Review: “On Civilizing Capitalism” by Brian Ellis – Competition-Based Capitalist Welfarism Or Socialism?

Melbourne philosopher Brian Ellis (Professor Emeritus in Philosophy, La Trobe University and former Professorial Fellow, University  of Melbourne) has published “On Civilizing Capitalism” that argues for a pragmatic, humane and science-based approach to economic theory as opposed to the currently dominant neoliberalism that in recent decades has supplanted the post-WW2 Keynesian welfare state models, and socialism that has been supplanted by free market capitalism  in Russia and China.  

On Civilizing Capitalism

The back-cover of the book provides an excellent summary of Brian Ellis’ important, science-informed, humane and pragmatic approach to a decent world: “This book shows how modern political, economic and moral theory, including our ideas of liberty and individualism, are trapped in 17th century notions of intuitive reasoning and not informed by modern scientific understanding. Brian Ellis starts with a re-appraisal of the founding of the United Nations and the political and economic policies of the post-war reconstruction period. He then shows how this period, despite its many faults, embodied a philosophy more closely embedded in scientific realism than dominant theories of either left or right today. He goes on to develop this philosophy, meticulously, demolishing theories of Rawls, Nozick and others along the way. The result is a philosophy that investigates how a society actually works, supports evidence-based economics and can better enable human beings to flourish. It is a philosophy that can also accommodate the historical differences between societies and their different, but parallel, development strategies over time” [1].

Some key aspects of “On Civilizing Capitalism” are outlined below.

(A). Social Humanism versus Neoliberalism.

As set out in a number of recent books including “On Civilizing Capitalism” Brian Ellis advocates altruistic Social Humanism as an alternative to the current dominant and greed-based neoliberalism [1-7]. I have reviewed 3 of these books and by way of disclaimer note that Brian Ellis has pointed out (page 31 [1]) that I and other  colleagues, namely Tony Lynch and Greg Bailey, contributed sections to his 2019 book  “The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker & beyond” [6]. Neoliberalism seeks to maximize the wealth of the smart and advantaged by competition-based markets, with an asserted “trickle down” of wealth to the poor and disadvantaged. Unfortunately recent decades have seen a widening gap between rich and poor with a “trickle up” wealth transfer from the poor to the rich.  In contrast, Social Humanism in general (and in various manifestations of socialism, eco-socialism, human rights cognizant communism, pluralist and competition-based socialism, the welfare state and Universal Basic Income) seeks to sustainably maximize opportunity, dignity and flourishing human happiness for everyone through culturally-cognizant and evolving international and intra-national social contracts. Professor Ellis plumps for a democratic, human rights-observant “nice capitalism” i.e. a  humane, Nordic-style, private property-, competition- and market-based pluralist capitalist-socialist hybrid.

“On Civilizing Capitalism” seeks a more equitable, science-informed and sustainable world. Likewise humanely motivated French economist Thomas Piketty argues that the growing wealth inequity is bad for the economy (the poor cannot afford  to buy the goods and services they produce) and bad for democracy (Big Money controls media, public perception of reality, and hence votes and political power) [8-14]. Presently the top 1% has about 50% of the world’s wealth and the bottom 50% about 1% of  the world’s wealth [15]. According to Oxfam: “The world’s ten richest men more than doubled their fortunes from $700 billion to $1.5 trillion —at a rate of $15,000 per second or $1.3 billion a day— during the first two years of a pandemic that has seen the incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall and over 160 million more people forced into poverty” [16].

Brian Ellis sums up the present global state of play: “The welfare states are secular democracies with independent judicial systems, in which most social goods and services are under central control. These are the kinds of states that existed in the British Commonwealth in the post-war years (1945-1975), and in  the protestant countries (mainly Lutheran) of northern Europe. These countries are well to the left politically of the Basic Capitalist states known simply as the West, and well to the right of the Basic Socialist states of the Old Soviet Union, of Eastern Europe, and the People’s Republic of China. My belief is that Basic Capitalist states will move eventually move to the left, and the Basic Socialist states will move to the right, and in every such case these moves will be seen as socially progressive. For the states with Basic structures are the least well balanced, both socially and politically” (page 115 [1]).

(B). Science-informed versus intuitive reasoning-based economic and social models.

Brian Ellis recognizes that human societies are complex and derive from historical evolution of human behaviour in shifting environments through genes (mutation of DNA and natural selection of favourable genes) and memes (societally selected ideas such as “thou shalt not kill” and “love thy neighbour as thyself”). From this Ellis argues  that useful models for complex human behaviour (as for example  in economics) should derive from careful examination of the data and setting up models of reality that can be tested for validity by the scientific method (“Scientific Realism” as in pages 31-33 [1]). Thus in the Popperian view the scientific method  successively involves (a) getting accurate data, (b) setting up and testing potentially falsifiable hypotheses, with a reiterative outcome (c) of  ever-improving models of reality. However, as examined in great detail in “On Civilizing Capitalism”, great philosophers of the Enlightenment advanced models for human morality and behaviour based on intuitive reasoning  applied in a narrow sociological setting  and without the benefit of modern advances in biology, sociology, psychology, and anthropology.

