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  • Writer's pictureFred Guerin

On Capitalism, Neoliberalism, and Democratic Eco-Socialism.

There is a common misconception that capitalism without neoliberalism would be fine. But it is important to recognize that capitalism, even without the support of a politics of neoliberalism, is still a problem when it assumes that making money should be the organizing principle of human affairs.

The things that really matter to us: love, justice, belonging, wonder, friendship, family, the beauty of nature, discovery, knowledge, sacrifice, self-understanding, the experience of music and art, dignity, self-esteem, wisdom, solidarity, helping those in need, courage, truth, kindness--none of these have a price tag. Yet without them, we would lose our humanity and even our desire to continue.

The other thing is that laissez-faire capitalism, even if not supported by full-on political neoliberalism, does not naturally tend toward competition, but rather towards monopoly or oligopoly where big businesses intentionally wipe out small businesses and small farmers in order to eradicate competition. Google, Bell, Monsanto, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Dow, Dupont, Bayer, Pfizer and Amazon don't need a neoliberal political economy to do what they do. All they need is what Robert Nozick called the 'nightwatchman state'--where the government is entirely limited to providing citizens with the bare minimum: a military, policing and courts, but leaves corporations and businesses to do whatever they want.

Neoliberalism as an economic AND political system begins in earnest in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Brian Mulroney, the financialization of the economy, and the signing of trade agreements the sole purpose of which is to protect and enhance corporate rights and profits over job security, a living wage, the environment, and human health and well-being. The difference is that government does not just stand back (as in laissez-faire capitalism) but actively promotes, aids, and abets corporate capitalism (through subsidies, tax breaks, austerity, deregulation) and the privatization of everything--from material goods and services to the environment, to human beings.

There is, of course, one other alternative: social capitalism (sometimes called Rhine Capitalism) the goal of which is to regulate corporations and businesses in order to prevent monopolization and enhance fair competition. But even here the notion of workers owning the means of production, social or cooperative ownership, a more egalitarian distribution of the economy's surplus money and goods, and the idea that there are important public goods and necessities that should not be for-profit such as healthcare, environment, education, clean water, nutritious food, reasonable housing, a basic income, do not fit into the social capitalist matrix.

That pretty much leaves us with some form of democratic eco-socialism and a participatory economy that is built on proportional representation, the nationalization of banks and key industries such as mining, oil, steel, energy and transportation, the redistribution of wealth or a basic income so no one is left behind, free education, the eradication of homelessness and hunger, full healthcare, pharmacare, eye care and dental care, something like a 'green new deal', public insurance, a living wage, adequate unemployment, childcare, and retirement benefits.

Democratic eco-socialism and participatory economics have never been tried--and never will be as long as neoliberalism and capitalism continue to be considered the only possibilities. The fact is that nothing prevents us from building a different kind of world based on eco-socialist democratic principles. The problem, as Frederic Jameson once remarked, is that "it is easier to imagine an end to the world than an end to capitalism,”.

More accurately we could say today that it is easier to imagine the end of the world by way of capitalism.

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1 Comment

James Ainslie
James Ainslie
May 30, 2021

Mr. Guerin, you raise a number of good points, particularly the need for government protection of public goods like healthcare, affordable housing, and the environment, among other things. Though, I would say there is some potential to consider in terms of social capitalism, as seen here:

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