Capitalism gathered together resources, labor, and capital to start an industrial revolution that brought prosperity and elevated standards of living to much of the earth’s inhabitants. Once in motion it generated additional capital that gathered more labor and more resources in a perpetual cycle of increased production that constantly benefitted populations. The achievements did not occur smoothly, they sputtered from periodic recessions that solicited government policies to recharge the system.
Soviet style socialism did not wait for a capitalism to provide capital formation, industrial development, allocation of resources and prosperity, including housing and luxuries for much of the population. The Soviets struggled to house, clothe, and feed, in a short time, a deprived population that had barely survived World War II, which led to mismanagement, shoddy construction, and misallocation of resources. By not following Karl Marx’s observations, which praised capitalist development and urged its necessity before socialist constructions, the Soviet system doomed itself to failure.
Capitalism has neared a peak, mostly using capital to generate capital, unable to comprehend the challenges faced by its actions, going as far as it can go without intensifying major problems it has created. Slowly and inexorably, the socio-economic system refutes a counter-productive capitalism, that is taking more than it gives, that is destroying more than it creates, and that has become more irresponsible than responsible. In the coming decades, cooperation will be preferred to competition, sharing preferred to taking, responsibility to all preferred to irresponsibility to one, socialization preferred to capitalization.
The change does not arrive from ideological, economic, social, or political considerations; it arrives from the realization that the earth is on fire and only a strong willed and collective community can dampen the conflagration. The change comes from realization that private and civic initiatives cannot and will not resolve the forecasted problems, each will protect what they have and deny the challenges — climate change that modifies coastlines and arable lands; greenhouse gas emissions that heat the atmosphere and petition a handover from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources; robotics and artificial intelligence that change the factory floor, its administration, and the composition of the workforce; possibility of nuclear war in an atmosphere of intense international hostility and growing arms races; pandemics from new disease microbes that replicate quickly, defy conventional medicine, and spread beyond borders; security enhancements due to internal conflicts and external hostilities; political, economic and social polarizations that have stimulated populist movements; and population migrations that cause cultural conflicts and reassignment of resources. Allied to these challenges are the subsidiary challenges each of them creates – reallocation of food sources and possible shortages in food supply; economic upheavals due to bankruptcies of resource and transportation industries and nations dependent upon fossil fuels; re-orientation of the work force to prevent severe unemployment; forced arms controls to prevent global wars; sharing of resources to lessen predicted large scale migrations; international controls and research to prevent spread of disease; more equal distribution of income to assure all have basics for survival in a quickly changing economic landscape, and regulations that assure adequate privacy, security, and disease mitigation. Despite public awareness and concern for all the challenges, inertia is apparent. Escaping human extinction will require government intervention in all aspects of the socio-economic system.
The earth and its inhabitants have proved adaptable, surviving catastrophes and climate changes in previous epochs. The predicted rapidity of this climate change and the scientific analysis that attributes it to carbon emissions make it unlikely that, without more centralized planning and regimentation, the earth will have sufficient time to correct for the climate shifts.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Containing carbon emissions demands regulation of all its sources and severe changes in the air, sea, and ground transportations that use the energy sources. The latter change can be fulfilled by a shift to electric vehicles, which, due to elevated costs, will require subsidies. Present air and sea transportation engines are not easily substituted and they may face restrictions, which means severe reductions in international transport and other industries that need fossil fuels for powering the efforts.
Allied to addressing the effects of greenhouse gas emissions is addressing severe economic problems due to population, agriculture and labor shifts, and answering a possible economic decline due to lower and changing demand in companies engaged in fossil fuel extraction, petroleum refining, fossil energy transport, pipeline and associated equipment manufacture. Fisheries, tourism, airlines, shipping, animal husbandry, recreation, investment, and plastics industries will also be affected. By directing investments so they factor climate change into their capital distribution, investment powerhouse, Black Rock, has already considered a general makeover of the economic system.
Shifts in arable lands, increases in desert lands, a dwindling fish supply, and possible limits to meat production, due to less grasslands and restrictions on methane gas release from herds, will re-orient the food supply. Warmer water temperatures will cause changes in habitat ranges of many fish and shellfish species. Unless food production and distribution are carefully monitored and controlled, famines will occur. Sustainable farming will become a rule.
