Capitalism is ecologically unsustainable

From the Ecosocialist manifesto

The capitalist world system is historically bankrupt. It has become an empire unable to adapt, whose very gigantism exposes its underlying weakness. It is, in the language of ecology, profoundly unsustainable, and must be changed fundamentally, nay, replaced, if there is to be a future worth living.

Capitalism, by its nature, isn’t concerned with sustainability, but rather with maximizing short-term profit. To stop global warming, long-term goals and objectives are needed. But implementing them means cutting into short-term profits. Which is one reason why capitalism is ill-suited to take action against global warming and a new system based on socialist principles is.


  1. There’s just one problem: capitalism tends to reflect human nature, both good and bad. Any system that goes against that nature has an uphill battle ahead of it.

  2. And I don’t entirely buy the idea that capitalism maximizes only short-term profit. That’s an accurate description of the problem of business here in the US, but is not true, say, of the Chinese capitalist or the Japanese capitalists, who have other social motivations as well.

    One thing that capitalism does EXTREMELY well–and probably better than centralized planning does–is respond to changes in prices. If you think buildings in the US are inefficient now, you should have seen them in the late 1960’s. Considerably faster than federal or state governments reacted, builders and owners reacted to the energy price hike in 1973 by becoming far more energy efficient. Centrally-planned economies, which tended to set prices at a somewhat arbitrary level, were much slower in responding.

    It would be unfortunate if a dislike of the current face of capitalism led to a revolution (like there’s really going to be a revolution in a bourgeouis country like the US) that threw the baby out with the bath water. Unfettered capitalism degenerates fairly quickly into the economically powerful behaving like mobsters, and seeking economic protection for their companies. The trick, it seems to me, is to harness the benefial effects of capitalism in allocating economic resources efficiently while avoiding the economic protectionism of locking the existing wealthy into their existing positions.

    A good argument can be made that the problem is not capitalism, but a lack of competition in the current US. The feds, particularly under the Republicans, are busy handing out contracts based on political juice, not the lowest bids, and busy locking in the existing dominance of certain industries. Ultimately that’s counterproductive, but it comes at considerable cost to the American body politic and consumer. Capitalist by and large hate their system because competition is difficult and it’s hard to stay on top. Much easier to do it with state intervention to prop you up.

    Indeed, one of the ironies is that America right now is a lot more socialistic in its economic practices than I’d like it to be. Instead of putting government resources into improving human capital and supporting a livable environment, we’re devoting huge resources to supporting inefficient corporations. That’s not capitalism, leastwise not in MY book. Looks a lot more like a mixed system tending toward socialism. Gad, the eco-socialist on the side of Dubya??????

  3. Capitalism, by its nature, isn’t concerned with sustainability, but rather with maximizing short-term profit.

    I definitely agree with Joe that this is a something that is not intrinsic to capitalism. Profit, yes, clearly, just not necessarily short-term. Joe mentions for example Japan, but he attributes this to “other social motivations.” I don’t know what he means by that. It is true that differences in stock markets, financial markets, and just tradition can produce different strategies towards profit, just as different capitalists might adopt different strategies toward unions and workers – some attempting to confront them head on, others attempting to buy “labor peace” by offering small concessions now to avoid larger concessions later. This doesn’t mean they’re both not after the same thing – maximizing long-term profit.

    The most famous “investor” in the United States, Warren Buffett, is well-known for investing for the long-term. That doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in making money as much as those investing for the short term, or that he has some noble motives. It might only mean he’s smarter than the rest.

    It’s well-known that most major American newspapers, when founded, lost money for years. They continued, and eventually prospered, because the owners viewed them as a long-term investment. The same is true for most high-tech companies these days, many of whom are started with no expectation whatsoever of short-term profit.

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