A  good example of this failure of reasoning is Immanuel Kant’s famous “categorical imperative” that posits that (from the perspective of a prosperous and  educated man of 18th century Central Europe) humans are rational creatures and would act rationally on the basis of the moral principle that such moral actions should be universal i.e. if you act morally in doing something then everyone else should be able to do it. However many obvious exceptions to this exist. Thus lying is universally regarded as wrong but outright lying and white lies can serve a greater good (e.g. lying about D-Day plans saved thousands of Allied lives, and white lies can save social embarrassment and harm). An example Brian Ellis gives is of flawed intuitive reasoning in Adam Smith’s  3 laws of economics that are applied  today in a complex market-based capitalist world with a global GDP of $100 trillion whereas in Adam Smith’s 18th century world these laws were based on informed and  prosperous men operating in a village market.

Brian Ellis: “Kant’s theory of human nature was straightforwardly that of Renaissance Europe. He believed, as Aristotle did, that human beings are essentially rational creatures [and] argued that: if people were always to act rationally according to their natures, then they would act only on principles that they could simultaneously  will to be universal laws of nature (which, it should be noted, was Kant’s famous “categorical imperative”). Smith thought likewise that morality must be a matter of rational self-interest, and founded his theory of economics on the market ideal of one attended and serviced only by perfectly well informed , and rationally self-interested agents. But humans are not just rationally self-interested agents, as Aristotle believed; they are tribal beings, who have both family and tribal loyalties. As every cognitive scientist knows, humans are disposed to take many, not very reliable, short cuts in their thinking” (page 239 [1].

(C). The broad  philosophic scope of the book leading up to proposal for a New Enlightenment and adoption of a pluralist Social Humanism.

Space and my expertise limitations as a biological scientist and not a professional philosopher do not permit  a detailed summary and analysis of the breadth of this important and humane  book in its contest between humanity- and evidence-based Scientific Realism and variously motivated models of philosophers from the Enlightenment onwards.  However  its span can be summarized by the chapter headings and sub-headings (with some brief definitional amplification as required in square brackets]. I have appended brief comments about each chapter.  

(1). Evolution and structure: 1.1 Introduction,  1.2 Chapter Outlines, 1.3 Social Humanism, 1.4 Rationalism, 1.5 A Globally Progressive Enlightenment.

The book argues that despite and indeed because of huge scientific and technological advances the Age of Enlightenment transmuted into a bloody Age of Empire, this instructing a need for a presently relevant,  culturally tolerant and globally progressive New Enlightenment.

(2). Realism in Social Theory:   2.1 The Ideal of Realism, 2.2 Scientific History, 2.3 Dynamics and Kinematics [classical mechanics describing the motion of points, bodies, and systems of bodies], 2.4 Inquiring  into the Nature and Causes of Motion, 2.5 Economics, 2.6 Good Value for Money! Keep Up the Good Work, 2.7 Social Scientific Realism, 2.8 Causal Power Realism.

Arising from consideration of the Enlightenment advance of Newtonian physics, Ellis suggests that in a science-informed New Enlightenment  the “wealth of nations” that is described in terms of money can be a measure of energy expenditure in creation of goods and services.

(3). Social Morality:  3.1 The Scope of Social Morality, 3.2 Government with the Consent of the Governed, 3.3 Civilizing Capitalism.

Ellis accepts the economic efficiency and productivity of a competitive, market-based  capitalist system but wants some  constraint on greed and a greatly improved intra-national and international social safety net as exampled by a Universal Basic Income (UBI) that should be  consonant with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).  The book argues that there must be a  reasonable trade-off between competition-based capitalist efficiency  versus  reasonable equity, dignity, opportunity  and happiness, and that this could be accomplished  in informed democracies.

(4). First Philosophy [metaphysics, first causes of things and the nature of being, and what Aristotle called  “first philosophy”  and defined as the discipline that studies “being as being”]: 4.1 First Philosophy for Physical Theory, 4.2 Rationalism and Empiricism, 4.3 The Dynamics of Capitalism, 4.4 First Philosophy for Economic Theory, 4.5 First Philosophy for Moral Theory, 4.6 States of Mind and Brain, 4.8 The New Metaphysics of Morals, 4.9 Theory of Social Equality.

Ellis writes: “There are several kinds of first philosophies – depending upon the established epistemology  (theory of knowledge) of the  area in question. Broadly, the established epistemologies depend on the areas they cover. The aim of this book is to develop a first philosophy, or set of first philosophies for the social sciences” (page 51 [1]).   

(5). Social Democracy and Social Progress: 5.1 Basic Capitalism, 5.2 Basic Socialism, 5.3 Natural Rights, 5.4  Political Philosophy in the 1970s, The Welfare States, 5.6 Trumpism, 5.7 First Philosophy for Deliberate Action, 5.8 Social and Cultural Evolution.

This chapter backgrounds and then describes how the more egalitarian post-WW2 systems were supplanted from circa 1975  onwards by ruthless neoliberalism (e.g. Thatcherism and Reaganomics) that has created a worsening  inequity and consequent suffering, notably  in the world’s richest countries, those of the West.  