The United Nations World Water Development Report 2018 states that “The global demand for water has been increasing at a rate of about 1% per year over the past decades as a function of population growth, economic development and changing consumption patterns, among other factors, and it will continue to grow significantly over the foreseeable future….At the same time, the global water cycle is intensifying due to climate change, with wetter regions generally becoming wetter and drier regions becoming even drier. Other global changes (e.g., urbanisation, de-forestation, intensification of agriculture) add to these challenges. At present, an estimated 3.6 billion people (nearly half the global population) live in areas that are potentially water-scarce at least one month per year, and this population could increase to some 4.8–5.7 billion by 2050.”
Will private industry be able to regulate and equitably distribute available water resources? Only governments, acting in concert with one another and with international agencies will determine who gets what, when, and where.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) plus Robotics
Robotics clears the factory floor of workers and AI, by replacing much administration — solving problems, clarifying work schedules, preparing and managing budgets — clears the offices of managers.
New software and manufacturing industries will emerge, but will the tools of the new industrial age be used to satisfy the wants and needs of the populace or mainly the profits of entrepreneurs? Will the self-operating machines be able to generate income for all those who have left the factories; will there be sufficient income in the system to purchase all goods in the expanded market? Will supply exceed demand and profits become a mirage? Will AI and extensive Robotics be a suitable companion to the workers of a new and less profit oriented system industrial system, where wages can be coupons for more equitably distributed abundance? Arrangement between humans and the new machines reorder the democracy and the social; reorder society into Democratic Socialism.
Already a major problem that has reached crisis proportions, a 2018 World Bank Group report enhances the problem. The report “estimates that the impacts of climate change in three of the world’s most densely populated developing regions—sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America—could result in the displacement and internal migration of more than 140 million people before 2050.” A mass movement of that scale will need cooperative government actions and international agreements to prevent political and economic strife and enable continued development in the affected regions.
Nations that rely on fossil fuel exports to maintain their economic system — Middle East, Iran, Russia, Venezuela and others — and nations destabilized by the effects of climate change — water scarcity, agriculture losses, food depletion — that cannot effectively compete and re-orient themselves in the changing world may become aggressive and seek opportunities by engaging in warfare, which could lead to use of weapons of mass destruction. A byproduct of the switch to renewable fuels and climate change – inability to compete in the new economic environment – must be accommodated to prevent military catastrophes. Arms controls and peaceful cooperation will replace arms races and unilateral actions.
Disease and Pestilence
China’s recent actions to contain the spread of Covid-19 virus serve as a model for future actions in controlling pandemics. Local actions can contain the pandemic but cannot prevent its spread. Centralized programs that mobilize all agencies and institutions and the entire public are necessary to coordinate all activities that defeat the pandemic. National health plans, which enable every citizen to have adequate medical coverage, will assure that everyone will be able to seek medical assistance quickly and halt the spreading of diseases. Trends to increased isolation, remaining home, and ordering goods and foods online will change life styles and cripple commercial activities of retail stores, restaurants, entertainment, sports arenas, local transportation, and suburban malls. With more work from home, rather than from offices, rapid changes in urban environment, industry composition and employment will appear, and necessitate government assistance to prevent business collapses and severe unemployment.
Terrorist and mass shooting actions from those who are mentally ill, feel estranged from society, and have been coopted by extremists will grow. Tighter law enforcement, increased surveillance, and privacy invasions will follow. Protection of all will replace self-protection.
Political and Social Polarization
Modern democracies have given people freedom and hope, more of the air to breathe. In the process, groups have taken advantage of the freedoms and increased their concentration of wealth and power, which has led to oligarchies. Those who feel they have been unfairly sidetracked from the prosperity have sought refuge by gathering together in nationalist organizations and populist politics. The coming socialization poses a solution by implementing workplace democracy in which workers have a stake in corporate management and are able to institute a more equitable distribution of income and wealth.
All of the posed problems have previously required some form of government intervention. The convergence of them at one time, and the growing perils from climate change and pandemics strike a new chord in domestic and international relations — cooperation before competition, survival of all before survival of the fittest, limited material wealth before unlimited natural catastrophes.
Those who previously exclaimed, “Better Dead than Red” need not transpose to “Better Red than Dead.” “Better Pink than Sink,” is the new slogan for the Democratic and Socialist communities, pushed to leadership in order to prevent Capitalism’s latest offering — human extinction.
Dan Lieberman edits Alternative Insight, a commentary on foreign policy, economics, and politics. He is author of the book A Third Party Can Succeed in America, a Kindle: The Artistry of a Dog, and a novel: The Victory (under a pen name).
Dan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org