There Are Good Alternatives to US Capitalism, But No Way to Get There
Jerry Mander’s new book explores the fatal flaws of the “obsolete” capitalist system and strategies for change.
By Jerry Mander
The following is an excerpt from Jerry Mander’s new book The Capitalism Papers: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System (Counterpoint, 2013):
Which Way Out?
Let’s start with some good news. There is no shortage of good alternative ideas, plans, and strategies being put forth by activist groups and “new economy” thinkers in the United States and all countries of the world. Some seek to radically reshape the current capitalist system. Others advocate abandoning it for something new (or old). There is also a third option, a merger of the best points of other existing or proposed options, toward a “hybrid” economic model that can cope with modern realities.
Meanwhile, U.S.-style laissez-faire capitalists, who now dominate the politics and economy in this country, continue to argue that all solutions must be determined by the “free market.” But the free market does not focus on the needs of democracy, or the implications of rampant inequity, or the catastrophic problems of the natural world. The free market is interested in one thing: expanding wealth. That is its only agenda. Nothing else matters, at least until the system collapses. Klaus Schwab had it right. And the situation is not much better abroad.
Ecological economist Brian Davey reported from the Beyond Growth Congress in Berlin (2011) that there was “much talk of the need for democratization to facilitate the post-growth economy. However, there was great skepticism for how much could be achieved. . . . The grip of corporate lobby interests over politics at national [U.S.] and European levels is too great. The state is a weak instrument for the kind of change that has to happen.” (Adbusters, December 2011)
In the same issue, Simon Critchley, professor of philosophy at the New School, New York, concurred: “Citizens still believe that governments represent the interests of those who elect them, and have the power to create effective change. But they don’t, and they can’t. We do not live in democracies. We inhabit plutocracies; government by the rich.”
So, the change will be up to us. And yet the puzzle persists: How do we get from here to there? How do we bridge the chasm from corporate, oligarchic, global dominance of governments, economies, media, and, not least important, military, all driven by the ideologies of consumerism, growth, and “progress,” toward some new set of values and structures?
What struck me most about the Occupy Wall Street movement was the way the Occupiers initially resisted formally articulating the kinds of changes they hoped to see. By their very lack of expression, they deliberately seemed to imply that the problem is more extreme. Systemic. Total. They seemed to say that there was little point in describing ways to modify governance, because all the currently available forms and instruments of power are themselves inaccessible, and no longer valid. One of the precursors of the U.S. Occupy movement, the Indignados (the “outraged”) of Spain—who’ve been doing mass demonstrations in Madrid’s public squares since May 2011—put it explicitly: “You do not represent us!” It’s their complaint about lack of responsive government, but also their desire to break with representation altogether, and to act for themselves. It expresses a loss of faith in the leaders and systems of governance as they now exist.
Living in the United States and watching the near dissolution of our own governance system over recent decades makes it hard to disagree with the perception that government is moribund, bought and sold by a small oligarchic class. As we try to describe good new approaches begging for application toward transformative change, the governing institutions of this society—corporate power, military power, media— continue to control all the levers of change as few systems before have done. These governing institutions are emphatically not interested in our transformative projects. This seems to apply nearly as much to the Obama regime as it does to Republicans. At most, each party gives systemic reform some lip service. But really, they prefer to co-opt, repress, or kill it in order to protect their benefactors.