Is capitalism the best long-term economic model? [Please read details].
First, do not go balistic on me. I am not entertaining dreams of Soviet style communism here. I own a small business and am hard at work as a capitalist trying to join those at the top. I’ve made a few missteps along the way. I’ve had two promising careers in a row yanked out from under my feet by sea changes in what’s hot and what’s not in the US economy, and nearly went under in Bush’s Great Recession. I am still digging out of the debt that disaster left me. But missing those boats is on me alone, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
What I am wondering is how we reconcile the drive for eternal, ever accelerating growth that laissez-faire capitalism inevitably leads to with the realities of a finite planet with exploding population, limited resources, and an environment increasingly threatened by human activity.
Let me first establish those three related threats to the future of mankind.
1—When I was born during WWII, there were roughly 2.3 billion people on Earth. Today there are 7 billion. Baring plague or nuclear holocaust, there will be 8 billion in 2025. So far, increasing technology has let us achieve this growth without Malthusian meltdown, but can that work forever? Unless we are able to soon colonize space, Malthus may prove to have been prescient in predictions of a dire outcome even though he was not accurate in the timing of it.
2—It is obvious that the Earth contains a finite supply of natural resources, and that some of them which are currently critical to sustaining population levels and standards of living are non-renewable and will run out. To make matters worse, 1.3 billion humans live with constant hunger and poverty on an average income of $1.25 per day. A full 88% of the world’s population currently lives in third-world conditions. These people all yearn to join their more fortunate brothers in the first world. As they do that, pressure on resources will escalate exponentially.
Again, technology could come to the rescue to some degree. But there are limits technology probably can’t reach beyond. Technology may provide something like cold fusion or some yet unseen source of unlimited, clean, renewable energy. But there are finite amounts of the metals, precious metals and minerals needed to keep building. We will hit an upper limit, even if we manage to maintain the environment in suitable fashion to let us build till we reach it.
3—That brings us to the third leg of the capitalist stool, the environment. The science is clear. Global warming is happening, it is being at least partially driven by human activity, and it will continue to get worse on an upward sloping asymptotic curve till it renders the planet unfit for human life and prehaps all advanced life forms here today. We discussed that here. Feel free to refer to that thread and its references if you doubt this fact. As the 88% of the Earth’s population now in third world conditions joins the first world, pressure on resources and the environment will only increase. Currently, the 12% that live in the first world use 85% of the world supply of fresh water.
Unless restraints are placed on capitalism, the drive for ever greater profits and yields for investors will “always inherently drive it to increase the threats”: http://www.storyofstuff.org/movies-all/story-of-stuff/ of overpopulation (more consumers), resource depletion and environmental destruction.
Finally, our technology gives, but it also takes away. The fossil fuel industry, now approaching $40 trillion per year, is a perfect example. Thanks to it, we have built machines and transportation systems that let us produce more than enough food for 7 billion humans. Hunger and starvation currently occur because of failures and deliberate inequity in food distribution, not because of shortages in productivity. But that same fossil-fuel technology is behind global warming, oil spills, landfills and oceans filling with plastics that have a half life of multiple millennia, and pollution on a massive scale.
I also see a coming threat from automating and robotics. Under the capitalist model, how do we support 7 billion people when robots take over virtually all of the work? We aren’t going to need 7 billion robot supervisors because computers will handle that task.
Are we well advised to push the idea of laissez-faire capitalism for the whole world, or should we be busy developing a superior model that considers the tripple threats to the future inherent in the capitalist model?