Sunday December 05, 2021

Road to ruin

February 16, 2021

Our stagnating global economy is running low on energy, ravaging the planet, and marinating in its own toxins. But it’s a mistake to think capitalism can’t persist without growth. Capitalism’s prime directive is profit, not growth. Of course, an expanding economic pie creates greater opportunities for profit. And, in the long run, a profit-driven system may fail without it. But those who profit from this system are not about to throw up their hands and walk off the stage of history just because boom has turned to bust. As long as we put up with an economy that exploits people and the planet for profit, big money can be made from crisis, conflict, disaster, and desperation. As we enter a period of catabolic disintegration, the most successful capitalists will become the merchants of calamity, extortion, plunder, and war.

In the bygone era of industrial expansion, catabolic capitalists lurked in the shadows of the growth economy. They were the illicit arms, drugs, and sex traffickers; the money launderers, speculators, loan sharks, debt collectors, and repo-men; the mercenaries, smugglers, pirates, poachers, and black market traders; the illegal waste dumpers and unregulated mining, fishing, and timber operations.

As the economy’s energy-starved productive sector atrophied, this corrosive catabolic sector metastasized rapidly. It profits from conflict, crime, and disaster; scarcity, hoarding, and speculation; isolation, desperation, and prejudice; fear, anger, and chaos. We can see catabolism at work in today’s fractured media landscape. Cable and Internet giants manipulate and monetize users. Their algorithms customize and sensationalize content, enticing us to keep clicking and scrolling. Curiosity draws us down rabbit holes that feed our anxieties and prejudices by marketing wild conspiracies, xenophobia, religious fanaticism, crackpot patriotism, and racial hostility. Weapons manufacturers are also well positioned to reap catabolic profits by selling expensive firepower to governments and small arms to terrorists, über patriots, white supremacists, drug gangs, criminals, and a fearful public. The catabolic contractions ahead will drive the demand for their lethal merchandise to record heights.

Capitalism’s self-inflicted catastrophes—from pandemics to climate disasters like drought, hurricanes, floods, and wildfires—are already boosting the bottom line of many corporations. The Covid-induced recession generated record profits for credit card companies like Visa as jobless workers resorted to plastic instead of wages to make ends meet. Hedge funds and private equity firms have pushed high-interest loans on desperate small businesses.

Excerpted: ‘Can We Exit This Road to Ruin?’