, organic agriculture, or sustainably managed forests—if we’re to create an economy in which prosperity is both sustainable and shared. If sustainable technologies are about the what of the living economy, local and shared ownership designs are about the who: who will own the productive capacity of the nation, who will control it, and who will benefit from the wealth created.

Shared ownership takes many forms. For example: Read the rest of this entry »


Republished by Energy Bulletin, Countercurrents and OpEdNews.

The following exchange between Michael Carriere and Alex Knight occurred via email, July 2010. Alex Knight was questioned about the End of Capitalism Theory, which states that the global capitalist system is breaking down due to ecological and social limits to growth and that a paradigm shift toward a non-capitalist future is underway.

This is the final part of a four-part interview. Scroll to the bottom for links to the other sections.

Part 3. Life After Capitalism

MC: Moving forward, how would you ideally envision a post-capitalist world? And if capitalism manages to survive (as it has in the past), is there still room for real change?

AK: First let me repeat that even if my theory is right that capitalism is breaking down, it doesn’t suggest that we’ll automatically find ourselves living in a utopia soon. This crisis is an opportunity for us progressives but it is also an opportunity for right-wing forces. If the right seizes the initiative, I fear they could give rise to neo-fascism – a system in which freedoms are enclosed and violated for the purpose of restoring a mythical idea of national glory.

I think this threat is especially credible here in the United States, where in recent years we’ve seen the USA PATRIOT Act, the Supreme Court’s decision that corporations are “persons,” and the stripping of constitutional rights from those labeled “terrorists,” “enemy combatants”, as well as “illegals.” Arizona’s attempt to institute a racial profiling law and turn every police officer into an immigration official may be the face of fascism in America today. Angry whites joining together with the repressive forces of the state to terrorize a marginalized community, Latino immigrants. While we have a black president now, white supremacist sentiment remains widespread in this country, and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. So as we struggle for a better world we may also have to contend with increasing authoritarianism.

I should also state up front that I have no interest in “writing recipes for the cooks of the future.” I can’t prescribe the ideal post-capitalist world and I wouldn’t try. People will create solutions to the crises they face according to what makes most sense in their circumstances. In fact they’re already doing this. Yet, I would like to see your question addressed towards the public at large, and discussed in schools, workplaces, and communities. If we have an open conversation about what a better world would look like, this is where the best solutions will come from. Plus, the practice of imagination will give people a stronger investment in wanting the future to turn out better. So I’ll put forward some of my ideas for life beyond capitalism, in the hope that it spurs others to articulate their visions and initiate conversation on the world we want.

My personal vision has been shaped by my outrage over the two fundamental crises that capitalism has perpetrated: the ecological crisis and the social crisis. I see capitalism as a system of abuse. The system grows by exploiting people and the planet as means to extract profit, and by refusing to be responsible for the ecological and social trauma caused by its abuse. Therefore I believe any real solutions to our problems must be aligned to both ecological justice and social justice. If we privilege one over the other, we will only cause more harm. The planet must be healed, and our communities must be healed as well. I would propose these two goals as a starting point to the discussion.

How do we heal? What does healing look like? Let me expand from there.

Five Guideposts to a New World

I mentioned in response to the first question that I view freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love as guideposts that point towards a new world. This follows from what I call a common sense radical approach, because it is not about pulling vision for the future from some ideological playbook or dogma, but from lived experience. Rather than taking pre-formed ideas and trying to make reality fit that conceptual blueprint, ideas should spring from what makes sense on the ground. The five guideposts come from our common values. It doesn’t take an expert to understand them or put them into practice.

In the first section I described how freedom at its core is about self-determination. I said that defined this way it presents a radical challenge to capitalist society because it highlights the lack of power we have under capitalism. We do not have self-determination, and we cannot as long as huge corporations and corrupt politicians control our destinies.

I’ll add that access to land is fundamental to a meaningful definition of freedom. The group Take Back the Land has highlighted this through their work to move homeless and foreclosed families directly into vacant homes in Miami. Everyone needs access to land for the basic security of housing, but also for the ability to feed themselves. Without “food sovereignty,” or the power to provide for one’s own family, community or nation with healthy, culturally and ecologically appropriate food, freedom cannot exist. The best way to ensure that communities have food sovereignty is to ensure they have access to land.

Ella Baker championed the idea of participatory democracy

Similarly, a deeper interpretation of democracy would emphasize participation by an individual or community in the decisions that affect them. For this definition I follow in the footsteps of Ella Baker, the mighty civil rights organizer who championed the idea of participatory democracy. With a lifelong focus on empowering ordinary people to solve their own problems, Ella Baker is known for saying “Strong people don’t need strong leaders.” This was the philosophy of the black students who sat-in at lunch counters in the South to win their right to public accommodations. They didn’t wait for the law to change, or for adults to tell them to do it. The students recognized that society was wrong, and practiced non-violent civil disobedience , becoming empowered by their actions. Then with Ms. Baker’s support they formed the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and organized poor blacks in Mississippi to demand their right to vote, passing on the torch of empowerment.

