It is time to start planning what happens after capitalism. I know that probably sounds like something a fifteen year old with only a vague grasp of politics might say but, honestly, it’s time. There’s a lot going on in the world and all of it points to an end to market growth and without market growth a capitalist system can’t continue. We can’t invest power in wealth, we can’t carry on pretending that it’ll all balance out in the end; from now on global GDP is going to be close to stagnant forever.
Do I still sound like a fifteen year old? Probably. But there are good, sane reasons to think that capitalism is breathing its last right now. It seems indomitable only because it has to, because part of its power is in seeming insurmountable and sensible, but I intend to put before you a short, hopefully not boring, thesis on why precisely it is ending.
1: There is no new industry to find.
What’s left? The internet should have been, by the logic of capitalism, a huge boost to global markets and, for a while, it was. I’m not talking about the frenzy that led to the dotcom crash of the 90’s, that was an anomaly (of the sort that ruined lives, the kind capitalism is good at producing), I’m talking about the build up to right now. Amazon, one of the largest internet companies, regularly posts almost zero profit. The 90’s and early 2000’s were an absolute orgy of profit for almost everyone as the world grew closer together as a result of the growth of the internet and cheap mobile telephones but people have those now, there’s nothing left.
Of course, now that there’s nothing left, there are derivatives, a cunning but ultimately ridiculous way to trade anything whatsoever. Derivatives, though, are a colossal gamble.
Well there’s renewable energy, which could be huge, but the forces arrayed against it are vast and it won’t be massively profitable. It’ll be good for the planet, of course, but when has capitalism ever cared about that?
2: The workforce is tapped out.
The middle of the century, after World War 2, saw a huge growth in productivity around the world. At first it was due to the introduction of women to the workplace, then the end of empire, then the emergence of trading blocs, the collapse of the soviet union… there are no untapped reserves of humanity left to fling into the maw of the beast. We’re all workers now.
Growth and productivity seem to be increasing but that’s happening at the cost of longer hours and an ever more distant retirement age. What population is left for capitalism to gobble up? The women of Saudi Arabia? The population of North Korea? They would be better off, undoubtedly, but they would be pitiful drops in the ocean when talking about global capitalism. There is simply nobody left to turn to, no mass of humanity left to take up the mantle of profit.
Is there anyone left who believes in capitalism as an ideology? Aside from the very wealthy few, I mean? Most people don’t think about it, and they gravitate towards the status quo because capitalism has spent the last few centuries projecting an image of stability and power that seemed unstoppable. Political parties are beginning to shift leftwards across the world, not just in Europe, it is slow but it is happening. The right simply cannot build up passion in its ideology outside of the sort of blood-and-soil nationalism most right thinking people reject utterly.
Endemic in India, Russia and China and steadily growing; corruption is everywhere. The wealthiest are riding roughshod over law because there is absolutely no consequence for it and in a global system the corruption is global. The oligarchs of Russia have their tendrils in London, the monarchs of Saudi Arabia own around 3% of the United States of America’s economy, China owns the world and its political class gets rocked with scandal much more often than is healthy. This is fertile breeding ground for revolution, aside from being simply immoral.
5: China is boned.
Boooooooned. Sorry but it’s true, we’ve all been worrying about Greece when a full third of the world is about to go belly up. We’re bloody doomed.
6: This is how Empires end.
That is to say; Empires of ideology. Alexander built an empire around his own cult of personality, and it could never survive his death. The Romans built an Empire on an ideology of national superiority, when that proved corrupt and impossible to maintain it withered and became an empire of faith. The Empire of faith dwindled with corruption, the faith was used to build an empire of feudal rule based on subservience rather than national borders, almost an acceptance of corruption in itself. Capitalism, to its credit, freed humanity from the shackles of Lords and Kings and built an empire based on trade. But trade is ephemeral, exchange of goods cannot be a philosophy. Corruption grows and now around fifty people own the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of all of humanity. The idea of trickle-down economics is laughably hollow, an unfulfilled promise preached only by a few of the ultra rich so out of touch with the real world that they may well still believe it.
In London, on sale, to buy, is a vacuum cleaner plated in gold. It has diamonds embedded in the handle. It is, of course, ridiculous. There is, however, a market for them. There are people who have money beyond need or reason who will buy this device despite the fact that they themselves will never use it. They have maids, who are paid a pitiful shred of the worth of their work who will come in to their homes and grasp the handle and feel the diamonds pressing against their palm. The wealthy owner will likely never see it after they have bought it, and food bank use is still growing.
The GDP of the world will not grow, now. Now wealth is finite. It may fluctuate, it may dip and it may bubble up, but by and large it will be stagnant. Now is the time capitalism eats itself, that the very wealthy will have everything and the poor will have literally nothing. There has never been greater inequality in the world and the world is going to become a harder place in which to survive.
The stage is set for revolution but it need not be bloody. Violence can be avoided if the owners of all simply lay down their arms and accept that more money than anyone could spend in ten lifetimes need not be owned by a single person. They won’t though. They just won’t. They’ve been brought up in a culture of capitalism and that culture has taught them that ownership is everything and losing a thing is a blow to themselves. They talk casually about how much they are ‘worth,’ as if human life is measured in lucre.
I’m not sure what the future holds but I am slowly becoming convinced that there is a great deal of violence brewing. It will make the summer riots of 2011 look like a stroll in a park. I am worried about it, we’re all going to be poor and we’re all going to be angry.
This piece edited to correct the date of the summer riots, thanks to @RooftopJemble via Twitter.