(6). The Secular States: 6.1 Political Location, 6.2 The Good Life, 6.3 Comments on Section 6.2.

Ellis concludes: “The underlying philosophy of the UDHR [Universal Declaration of Human Rights] is something like this: Everyone has the right to live freely, safely, and with dignity in a country governed with the broad consent of the governed; (a) in a basically capitalist economy for household goods and consumables, (b) to do so with freely chosen social moral purpose in one’s own society, and (c) participate, as an equal, in the culture of that society … We all have the right to live a good life. And to make such a life available to all , we need only enact the UDHR as our bill of rights. For, of  necessity, any state that has the UDHR  as its bill of rights must be a welfare state. And this is so, because the UDHR, and the welfare state have the same underlying philosophy – viz. the philosophy I call “social humanism” (page 125 [1]).

(7).  Eudaimonism [a theory that the highest ethical goal is happiness and personal well-being]: 7.1 Human flourishing, 7.2 Social Humanism, 7.3 The Importance of Planning, 7.4 Some Pathologies of Capitalism.

Ellis makes a powerful declaration about the Welfare State that is at the heart of arguments about a decent society: “The welfare state has suffered the fate of all “middle of the road” political positions. Ideologues of both the left and the right have, historically, been hostile to it, and when it came under attack in Britain, Australia and New Zealand in the late 1970s, there were few willing to defend it. The welfare state should not, however, be considered to be just a compromise  between the left and right wings of politics. For this gives far more legitimacy to the theoretical ideals that these extremes represent than they really deserve. Both are founded on mythical social contracts that no one should take seriously. Locke’s and Rousseau’s social contracts are the social creation myths on which their respective visions of society  are based. But neither is tenable, or even very plausible. Let us, rather, give them a decent burial and found our society on something more substantial. Let us recognize that every society that is ruled by consent has established ways of doing things, commonly recognized values, and a working social structure. It has, therefore, a kind of agreement about how a society should function, and who should be responsible for doing what. Let us take this agreement, this de facto social contract, as our basic position, and go back to something like the Classical ideal of happiness  to set our goal” (page 129 [1]).

(8). Liberty: 8.1 Three Concepts of Liberty, 8.2 Inner Freedom, 8.3 Freedom of Speech, 8.4 Negative Liberty [liberty in the absence of obstacles, barriers or constraints as compared to Positive Liberty as a way to take control of one’s life and realize fundamental purposes]; 8.5 Social Humanism and Practical Liberty [things we can realistically do within the range of  things we are positively able to do], 8.6 Critique of Practical Liberty [de facto liberty as opposed to theoretical liberty].

Chapter 8 discusses different kinds of liberty – negative, positive and practical – and also considers a kind of positive freedom called “inner freedom” (the freedom to act according to one’s own considered judgment) that is eroded by mass media and social media propaganda, as in the words of Clive Hamilton: “The very purpose of the marketing  society is to make us the slaves of our passions” (page 147 [1]). Ellis also considers freedom of speech and importantly comments “Freedom of speech must include the right to be heard” (page 151 [1]). Even in the Western democracies “effective free speech” is largely missing, and important, sober, informed and thoughtful voices like that of Brian Ellis are ignored, and the public platform is dominated by mendacious Mainstream media and fashion-espousing social media “influencers”.  A rare exception is articulate, science-informed climate activist Greta Thunberg, reduced to indignantly berating  the planet-killers with her famous “How dare you!” and “Blah, blah, blah”.  

(9). Rights: 9.1 The Social Contract in Locke’s Treatise [Thomas Hobbes: surrender to sovereign power; John Locke: obligation to obey civil government provided it respects natural rights; Jean-Jacques Rousseau: equation of liberty with fraternity and equality, and that the state expresses the will of the people and departure from this contract requires overthrow],  9.2 De Facto Social Contracts, 9.3 Origins of Moral Obligation, 9.4 Individualism in Social Theory.

A key part of this chapter is concerned with the origins of moral obligations. David Hume sought an empirical theory ofmorality grounded on observation of human nature. Ellis quotes Hume thus: “All inferences from experience are effects of custom, not of reasoning” (page 164 [1]). Many examples can be given from anthropology but a powerful example of this (but not mentioned in the book) is the complicated skin-name system of culturally intact Indigenous Australians that determines who can marry whom and which cannot be violated. Refined over millennia before the 20th century advent of genetics, this remarkable system had the effect of minimizing in-breeding and consequent birth defects in small tribal groups.    

(10). Individualism:  10.1 Political and Methodological Individualism, 10.2 Methodological Individualism, 10.3 Social and Moral Agents.

Ellis opines: “Social humanism is therefore politically individualistic, but methodologically collectivist. It is politically individualistic because it supports positive liberty, and therefore individualism as a political ideal. But it is methodologically collectivist in social and political theory, because it argues that answers to questions of social or political responsibility cannot normally be derived from answers to  questions about how the individuals who make up society should behave. In moral and political philosophy, the primary question should always be: How should we (as a group or as a society) behave in these or those circumstances? Not: How should I behave in these circumstances” (page 173 [1]). However our present neoliberalism-dominated and  “efficient” capitalist  society permits and embraces behaviour that results in the top 1% owning 50% of the wealth and the bottom 50% owning a mere 1% of the wealth [15, 16] – a morality that enables deadly poverty that kills 7.4 million people (70% of them under-5 infants) each year [17].