We need to be empowered to manage our own affairs on a large scale. In a participatory democracy, “we, the people” would run the show, not representatives who depend on corporate funding to get elected. “By the people, for the people, of the people” are great words. What if we actually put those words into action in the government, the economy, the media, and all the institutions that affect our lives? Institutions should obey the will of the people, rather than the people obeying the will of institutions. It can happen, but only through organization and active participation of the people as a whole. We must empower ourselves, not wait for someone else to do it. Read the rest of this entry »


This post was sparked after reading Richard Heinberg’s recent article Life After Growth, which is a much more personal introspection of Richard’s story uncovering the realities of peak oil and the limits to growth.  I recommend that one, but this earlier essay he wrote on the “End of Growth” I believe may go down in history as required reading.

In it he asks what are the fundamental reasons behind the ongoing economic crisis, arguing persuasively that the role of ecological limits like peak oil cannot be ignored as inhibiting growth both in the long term as well as the short.  However, what Richard lacks is an integrated analysis of the social limits to growth, especially the power of social movements all over the globe working against this system of capitalism.

Without a deep appreciation for the rights of poor and exploited people, it is easy to make mistakes, as I believe Richard does in this essay with regards to immigration, for example.  Further, without seeing the big picture of people’s resistance to capitalism and yearning for a new, non-growth, sustainable world, it is easy to lose hope.  And in these difficult times, hope is our most important natural resource. [alex]

Temporary Recession or the End of Growth?

by Richard Heinberg
August 6, 2009.
.

Everyone agrees: our economy is sick. The inescapable symptoms include declines in consumer spending and consumer confidence, together with a contraction of international trade and available credit. Add a collapse in real estate values and carnage in the automotive and airline industries and the picture looks grim indeed.

But why are both the U.S. economy and the larger global economy ailing? Among the mainstream media, world leaders, and America’s economists-in-chief (Treasury Secretary Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke) there is near-unanimity of opinion: these recent troubles are primarily due to a combination of bad real estate loans and poor regulation of financial derivatives.

This is the Conventional Diagnosis. If it is correct, then the treatment for our economic malady might logically include heavy doses of bailout money for beleaguered financial institutions, mortgage lenders, and car companies; better regulation of derivatives and futures markets; and stimulus programs to jumpstart consumer spending.

But what if this diagnosis is fundamentally flawed? The metaphor needs no belaboring: we all know that tragedy can result from a doctor’s misreading of symptoms, mistaking one disease for another.

Something similar holds for our national and global economic infirmity. If we don’t understand why the world’s industrial and financial metabolism is seizing up, we are unlikely to apply the right medicine and could end up making matters much worse than they would otherwise be.

To be sure: the Conventional Diagnosis is clearly at least partly right. The causal connections between subprime mortgage loans and the crises at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Lehman Brothers have been thoroughly explored and are well known. Clearly, over the past few years, speculative bubbles in real estate and the financial industry were blown up to colossal dimensions, and their bursting was inevitable. It is hard to disagree with the words of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in his July 25 essay in the Sydney Morning Herald: “The roots of the crisis lie in the preceding decade of excess. In it the world enjoyed an extraordinary boom…However, as we later learnt, the global boom was built in large part…on a house of cards. First, in many Western countries the boom was created on a pile of debt held by consumers, corporations and some governments. As the global financier George Soros put it: ‘For 25 years [the West] has been consuming more than we have been producing…living beyond our means.’” (1)

But is this as far as we need look to get to the root of the continuing global economic meltdown?

A case can be made that dire events having to do with real estate, the derivatives markets, and the auto and airline industries were themselves merely symptoms of an even deeper, systemic dysfunction that spells the end of economic growth as we have known it.

In short, I am suggesting an Alternative Diagnosis. This explanation for the economic crisis is not for the faint of heart because, if correct, it implies that the patient is far sicker than even the most pessimistic economists are telling us. But if it is correct, then by ignoring it we risk even greater peril.

Economic Growth, The Financial Crisis, and Peak Oil

For several years, a swelling subculture of commentators (which includes the present author) has been forecasting a financial crash, basing this prognosis on the assessment that global oil production was about to peak. (2) Our reasoning went like this: Read the rest of this entry »


“When you take the time to research and analyze the wealth that has gone to the economic top one percent, you begin to realize just how much we have been robbed.”

