Ecosocialism or collapse?

From an article by Richard A. Smith, his three principles for an ecosocialist economy to save us from collapse.

Ecosocialist economy of stasis. Massive cutbacks on growth and rationing in the developed world combined with strictly planned growth in the third world.

But under what mechanism could this occur? It would require either complete consensus or a very heavy-handed government indeed. Plus, the political and financial blowback from forced rationing could easily be massive and probably violent. That we need a worldwide planned approach to global warming is a given. The question is – how can this be accomplished without huge blowback,  chaos, and serious dissension?

Restructured economy of production for social need and for use. Stop manufacturing vast amounts of unneeded stuff, including much of consumer electronics, pharmaceuticals, and military arms.

While we certainly need fewer weapons on the planet, this smacks a bit of anarcho-primitivism to me, a desire to back away from technology. Some pharmaceuticals are unquestionably beneficial and posting on websites that we need fewer consumer electronics is contradictory. But then I’m an unapologetic hardcore geek. Phones are good. So is penicillin. And yes, of course way too much junk is being made.

Socialist economic democracy. Replace the profit motive with concern for the common good.

Absolutely. But how do we get there? These three proposals all assume the existence of a powerful state (or international governing body) that can mandate such changes. We don’t have that now nor is there any real possibility of there being one. In fact, things seem to be moving in the opposite direction.

As John Robb points out in Brave New War (we reviewed it on 5/5), the state is increasingly becoming “hollowed-out” and less able to deal with problems effectively, as witness the US response to Hurricane Katrina and the Kansas tornado. But mandating major restructuring on a global level to deal with global warming assumes an entity with the power to do so. That entity doesn’t exist.

If it did, it would need to operate at least largely by agreement that such changes were needed. Otherwise it’ll spend much time being a repressive enforcer, with all the counter-attacks and rebellions that would invariably spawn.

So, how do we create a planetary response to global warming? (And this discussion appliers whether you be ecosocialist or ecocapitalist.)


  1. Once again I find myself navigating between easily stated extremes that fail to ring true. Sure tech is good. But walk into any Walmart and you’ll see a variety of devices that are just not necessary, all waiting for someone to buy them as a gift for someone else. And how many TVs and stereos do I really need? Likewise penicillin is good. But even the docs say it’s overprescribed. And Viagra? Then there are the self-prescribed remedies: alcohol, cocaine, heroin, meth, etc.

    There are two scenarios under which an economic system can deal with the economic challenges global warming, neither of which is easy (and both of which may be applicable to some degree). First (as you and I now seem to agree), a global government. Certainly not easy, however where you see Robb’s observation as an obstacle, I see it in light of Toffler’s paradigm, which preceded it: the NATIONAL state is being hollowed out. This may actually pave the way for some form of global democracy.

    The second scenario is for the economy to shrink to the size of the government. The term bio-regionalism, which makes an appearance from time to time in comments here, might be an example of that.

    Now for the hard one: the existing shift from common good to personal gain indicates an erosion of values– I choose to call them spiritual values. Neither economics nor politics can fix this one. And much of what pases for religion has been similarly corrupted and cannot be relied upon as a resource. (Buddhist extremism in Sri Lanka, violent Islamism, and Holy Warriors in the Pentagon spring to mind, but the general laissez-faire only-on-worship-day religion is equally an example.)

    There is no single solution to this. No one religion, spiritual, or ethical path will fit all people within a single society, much less all people on the planet. It may onclude intentional communities for some, but certainly that cannot be expected of all. Yet the concept of linking ecology and the common good with daily practice is the only possible way I see to get the majority of individuals on board. And all entities, from governments to corporations to churches, are made up of individuals.

  2. Yes, the change has to come at all levels, from the bottom up as well as top down.

    Some of the changes will have to be mandated. That requires will genuine leadership, i.e. people being convinced on a course of action and wanting to make the changes.

  3. Ah, genuine leadership. Now there’s something that, in economic terms, is truely a scarce resource.

  4. “Replace the profit motive with concern for the common good.”?????

    Ah, yes, let’s just remake human nature. We had such a wonderful success in doing so in the 20th Century, didn’t we? Reminds me of Maoist rhetoric of changing the ways of the Chinese peasant. 40 years later, no Mao, no Maoism, and the 4,000 year old Chinese peasantries chugs along unaffected.

    How can one take such arguments seriously when one of the three premises is so wildly unrealistic?

  5. Because this time we have no alternative but to figure out a solution, one that has to work for the common good?

    Else we all sizzle.

  6. How about if we replace the right-wing notion of “human nature” with that of actual human beings? If the “profit motive” is “human nature,” then that vast majority of human beings who do not belong to the owning class must not really be human, for they do not act according to “human nature.” “Replace the profit motive with concern for the common good” really means “restrain the profit motives of the owning class.”

  7. Oh, if only that were true. In the ruling class, they call it profit motive, but it’s just a glorified term for self-interest, which sees no class boundaries.

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