(11). Social Contracts: 11.1 Natural Rights and Moral Essentialism [essentialism is in  ontology (the study of being) the view that some properties of objects are essential to them], 11.2 Minimal and Semi-Minimal States,  11.3, Rousseau’s Social Contract, 11.4 Contract Theories of Justice and Equality, 11.5 Starting from Where We Are, 11.6 The De Facto Social Contract and the Criminal Law.

In Chapter 11 Brian Ellis summarizes notable “social contract” theories and then dismisses them all as untenable (for the detailed arguments read the book): “There is a long tradition of founding states theoretically on mythical social contracts. In the modern era, Thomas Hobbes , John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Rawls, Robert Nozick and Robert Dworkin all provided such theories to justify the kinds of states they preferred. Hobbes used his theory to justify Leviathan – a ruler with absolute powers. Locke provided the foundations for liberalism, more or less as we know it today. Rousseau’s social contract was widely influential in the construction of the French Republic, following the revolution of 1789. Rawls and Nozick built on Locke’s fictional theory to construct their own models. Rawls sought to provide theoretical foundations for a state that was not only liberal , but also socially just. Nozick defended what he called the minimal, or nightwatchman, state, which is the kind of state that is generally preferred by today’s neoliberals. Dworkin used it to construct a theory of social equality. However, none of these theories are tenable” (page 185 [1]).  However there is  no mention in this chapter of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Leon Trotsky, Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Fidel Castro, Jawahalal Nehru, Ho Chi Minh,  Vladimir Putin,  Xi Jinping, or indeed Yanis Varoufakis (“Technofeudalism. What killed capitalism” [18]).  As indeed  noted in the book,  800 million Chinese were taken out of dire and deadly poverty in an increasingly  pluralist China.  

(12). Humanistic Ethics: 12.1 Welfarism,  12.2 Acceptable Moral Frameworks, 12.3 The Ethics of Humanism.

Chapter 12 commences: “Humanist ethics are concerned ultimately with human well-being. For, if social humanists are right, then human well-being is the primary good, and all social policy should aim to promote this good… In ethical jargon, human welfare, or well-being, is the summum bonum [“highest good” in Latin (and a notion advocated by Roman philosopher Cicero) and the highest good and the ultimate goal in an ethical system]. The ethical theory that elevates human well-being to this position is known as “welfarism” ” (page 205 [1]). Of course “welfarism” is anathema to greedy, ignorant, bigoted and intellectually unbalanced American Trumpists and fervent neoliberals like the Right-Far Right Australian Coalition that has ruled Australia for most of the post-WW2 era, and  which was described by eminent human rights  lawyer Professor Gillian Triggs as “Ideologically opposed to human rights” [19]. Ellis concludes: “This humanistic ethic will strike many philosophers as lacking in substance. For it tells us very little about how we should behave as individuals. It tells us what our social aims should be, and therefore puts some constraint on the kind of society we should seek to create” (page 213 [1]).

(13). The New Welfare State: 13.1 Description, 13.2 How the World Has Changed, 13.3 Public versus Private Ownership, 13.4 The Social Humanist Program , On Corporate Responsibility.

Brian Ellis described his proposed “New Welfare State” as follows: “The new welfare state is a modern version of the welfare states of previous generations. It is different, not because its philosophy is so different, but because the world is different, and so the starting point for its construction is different… The new welfare state seeks to promote general well-being by providing everyone with the practical option of choosing how they want to live. But it does not seek to do this just by redistributing wealth or income. The new welfare state is nothing like a socialist state. It is not collectivist, as all socialist states are , and it has no ambition to become more so. Advocates of the new welfare state believe in free enterprise and capitalist endeavour, and they also believe in the market as providing the simplest and most effective way of distributing goods and services. In traditional political terms, their position is plainly “middle of the road”” (pages 215-216 [1]).  

(14). The New World: 14.1 The Growing Movement, 14.2 Failures of European Enlightenment, 14.3 Philosophy in the European Enlightenment, 14.4 Scientific Realism Required, 14.5 What Is Now Needed.

In this final Chapter, Brian Ellis cogently describes the failure of the European Enlightenment (science good, imperial wars bad) and the need for a new deal for all Humanity: “The European Enlightenment was mainly a revolution in Western  understanding of the physical world. It had little to say about the social world in which we live. It enabled the great powers of Europe to settle, and eventually colonize, most of the rest of the world. But the social sciences require physically realistic theories of human nature , and of the structure of human societies everywhere . So,  what needs to be done has not been done before. We need to extend the Enlightenment’s reach to make it possible for [all] people to live positively and well in the social structures that we will all need for the future. The philosophy of the social sciences remain stubbornly dualistic, in a world that is essentially monistic [denying duality such as that asserted between matter and mind] and physical in its composition. Consequently, our attitudes and ways of thinking about social problems have remained more or less as they were in the eighteenth century – as we have seen in our discussion of the major works of Robert Novick and John Rawls ” (pages 228-229 [1]).