Despite the economic crisis, the ultra-rich seem to be making off quite well, even increasing their incomes while the rest of us worry about unemployment, foreclosure, and bankruptcy.

Crooks and Liars recently posted an article, “Richest 400 Americans See Incomes Double, Tax Rates Halved,” which has the latest statistics on income inequality, but to fully understand the widening gap between rich and poor, check out the following essay from David DeGraw.

How long will we permit this to go on? [alex]

The Richest 1% Have Captured America’s Wealth — What’s It Going to Take to Get It Back?

The U.S. already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis — and it’s gotten even worse.

By David DeGraw / February 19, 2010

Originally published by Alternet. Recovered from The Rag Blog.

“The war against working people should be understood to be a real war… Specifically in the U.S., which happens to have a highly class-conscious business class… And they have long seen themselves as fighting a bitter class war, except they don’t want anybody else to know about it.” — Noam Chomsky

As a record amount of U.S. citizens are struggling to get by, many of the largest corporations are experiencing record-breaking profits, and CEOs are receiving record-breaking bonuses. How could this be happening, how did we get to this point?

The Economic Elite have escalated their attack on U.S. workers over the past few years; however, this attack began to build intensity in the 1970s. In 1970, CEOs made $25 for every $1 the average worker made. Due to technological advancements, production and profit levels exploded from 1970-2000. With the lion’s share of increased profits going to the CEO’s, this pay ratio dramatically rose to $90 for CEOs to $1 for the average worker.

As ridiculous as that seems, an in-depth study in 2004 on the explosion of CEO pay revealed that, including stock options and other benefits, CEO pay is more accurately $500 to $1.

Paul Buchheit, from DePaul University, revealed, “From 1980 to 2006 the richest 1% of America tripled their after-tax percentage of our nation’s total income, while the bottom 90% have seen their share drop over 20%.” Robert Freeman added, “Between 2002 and 2006, it was even worse: an astounding three-quarters of all the economy’s growth was captured by the top 1%.”

Due to this, the United States already had the highest inequality of wealth in the industrialized world prior to the financial crisis. Since the crisis, which has hit the average worker much harder than CEOs, the gap between the top one percent and the remaining 99% of the U.S. population has grown to a record high. The economic top one percent of the population now owns over 70% of all financial assets, an all time record.

As mentioned before, just look at the first full year of the crisis when workers lost an average of 25 percent off their 401k. During the same time period, the wealth of the 400 richest Americans increased by $30 billion, bringing their total combined wealth to $1.57 trillion, which is more than the combined net worth of 50% of the US population. Just to make this point clear, 400 people have more wealth than 155 million people combined.

Meanwhile, 2009 was a record-breaking year for Wall Street bonuses, as firms issued $150 billion to their executives. 100% of these bonuses are a direct result of our tax dollars, so if we used this money to create jobs, instead of giving them to a handful of top executives, we could have paid an annual salary of $30,000 to 5 million people. Read the rest of this entry »


Today, Democracy Now! reported that two major records have been broken in 2009 – Wall St. profits ($35.7 billion in the first half of the year), and the number of Americans going hungry (50 million). These two seemingly unrelated tragedies immediately suggest a common solution – carve up the bloated hulks of Wall St. swine and serve them up to the American people!

On Tuesday, the NY Comptroller’s Office released a report showing that “broker-dealer operations of New York Stock Exchange member firms earned a record $35.7 billion in the first half of 2009.” Through September, $22.5 billion in profits were reported from the four largest firms alone —Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase. These are the same banks who got bailed out by the Federal Government last year – which means that taxpayers like you and I paid for these creeps’ bonuses.

Not coincidentally, these obscene profits were recorded at the same moment that the Department of Agriculture released a report showing that “nearly 50 million people — including almost one child in four — struggled last year to get enough to eat” (as written in the Washington Post on Monday). While the economy has been in the tank and unemployment has surpassed 10% officially, food prices have been skyrocketing, and so millions more Americans are being forced to go without needed nutrition.

Why isn’t it a coincidence? Because the crooks who sent global markets into a freefall last September, causing millions to lose their homes and jobs, have been rewarded for their bad behavior with preferential treatment from Uncle Sam. These Wall St. piggies have been gorging themselves on trillions of U.S. Federally approved dough, while regular folks struggle to pay the rent or put food on the table – without so much as a measly health care reform bill to give hope to their deteriorating condition. Now 1 out of every 4 of our kids are going hungry while the government subsidizes the very stock market slimeballs responsible for creating the trouble to begin with.

“Where’s OUR bailout?” struggling folks are wondering, as they see food prices climb and jobs shipped overseas by the day. 50 million folks are wondering where their next meal is gonna come from… and it’s time to entertain innovative, cost-effective proposals, even if they may seem exotic.

