Threats and Opportunities
“We can predict from this that post-capitalism — whose precondition is abundance — will not simply be a modified form of a complex market society.” (p 241)
But, if that truly is the precondition then I do not expect to see post-capitalism any time soon. Rather, I would suggest, as Marx and Engels do, in The Communist Manifesto, that it comes down to the property question. The dominant form of property is socialised capital. It comes down to a struggle to a) expand the size of the cooperative sector of the economy, b) to integrate the elements of that sector into a single, dynamic and powerful vehicle for economic and social change, c) to demand industrial democracy in all forms of socialised capital, d) to demand democratic control over workers’ pension funds, e) to develop new forms of democratic control and self-government alongside these examples, for example, real democratic control over communities by those who live in them. That includes control over, and participation in the policing of those communities.
But, it is also clear that because socialised capital is itself multinational capital, no higher level of society can be built on anything less than a multinational scale. The good thing about a worker-owned cooperative is that it can operate as an international organisation, directly forging workers unity across borders. That same advantage can exist for all socialised capitals operating under workers control. If we take the German and French state owned transport and utility companies that operate rail and other businesses, in Britain, for example, if they were under workers control, then obviously the workers in the French and German parent companies would insist that the workers in the British subsidiaries likewise enjoyed the same degree of industrial democracy, as with the demands of US auto workers in VW plants, demanding the same right to co-determination as those enjoyed by German workers. That illustrates why such a programme of progressive social-democracy has to be an EU wide programme and similarly a continent wide programme in other parts of the globe.
“The modern-day external shocks are clear: energy depletion, climate change, ageing populations and migration. They are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable in the long-term. They have not yet had the same impact as the Black Death — but any financial collapse could easily wreak havoc on the highly fragile urban societies we’ve created. As Katrina demonstrated in New Orleans in 2005, it does not take the bubonic plague to destroy social order and functional infrastructure in a modern city.” ( p 243)
Firstly, this is again sounding rather like that catastrophism that Kondratiev rejected. Secondly, most of it is already looking false. I’ve been listening to claims that energy was about to run out since the early 1970’s. In fact, the main time, in my life, when I recall both gas and electric supplies being inadequate was in the 1950’s, and early 60’s. We are now likely to abandon burning oil as fuel long before the reserves of it run out, just as we stopped burning wood long before the trees ran out. As someone once said, the Stone Age didn’t end as a result of us running out of stone. European governments have committed to ending the production of petrol driven cars by 2040. It will end before then. By 2020, electric cars will be cheaper to buy than petrol engined cars. The cost per mile of an electric car is just £0.03, and with battery technology improving by around 30% each year, not only are ranges increasing, but also charging times are falling rapidly. BP recently bought out a company providing fast charging technology that can be rolled out across its service stations, as petrol and diesel is phased out.
Nor does the fact that we stop burning oil as fuel mean that the oil companies reserves become worthless, any more than forests became worthless when we stopped burning wood. Oil will continue to be valuable, if not more valuable, for the production of plastics and other petrochemicals like fertiliser etc. It just won’t be burned. Similarly, coal will form an increasingly important raw material, not as fuel but for the production of new carbon based materials, be it carbon fibre, carbon nanotubes, or graphene. In the case of graphene, it is already showing how this creates a positive feedback loop. A large drain on energy, in areas that lack fresh water, is that required to power desalination plants. Graphene sheets are being used to produce membranes capable of separating out salt molecules from water, thereby requiring little or no energy.
The improvement in battery technology, and reduction in cost means that many homes, even in Britain, will be able to produce and store much of the electricity they require. Far from energy depletion, we are probably entering an era of energy surpluses, and self-sufficiency. This rapid advance in energy technology and shift away from hydrocarbons probably means that the warnings of doom over climate change will go the same way as Malthus’ prognostications over famine. Certainly, if Lomborg’s suggestion of investing heavily in these new energy technologies was taken up, that would more likely be the case.
As for ageing population this is only a problem if that implies a longer period of ill-health in old age. But, the very technological advancements that Paul has discussed make that increasingly unlikely. DNA sequencing, big data analysis, AI analysis of blood etc. along with the ability to constantly monitor body functions, via implanted chips make early diagnosis of potential conditions routine and cheap. Ultrasound technology, and the associated computer technology is now so cheap that men aged 65 get a routine ultrasound scan for aortic aneurysms. Treatment where one is found is relatively straightforward, compared with almost certain death where they rupture. And, where none are found, generally only one such scan is required. The development of smart drugs, not to mention the development of nano-machines, the production of replacement tissue from t-cells, and so on, means that cheap, effective and individually tailored health solutions will soon be marketed. And, for those that this cannot immediately help, there will be AI controlled exoskeletons, along with the assistance of cheap domestic robots.
As for migration that is a problem that social-democrats and liberals have created by their own failure to address bigotry over the last century. The numbers coming in to Europe are tiny compared to its population of 500 million. The problem has arisen because it has occurred at a time when it has allowed nationalists to use migrants as scapegoats for problems actually caused by austerity implemented by conservative politicians. A progressive social-democracy, across Europe, would easily address the question on the basis of a planned economic expansion across the continent. But, of course, the other solution is to address the cause of people becoming refugees in the first place. A progressive social-democracy would not have undertaken the war in Iraq or Libya, and would not have facilitated Saudi Arabia’s backing of jihadists in Syria, or the Saudis own murderous bombing of Yemeni civilians. The focus would have been on facilitating economic development in those areas, and support for the workers in those countries to facilitate a transition to democracy.
In Africa, the development of a number of Lion economies, and moves to establish an African equivalent of the EU, offers hope. The sustained growth of economies like Ethiopia, which has grown by more than 10% p.a. for more than the last decade, shows that the real solution lies in economic development across the globe. Seven out of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, in 2012, were in Africa.
Originally published at boffyblog.blogspot.com on September 17, 2018.