(D). Some key points for agreement and debate in relation to  “On Civilizing Capitalism”.

“On Civilizing Capitalism” is an important and humane book for our times and should be in every school, local, state, national and university library. This book should spark a crucial debate about a gentler but competitive Capitalism (from civilizing capitalism) versus Socialism and sustainable resource equity for our present world that is existentially threatened  by deadly poverty, nuclear weapons and climate change. To reiterate, while the presently dominant, greed-based neoliberalism seeks to maximize the wealth of the smart and advantaged (with some asserted “trickle down” for the impoverished and  disempowered poor), Social Humanism  seeks to sustainably maximize opportunity, dignity and flourishing human happiness for everyone through culturally-cognizant and evolving international and intra-national social contracts.  Some key issues are outlined below.

(a). Ellis argues for humane systems reflecting  new circumstances – but our present world is existentially threatened  by unsustainability, deadly poverty, nuclear weapons and climate change. The book correctly argues for science-informed, scientific method-based analysis for a humane and sustainable economic model that is fit for the times. However the times have changed extraordinarily this century. As reflected in the 1,000-fold greater than normal species extinction rate of our present  Anthropocene Era, the world is over-populated by a factor of 2, and worsening resource limitations will  mean either the sharing of socialism or a nightmare of the active and passive mass murder of billions [17, 20-28].  Similarly, tough action on climate change will involve rapid action ensuring that the environmental and social cost of pollution is “fully borne” by the polluters as recommended by science-trained Pope Francis [29]. Eminent economist Nicholas Stern has clearly stated the hard reality that: “The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay” [30, 31]. The world’s average applied Carbon Price is presently $2 per tonne CO2-equivalent as compared to the $200 per tonne CO2-equivalent it should be [32]. For a safe and sustainable world for all peoples and all species the  atmosphere CO2 must be reduced to the pre-Industrial Revolution level of circa 300 ppm CO2 from the present 420 ppm CO2 that is increasing at a record rate [20, 21, 25].

The world is existentially threatened by nuclear weapons and climate change, and eminent physicist Stephen Hawking has clearly stated the actions needed: “We see great peril if governments and societies do not take action NOW [my emphasis] to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change” [22]. Unless requisite action is taken, 10 billion people are set to die this century  in a worsening Climate Genocide en route to a sustainable population of only 1 billion in 2100 [24-26]. The world is already over-populated by a factor of  2 [20]. Professor Dabo Guan  (School of International Development, University of East Anglia, UK) has commented thus on inescapable limits to growth:  “For everyone in the world to have an American lifestyle, we would need seven planets, and three to live as Europeans” [20, 32]. Already  7.4 million people die avoidably each year on Spaceship Earth (70% children and overwhelmingly  in the Global South) with the First World in charge of the flight deck [17]. A humane tinkering at the edges to give a “nice Capitalism” does not suffice – we will have to share severely depleted resources (Socialism) or huge numbers of people will die.

(b). Democratic, property-respecting, competition- and market-based “nice” Capitalism versus survival- mandated sharing via Socialism. Brian Ellis correctly assumes that property-respecting, competition- and market-based  capitalism is more efficient  in terms of productivity  than “Basic Socialism”. However a large proportion of the goods and services produced and marketed so efficiently are “luxuries” produced  for the rich rather than for the basic survival needs of the poor. And as exampled by the German Nazis in WW2 there is no limit to passive mass murder of the disempowered – 30 million Slavs, Jews and Roma died from violence and imposed deprivation in the Germany-imposed WW2 European Holocaust, as compared to  5-6 million in the Nazi-imposed Jewish Holocaust, 6 million in the Polish Holocaust, 27 million in the WW2 Soviet Holocaust, 35-40 million in the Japanese-imposed WW2 Chinese Holocaust, and 6-7 million in the British-imposed and Australia-complicit WW2 Bengali Holocaust (WW2 Indian Holocaust, WW2 Bengal Famine) [26, 27].  In an adumbrated starving world  this century “nice” Capitalism would be equivalent to the Marie Antoinette-attributed “Let them eat cake”.  Indeed at this very time, and  while the world looks on, 2.3 million  Palestinians  in Gaza, half of them children, are being subject to deadly violence,  imposed deprivation and famine  by Jewish Israelis (over 40,000 killed in nearly 6 months of killing, 15,000 being children) and starvation taking hold [33, 34].  

(c). Baruch Spinoza and reliance on observation and reason versus published “authority”. As a secular Humanist scientist a favourite philosopher of mine is Baruch Spinoza, famed as a father of the Enlightenment because he argued that people should address reality by observation and reason rather than relying on the authority of  religious texts . Throughout the book physics -trained Brian Ellis addresses the “social contract theories”  of famed and  learned European Enlightenment scholars from the 17th century onwards and published in much-quoted  books, but eventually concludes  “However, none of these theories are tenable” (page 185 [1]).  