Well it turns out there’s one way to solve this problem without tapping the Treasury for so much as a penny!

It would bring down the cost of high-protein, high-quality food, providing much-needed nutrition to the hungry.

It could create high-paid and unionized manufacturing jobs, right here in the U.S. of A!

It would be environmentally friendly, dolphin-safe, and carbon-neutral (although there may be some associated methane emissions after the plan is implemented).

Best of all, this solution would remove the parasitic, bonus-hungry, pyramid-scheming, derivative-trading, regulation-gutting, President-advising, economy-wrecking, bailout mongers from the picture, allowing the American people to determine our economic future democratically!

And it’s so straightforward even Timothy Geithner could understand it:

Eat the Rich!

[alex,  Nov. 19]

below is the transcript from Democracy Now!’s interview of Robert Scheer on these 2 unprecedented reports and what they mean for the economy: Read the rest of this entry »


[The tremendous waste and planned destruction that is inherent to capitalism is really quite astounding, but acknowledging this opens a great doorway for all those concerned about social justice and protecting the environment.  Rational production, organized by society rather than for profit, would allow a great reduction in environmental damage, without sacrificing social welfare.  In fact, as Don Fitz points out, economic production scaled to meet human and ecological needs would be so much more efficient than capitalist production that we could produce far less, while simultaneously increasing quality of life dramatically.

This brief overview of the military, food, health care, etc. industries suggests ways to completely transform and down-scale the economy, which would actually make us all richer. Worth the read! -alex]

We Can Produce Less and Consume More

by Don Fitz

Originally published by ZNet, July 15, 2009.

A major gulf between environmental and social justice activists is “stuff.”  Environmentalists (or at least serious ones) say “less.”  Social justice organizers have the habit of saying “more.”

This divisive question cuts to the edge of the sort of society we want to build.  Deep greens envision a world with much less stuff.  A great outline is Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff. [1]  An excess of human-produced objects destroys species habitat, poisons communities with toxins, depletes oil and intensifies climate change.

Social justice activists, however, have devoted centuries to denouncing capitalism as placing fetters on the expansion of production.  Whether the struggle is against racism, for labor rights, or resistance to imperialism, the cry is for the oppressed to have a much bigger piece of the pie.

In response to the current economic crisis, a near-unanimous chorus sings “There must be a stimulus package.”  There is considerable debate over the size of the stimulus and what should be stimulated but not a whimper asking whether growth is really a good idea.  It is a rare Michael Moore suggesting that auto plants should not produce autos, but rather solar panels and windmills for a society without privately owned cars. [2]  It is even more rare to hear suggestions that auto plants should manufacture less and that unemployment could be resolved by shortening the work week.

A shorter work week is not exactly of the top of most environmental agendas.  In fact, environmentalists often shoot themselves in the foot when they call for “sacrifices” from those who have already done more than their fair share of doing without.

Production and consumption: A broken connection

These conceptual problems stem from progressives using corporate economic frameworks.  The error is believing that there is a connection between the amount of production and the amount of consumption.  The common misperception is that an increase in consumption requires increased production, and, conversely, a fall in production means there will be less available to consume.

Accepting corporate economics, environmentalists make the false conclusion that if CO2 levels are to drop, then people must consume less.  Social justice activists mistakenly believe that putting people back to work and providing basic necessities for all requires an increase in production.  Neither of these are true.  The greatest decrease in CO2 levels would come with a change in production and requires no personal sacrifice.  Increasing production would not guarantee enough jobs; but, changing production could.

The mistake in economic thinking is hardly surprising since there was a direct link between production and consumption during more than 99% of human history.  In pre-capitalist societies, if people wanted more, they produced more of what they wanted.  This characterized the first few centuries of capitalism.

But between WWI and WWII, something happened that could only be considered a problem within the capitalist mode of production: Industry had the ability to produce enough to satisfy everyone’s basic needs.  The first capitalists to realize this were aghast.

Jeffrey Kaplan chronicles their dismay at the discovery “that the industrial capacity for turning out goods seemed to be increasing at a pace greater than people’s sense that they needed them.” [3] Though a tiny handful of business leaders thought that America should switch to a four hour workday, most concluded that such leisure could breed radicalism and that a failure to increase production would threaten profits.

In 1929 President Herbert Hoover’s Committee on Recent Economic Changes announced the growing corporate consensus that capitalism could best survive by creating artificial needs. The Committee gleefully announced that “Economically we have a boundless field before us; that there are new wants which will make way endlessly for newer wants, as fast as they are satisfied.” [4] Read the rest of this entry »

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