'The Great Disruption' – That's What Marx said
Op-Ed Columnist – The Inflection Is Near? – NYTimes.com
Reading this column from Tom Friedman, I am reminded of something Karl Marx said. Forgive me if I don’t run to bookshelf and pull Das Kapital for a quote, you’ll just have to trust me and my former college philosophy professor, Dr. Jost at UCincy.
Marx predicted that capitalism would exist as a world system of economics until every salable commodity had been sucked dry. Friedman quotes Paul Gilding to describe the moment when “Mother Nature and Father Greed have hit the wall at once — The Great Disruption.” Disrupted is the entire American and Western way of life based on rapacious consumption. Read Friedman’s article for the particulars and statistics, but basically, 2008 was the end of a way of life. Markets are falling faster than trees in a rain forest. The end is near and it’s about time.
Marx made that prediction around 150 years ago in his theory of Historical Materialism. HM not only correctly modeled societal organization in terms of economic systems, the theory can be used as a tool to critique capitalism and see where it is headed. This is one of the those moments when I wish I had Marx’s work handy, to let his words affect you like they did me, because I remember being both shocked that the system I’d been taught to believe in was both short-sighted and inheritantly greedy, and also doomed to extinction. The planet has a limit to what it will provide ecologically, and that limit is now reached. Marx said when that happened, world societies would shift to socialism.
I have blogged previously about the different between economic socialism and political communism, which is like comparing the hen that laid the egg with the omelette that the egg is made into–socialism was meant to be a transition from capitalism to communism. America started down that path in the 1930s with the enshrinement of unions, formation of the social welfare state and expansion of worker rights and protections. As Friedman notes, the consumer economy was created in response to the last time we found ourselves with a dead market system, resuscitated by fusing markets with social protections. The problem was mitigated but not solved, and the great purveyors of Lockian economic philosophy, the laissez-faire purists who demand no government interference with their money making, gritted their teeth and chopped away for 50 years. Then they got a champion in Ronald Reagan to begin completely undoing any hint of socialism, almost finished with Bush II. Why do you think they are crying so loudly now about it? They know what’s coming.
We can preserve a modern way of life and also stop buying so much junk if we consider the next step of our evolution to value the very value we create over growth for its own sake. There’s no place left to grow. The push of the 90s for open international markets opened the last refuges of ecological value to plundering. Every last bit was withdrawn and transferred to a Manhattan bank account as we maxed out our credit cards, and now our treasury. Value is our new saving creed, the new paradigm for societal organization.
The growth we’ve enjoyed in the West over the few decades created a lot less than value than it appeared, especially the trillions of dollars of junk paper (as in financial derivatives) that has collapsed our system. We have to figure out a way of putting back in as much as we take out to sustain our lives, then we can figure out how to start paying off the bills of the past. Just do me a favor and the next time some talking news head tells you what to think by how Wall St. reacts to this or that, throw your shoe at the television. Or better yet, turn it off.