(d). Democratic Humanism and democratic Socialism, but what is democracy? In his seminal book “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” (2012) [2, 3]  Brian Ellis  sadly noted that even with ”nice” capitalism and  humane Social Humanism wealth inequities would inevitably arise with the resultant transmuting of Democracy to Corporatocracy in which, as perceived by Thomas Piketty,  Big Money purchases public perception of reality, public opinion, votes and hence more political power and more private profit. In stark contrast is the socialist altruism of “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs. At its most fundamental and universal democracy can be seen as a system meeting the basic demands of the people: food, shelter, peace, and good economic conditions, social circumstances, health and education.  These things were provided by one-party China  (that took 800 million Chinese out of dire poverty) and one-party Cuba ( which, despite years of egregious  US sanctions, has an infant mortality rate (53.9 per million of total population per year) that is lower than that in the US (84.0 per million of total population per year) [17]. That said, I like the democratic freedoms of Australia although for the last dozen years I have been somehow deprived of effective free speech in Australia and my endless complaints fall on deaf ears  – I have been rendered effectively  “invisible” . However, unlike World hero Julian Assange, imprisoned for 12 years now in London for truth-telling via secret US documents, I am free to research and write about US Alliance war crimes in leafy Melbourne.  

(e). The proposed  Social Humanism would protect property rights and hence entrench inequity and social injustice.  The proposed “civilized Capitalism” would respect “property rights” (chapter 13, “The New Welfare State” (pages 215-216 [1]).  However this would eventually generate huge wealth inequity and hence disempowerment, injustice and suffering.  Thomas Piketty makes out a powerful case for proper wealth taxes, wealth transparency, suitably progressive income taxes, and carbon taxes. However Piketty, an avowed socialist,  is writing for an innately  conservative, selfish,  “realistic”, pragmatic and relatively prosperous Western audience that is  massively lied to by Mainstream journalist, editor, politician, academic and commentariat  presstitutes involved in “manufacturing  consent” for the neoliberal Establishment [35]. He could have been much bolder in his arguments and wishes. Thus Eurocentric Piketty sensibly recommends greater intergenerational justice through improvement of  educational opportunities in Europe, and action on climate change [12, 13].   Thomas Piketty’s  modest proposals have foundered in the face of opposition from corrupt, self-interested and politically correct racist (PC racist) Western leaders beholden to the neoliberal and dominant One Percenters. Thus, for example,  conservative France has drastically reduced its annual wealth tax, despite wealth taxing being the signature economic measure proposed by Thomas Piketty. A  Global South perspective demands huge change immediately to stop the carnage whereby 5.3 million non-European  under-5 year old infants perished in 2020 as compared to only 66,000 European under-5 year old infants [17]. Piketty advocates annual wealth taxes, noting that the Muslim world has had a 2.5% annual wealth tax or zakat for 1,400 years. In 2014 I estimated that a 4% annual wealth tax would allow all countries to achieve the same GDP per capita as China and Cuba [14], countries for which annual avoidable mortality  from deprivation is very low [17].  

(f). “On Civilizing Capitalism” critiques other “social contract theories” as “untenable” but  missed a huge market-related omission in post-WW2  economic theories (Carbon Debt). As noted in C(a) above, famed economist Nicholas Stern stated: “The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay” [30, 31]. The world’s average applied Carbon Price is presently $2 per tonne CO2-equivalent as compared to the $200 per tonne CO2-equivalent it should be [36]. Taking this deliberately hidden “carbon debt” into account it is estimated that the World’s total “carbon debt” is about $250 trillion and increasing at about $16 trillion annually [37]. As repeatedly warned by Nicholas Stern, the failure to consider this “externality” constitutes “The greatest market failure the world has ever seen” [30, 31]. The current capitalist  system is based on massive fraud and massive lying by omission.

A topical example: China evidently responded with anti-Australia tariffs to anti-China hostility  in 14 areas by US lackey Australia. Despite China being Australia’s biggest trading partner, US lackey Australia has joined America in its anti-China trade war and military posturing policies. China was offended by this increasing hostility from US lackey Australia and coincidentally for asserted anti-dumping reasons applied tariffs to Australian beef , barley, wine and lobsters. In actuality there is massive dumping by climate criminal Australia through non-application of a Carbon Price. Australia has an inescapable  Carbon Debt of $5 trillion that is increasing at $686 billion annually  and at $70,000 per head per year for under-30 year old Australians (USD). Thus Australia’s annual GDP of $1,393 billion should be inflated to $1,393 billion + $686 billion Carbon Debt  = $ 2,079 billion.  The ratio of Carbon Debt/GDP = $686 billion/  $1,393 billion = 0.49 i.e. for every $1.0 billion of goods and services generated by Australia each year (or exported to China each year), there is a deliberately hidden but inescapable  subsidy of about $0.5 billion to be paid by future generations [38].

