We hold this truth to be self-evident, that we cannot grow the material economy indefinitely on a finite planet.* Such growth however, is exactly what is needed to keep the economic system from falling apart, as many studies have shown.**
What about the “service economy”? Could it be the solution to grow an economy indefinitely? Of course not: people have a finite and very limited amount of time, and the efficiency people can reach depends on factors such as their education, or intelligence, things that are certainly not candidates for infinite growth. Tim Jackson has shown this more precisely in his 2010 book “prosperity without growth” (Here is a good summary of the book on the shift project).
So, this blog post once again wants to remind the reader that we’re doomed? Perhaps we can make some useful predictions about what would happen if capitalism remains in place. Remember, in terms of its destructiveness, we are not by far experiencing enough to cause all-out action. There won’t be a revolution in today’s comfort society, because people are afraid of blood. One of the tragedies of the demise of humanity is that real action can only come too late. Visionaries who have incorporated this cynical standpoint might want to look into saving species DNA and seeds during a long “nuclear winter”, to emerge after capitalism has played out and destroyed itself and most of the biosphere with it.
Wow. That’s dark.
Another prediction I could think of, is that after the use of all available “resources” that are economically viable to extract (after the planet has been raped everywhere where they expect profit), capitalism would have to turn to further the exploitation of the workers. They had been protected by the fact that capitalism still had other ways to expand.
Here’s how. If you don’t work 80 hours a week, you’ll be fired and on the street. We have already out competed the company that was going to offer you a better deal.
But there is one more inevitable development in the endgame of capitalism, which we can already observe (Exercise to the Reader: find some examples): Consumption becomes mandatory. Corporations (remember they are essentially capital-growing mechanisms, without a soul or link to reality) force the enactment of laws that makes using their products and services mandatory (threatening to “move overseas”), they manipulate the consumer through the privately owned media emporium. That would be the completion of capitalism: When everything and everyone is a direct slave of the capital flow, reduced to replaceable substrate in its process of optimizing capital gains.
Yes, you read this right. In the future final stage of capitalism, you will be arrested for not eating at McDonald’s (or the equivalent, whichever generates the most profit). This might seem ridiculous, but ask an 19 century peasant about anything we experience now and he’ll find it ridiculous.
Who knows the name of the Greek mythological monster to which we are likening capitalism? And who has a beautiful comment on this sketchy idea?
* That is why many futurists advocate colonizing Mars, rather than giving up capitalism. Indeed, this is one of the logical escapes from this contradiction, the other being to increase “efficiency” so that we can asymptotically keep growing towards a world of ultimate fulfillment (read: the ultimate realization of the capitalist dogma of indefinite growth)
** It is generally assumed that the “system” needs to grow 3% per year in order not to collapse.
See eg. David Harvey