Published online 25 September 2015.
You know, postcapitalism — the coming period of existence after the capitalist system has run its course, after Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” has outstripped Sanders’ current promises, and brought us to a world in which we can actually do something about our situation without dragging around the profits system like a giant millstone?
Throughout history, people did things because “society” (which usually meant the elites or other gatekeepers) demanded it. Capitalism didn’t change this pattern. The end of capitalism will be another chance, taken or not, to bring into being a society in which people do things for the actual reasons they needed to be done. So, with postcapitalism:
1) Medical law will be about health, not profit. Remember Martin Shkreli? The most alarming thing to consider about his guy is that he’s just a symptom of patent law. Presumably medicines are created to save lives — and after capitalism is finished, maybe they can do that. On a larger scale, of course, the bias of medical law toward profit shows up as the ACA — a bill which offers a few benefits to a few people, lowering the uninsured rate about 40% while at the same time insurance remains a gamble. The law was of course written to avoid the bad outcome predicted in John Geyman’s 2009 book Do Not Resuscitate — a book which predicted that the insurance
gatekeepers industry was pricing health care out of affordability and that the whole system would at some point suffer a crash.
The ACA was, of course, the Band-Aid which postponed that outcome. Postcapitalist health care will, of course, be about healing, not about making money. Single-payer, as promised by candidate Sanders, will go a long way toward that end — but even with single-payer (such as we can see with recent “reform” to Medicare) there will be profit-seeking vultures looking to carve money out of the system at the expense of the general health.
2) Food will be about feeding hungry people. Today, as Tony Weis points out in The Ecological Hoofprint, food is about growing a lot of grain so “farmers” can feed it to a lot of tortured animals who are crowded in tiny spaces and, eventually, slaughtered to produce food. Both society and nature foot the bill for this monstrosity, a fundamental part of a system which produces enough food to feed 12 billion people while nearly half the human race is either overfed or undernourished.
Oh, sure, there are still those things which we used to call farms — but for the most part they’re marginalized, being either subsistence plots in rural backwaters or boutique farms in hipster communities. Maybe after capitalism is finished we can all live on one, and (thanks to the evolving science of agroecology) live rather well.
3) We will actually be able to do something about climate change. In the promo for last year’s landmark volume This Changes Everything, author Naomi Klein had something important to say about why the capitalist system gets in the way of efforts to “save the climate”:
Elsewhere, Klein takes on Richard Branson for failing to live up to his promise to set aside $3bn to fight climate change. “So much hope was put in this parade of billionaires to try and reconcile capitalism with climate,” she says. “When Branson entered the climate game, he posited it specifically as an alternative to regulation. He said ‘the governments aren’t going to do this, we’re going to do this. Go to the UN climate summit in a couple of weeks and it’s all going to be the new green economy and the head of Bank of America sitting down with the president of Mexico – and we are all going to do it together.’” She remains irritated. “That is a dangerous idea at this stage of history. We now have two decades to measure that model. We are not talking about a theory here, we are talking about a track record. I think it’s fair to say: ‘OK, we tried it your way and we don’t have another decade to waste.”
So rich folks are going to pretend to save the climate as long as we let them, or as long as their concurrent efforts to sew up the world economy for big capitalists through “trade agreements” will let them. The track record is that they’ve accomplished next to nothing outside of their own megalomaniacal lust for profits. What’s needed is a global agreement to keep the grease in the ground while promoting solar and wind power for human need (as opposed to capitalist greed). The regime of value, dominated by interlocking directorates and the vast guarantees of value offered to oil companies for their reserves, will not let this happen. Bill McKibben:
If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets.
An economy based on need, rather than greed, doesn’t worry about sick jokes like “$20 trillion in assets.” It’s time, as Kim Stanley Robinson pointed out, to end the multigenerational Ponzi scheme.
4) Education would no longer be about making money. The secret is out about this one: nobody really goes to college anymore to know anything — what’s important is getting a credential so you can get a higher-paying job. David F. Labaree has made a career out of discussing this: so, for instance, you can read “How To Succeed In School Without Really Learning,” about the history of the memorize, regurgitate, and forget routine, and you can also read “Someone Has To Fail,” about how education in America has been the consequence of the public demand for credentials.
What has happened on a larger scale, of course, is that we live in a society in which nobody really cares to know anything unless it makes them some money. The social consequences of such a reality are of course, a politically-disengaged and socially-alienated world. The economics of such a society are rather simple — there are only so many good jobs, yet the colleges can generate endless numbers of credentials. The market value of each credential, then, is bound to decline, while at the same time aggregate national student loan debt now exceeds $1.2 trillion. College by such a standard has become pointless. Attend, or don’t attend; you won’t learn anything meaningful either way.
Ending capitalism will allow school to, once again, be primarily about knowledge rather than knowledge being something in the mix of school priorities. This is important because in the search for ways to “save the climate” (Naomi Klein’s term), to change the food system, and to heal the sick, we’ll need all the knowledge we can get.
As we can see with Bernie Sanders’ Presidential campaign, a “political revolution” must start with:
re-establishing the principle that the working class should get something from government outside of the police state, the military, the “free market,” and the value of money.
Must we see the video again? Okay.