(g) Adam Smith’s 3 Laws of Economics, Polya’s 3 Laws of Economics mirroring the 3 Laws of Thermodynamics and massive capitalist fraud. In science it is crucial to describe  things numerically with appropriate units. Thus the unit of energy is the joule (J or newton.metre). It is equal to the amount of work done when a force of one newton displaces a mass through a distance of one metre in the direction of that force. To quantitate  wealth we presently express it in term of US dollars (US$) but interestingly  physics-trained Brian Ellis suggested measuring wealth in units of energy (pages 25-26 [1]). This makes sense because wealth ultimately derives from work and expenditure of energy. The 3 Laws of Thermodynamics (fundamental to Chemistry,  Physics and the Industrial Revolution)  state that (1) the total energy of closed system is constant, (2) the entropy (chaos, disorder, lack of information content) strives to a maximum (e.g. an ink drop added to a glass of water eventually becomes evenly dispersed), and (3) all intra-molecular motion ceases at absolute zero Kelvin (-273.15 degrees Centigrade). Polya’s  corresponding  3 Laws of Economics are (1) Profit = Price – Cost of Production (COP), (2) deception about COP increases to a maximum possible, and (3) no Profit, Price or COP on a dead planet [39].

Adam Smith’s 3 Laws of Economics  are foundational for neoliberal economics and are the self-evident (1) law of self-interest, (2) law of competition, and (3) law of supply and demand, with these laws applying to honest transactions  in the market. However this capitalist system is based on a huge lie and massive agreed deceit  by ignoring the externality of a damage related Carbon Price and hence massive Carbon Debt as exampled in (f) above.  Polya’s Second Law of Economics (“deception about Cost of Production  increases to a maximum possible”) simply describes this massive fraud that hugely impacts the young through Carbon Debt-related intergenerational injustice and  intergenerational inequity that is remorselessly ignored by Mainstream media and politicians. Science has zero tolerance for lying but science-based economic modelling is betrayed by this lying by omission. Australia has a new National Anti-Corruption  Commission (NACC) and I sent 5 detailed and documented Submissions to the NACC of which all but 1 were rejected [40-45], including a Submission on massive Carbon Debt fraud in Australia [43] (the one surviving Submission is about the Australian Labor Government lying for Jewish Israeli-run Apartheid Israel) [41].

Final comments and conclusions.

“On Civilizing Capitalism” by  Professor Brian Ellis is an important, science-informed  and humane analysis of collective human morality that should be in every school, local, state, university, institutional, and national library.  Brian Ellis has systematically and cogently argued for  a science-informed economic system that, crucially, addresses present circumstances, and argues for a democratic,  market-determined, competition-based, private  property-based and social humanism-based  capitalist system (put simply, the Nordic-style welfare state) that  seeks to sustainably maximize flourishing human happiness (eudaimonia, the highest human good), opportunity and dignity for everybody through culturally cognizant, and evolving  international and intra-national social contracts. Great, but our circumstances have changed for the worse in the 21st century. 

We are now in dire times and, as Brian Ellis argues, our systems need to adapt to changed circumstances. The world is existentially threatened by man-made climate change, the ideal Paris Agreement target of no more than plus 1.5C has effectively already been reached, and a catastrophic plus 2C will be exceeded before 2050 – yet atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels are at record highs and increasing at record rates. In the absence of requisite urgent action it is predicted that 10 billion people will die this century in a worsening Climate Genocide en route to a sustainable human population in 2100 of only 1 billion. Capitalism has brought Humanity to this precipice. “Nice Capitalism” is   not enough, and the new horrendous circumstances demand intelligently and humanely applied Socialism – in  the presently worsening and inescapable Climate Crisis, billions will perish unless we properly and sustainably share declining life-sustaining resources. There is no Planet B.


[1]. Brian Ellis, “On Civilizing Capitalism”, Palgrave Macmillan, 2023.

[2]. Brian Ellis, “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics”,  Routledge , UK , 2012.

[3]. Gideon Polya, “Book Review: “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” By Brian Ellis –  Last Chance To Save Planet?”, Countercurrents,  19 August, 2012: .

[4]. Brian Ellis, “Rationalism. A critique of pure theory”, Australian Scholarly, Melbourne, 2017.

[5]. Gideon Polya, “Review: “Rationalism” by Brian Ellis, Countercurrents, 14 August 2017: .

[6]. Brian Ellis,   “The New Enlightenment. On Steven Pinker & beyond”,  Australian Scholarly Publishing , Melbourne, 2019.

[7]. Gideon Polya, “Review: “The New Enlightenment” by Brian Ellis –  World Government & Social Humanism To Save Humanity”, Countercurrents, 7 October 2019: .

[8]. Thomas Piketty, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” ( Harvard University Press, 2014).

[9]. Gideon Polya, “Key Book Review: “Capital In The Twenty-First Century” By Thomas Piketty”, Countercurrents, 01 July, 2014: .

[10]. Thomas Piketty, ”Brahmin Left versus the Merchant Right: rising inequality & the changing  structure of political conflict  (evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017)”, Working Paper Series No. 2018/ 7: .

[11]. Gideon Polya, “Piketty Analysis Of Trumpism – Inequality & Populist Nativists Versus High Education Globalists”, Countercurrents, 30 October 2019: .

[12]. Thomas Piketty, “Time for Socialism”, Yale University Press, 2021.

[13]. Gideon Polya, “Review: “Time For Socialism” By Thomas Piketty – Climate Action & Sharing Limited Resources”, Countercurrents, 13 May 2022: .

