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July 10, 2020

Time for a rethink

Opinion

July 10, 2020

I was a canary in the economic coal mine. It was a normal workday. I woke up and started my daily routine. Brush, shave, shower, dress… Except that morning’s routine stopped when I found myself face down in the shower.

Scared and confused, I called out to my wife. She helped me up and got me to a doctor, who found me to be in good health. I spent the rest of the day resting, while feeling relieved by the diagnosis.

The next morning I was a bit apprehensive about the shower. The fear was warranted. I woke up on the floor again, more confused than the day before and terrified. My doctor suggested that I ‘put my affairs in order.’

That was ten years ago. The driving force was stress that stemmed from financial challenges. When outflows exceed inflows, the well eventually runs dry. Our remaining resources were circling the drain. Pride and an unjust economic system had us in a trap. I eventually broke.

My story isn’t unique. Millions of people live like this. Our porous safety net leaves us to fend for ourselves. Our myths tell us that we’ve failed in a system that’s built for success.

We live our lives shackled to the ideas of dead economists. It’s a natural occurrence. It takes time, effort, and resources to galvanize human systems. New ideas take hold, become dominant, and ossify. Those who benefit try to maintain their place. But complex systems aren’t static. The longer and harder the status quo is maintained, the greater the system contorts. Eventually, it breaks and reforms. The question is how.

The current flavor of ‘no holds barred’ capitalism sits at this precipice. For years, it has extracted everything within its reach. It has exploited our natural resources and damaged our ecosystems. It has claimed our time and effort, and even our hopes and dreams. All these things have been treated as resources to be mined for a system that’s systematically designed to benefit the few.

The main idea underpinning the current version of capitalism is blindingly simple: you only have to remember one thing – that your job is to maximize profits. And you only have to accept one lie – that in doing so, you benefit the collective. That might be tough to swallow, but there’s a good trick involved: buying in uncritically allows you to believe that your self-interest is benevolent. That so many people are willing to do so is captured by Upton Sinclair’s famous quip, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The result is an absurdist cargo cult in which the haves take ever more while telling themselves that manna is surely falling from heaven upon the masses. Growth remains the answer even in an era of environmental breakdown. But it’s a brittle system that’s collapsing in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

Excerpted from: 'Pandemic Capitalism'.

Commondreams.org