[14]. Gideon Polya, “4 % Annual Global Wealth Tax To Stop The 17 Million Deaths Annually”, Countercurrents, 27 June, 2014: .

[15]. Oxfam, “Survival of the richest. How we must tax the super-rich now to fight inequality”, January 2023:;jsessionid=7E2BBEB7ABE2D60A1CA3BBE4CCEB5887?sequence=7 .

[16]. Oxfam, “Ten richest men double their fortunes in pandemic while incomes of 99 percent of humanity fall”, 17 January 2022:

[17].Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”, 2nd edition, Korsgaard Publishing, 2020.

[18]. Yanis Varoufakis (“Technofeudalism. What killed capitalism”, Bodley Head, 2023.

[19]. Michael Slezak, “Gillian Triggs: Australian government ‘ideologically opposed to human rights’”,  Guardian, 26 July 2017:

[20]. Gideon Polya, “How much negative carbon emissions, negative population growth & negative economic growth is needed to save Planet?”, Countercurrents, 28 November 2018: .

[21]. – Return Atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm CO2:—return-atmosphere-co2-to-300-ppm.

[22]. Stephen Hawking, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions”, John Murray, UK, 2018..

[23]. “Nuclear weapons ban, end poverty & reverse climate change”:  .

[24]. “Climate Genocide”: .

[25]. Gideon Polya, “Climate Crisis, Climate Genocide & Solutions”, Korsgaard Publishing, 2020.   

[26]. Gideon Polya, “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History. Colonial rapacity, holocaust denial and the crisis in biological sustainability”, 3rd edition,  Korsgaard Publishing, 2022.     

[27]. Gideon Polya, “US-imposed, Post-9/11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide”, Korsgaard Publishing, 2020.   

[28]. Gideon Polya in Soren Korsgaard, editor, “The Most Dangerous Book Ever Published – Deadly Deception Exposed!”, Korsgaard Publishing, 2020.   

[29]. Gideon Polya, “Pope Francis Demands “Fully Borne” Cost of Pollution (Carbon Price) To Prevent “Millions Of Premature Deaths”,  Countercurrents, 29 July, 2015: .

[30]. Alison Benjamin, “Stern: climate change a “market failure”’”, Guardian, 29 November 2007: .

[31]. David Rotman, “Nicholas Stern“, MIT Technology Review, 21 June 2011: .

[32]. Irene Banos Ruiz , “China’s new love affair with dogs – as pets, not food – presents environmental  problems”, DW, 21 June 2016: .

[33]. Gideon Polya, “Climate Genocide, 1.5C Exceedance, Gaza Genocide & Global Inaction: West Censorship & Boiling Frog”, Countercurrents, 28 March 2024: .

[34]. Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, “Day 160 The Israeli Genocide in the Gaza Strip 7 October -14 March 2024”, X, 14 March 2024:  :  .

[35]. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media”, Pantheon, 1988.

[36]. Gideon Polya, “Australia Rejects  IMF Carbon Tax & Preventing  4 Million  Pollution Deaths By 2030”, Countercurrents, 15 October 2019: .

[37]. Gideon Polya, “Inescapable $200-250 Trillion Global Carbon Debt Increasing By $16 Trillion Annually”, Countercurrents, 27 April 2019: .

[38].  Gideon Polya, “Carbon Debt & Dumping – Climate Criminal Australia Hugely Subsidizes Meat, Grain & Wine Exports To China”, Countercurrents, 31 August 2020: .

[39].  Gideon Polya, “Polya’s 3 Laws of Economics expose deadly, dishonest  and terminal neoliberal capitalism”, Countercurrents,  17 October, 2015: .

[40]. Gideon Polya, “Australian National Anti-Corruption Commission Rejects Submissions Re Huge Australian War Crimes and Carbon Debt”, Countercurrents, 2 October 2023: .

[41]. Gideon Polya, “Submission To National Anti-Corruption Commission: Australian Labor Government’s Lying For Apartheid Israel”, Countercurrents, 22 July 2023: .

[42].Gideon Polya, “Submission To Australian National Anti-Corruption Commission Over Huge But Ignored Australian War Crimes”, Countercurrents, 2 August 2023:

[43]. Gideon Polya, “Submission To Australian National  Anti-Corruption Commission: Corporations & Governments Ignore  Huge Carbon Debt”, Countercurrents, 19 August 2023: .

[44]. Gideon Polya, “Submission To Australian National Anti-Corruption Commission: Huge & Fraudulent University Fees Exposed”, Countercurrents, 2 September 2023:  .

[45]. Gideon Polya, “Submission To Australian National Anti-Corruption Commission, NACC: Mainstream Media Lying”, Countercurrents, 21 September 2023: .

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia over 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, notably a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds” (2003). He has also published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (2007, 2021), “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (1998, 2008, 2022), “US-imposed Post-9-11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide” (2020), and “Climate Crisis, Climate Genocide & Solutions” (2020), and contributed to Soren Korsgaard (editor) “The Most Dangerous Book Ever Published – Dangerous Deception Exposed!” (2020). For images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see:  .

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