By: Craig Collins
In the first installment of this two-part article we examined the notion that any future without globalization must be an improvement. But globalization and growth only constitute capitalism’s expansionist phase, powered by abundant fossil fuels. As energy becomes scarce, boom turns to bust. But profit-hungry capitalism doesn’t die; it morphs into its zombie-like, undead phase.
Growth-less capitalism turns catabolic. The word catabolism is used in biology to refer to the condition whereby a living thing feeds on itself. Thus, catabolic capitalism is a self-cannibalizing system whose insatiable hunger for profit can only be fed by consuming the society that sustains it. As it rampages down the road to ruin, this system gorges itself on one self-inflicted disaster after another. Unless we bring it down, catabolic capitalism will leave its survivors rummaging through the toxic rubble left behind.
Capitalism is adept at exploiting human weaknesses, especially greed and fear. During the period of rapid expansion, greed provides the most powerful incentive for investors, while fear comes in a distant second. Investors are encouraged to take big risks and go into debt in the hope of scoring windfall profits. Speculative bubbles grow rapidly as people try to make it rich on the next big deal. But when boom turns to bust, fear takes the drivers seat. In these troubled times, the most profitable ventures capitalize on insecurity, desperation and scarcity.
In the era of fossil fuel abundance, catabolic capitalists worked the dim back alleys of the growth economy. But, as the productive sector atrophies and the financial sector seizes up, this parasitic sector emerges from the shadows and proliferates rapidly. It thrives off anxiety and hoarding; corruption and crime; conflict and collapse. Catabolic capitalism profits by confiscating and selling off the stranded assets of the bankrupt productive and public sectors; dodging or dismantling legalities and regulations while pocketing taxpayer subsidies; hoarding scarce resources and peddling arms to those fighting over them; and preying upon the utter desperation of people who can no longer find gainful employment elsewhere.
This looming catabolic future will transform the Green New Deals proposed by eco-optimists like Al Gore, Lester Brown and Jeremy Rifkin into ecotopian pipe dreams…unless we exorcise capitalism’s profit possession from the economy. Instead of investing society’s remaining resources into a sustainable recovery and renewal, catabolic capitalism will eat away at society like a cancerous tumor. A malignant alliance of parasitic profiteers, resource cartels and weapons merchants will infect the body politic and poison any effort to prevent them from ransacking the economy and the Earth. If society succumbs to their all-consuming thirst for profit, life will become a dismal affair for everyone but them.
However, at the risk of sounding over-optimistic, the approaching period of catabolic collapse presents some strategic opportunities to those who would like to rid the world of this system as soon as possible. The end of growth seriously erodes the legitimacy of capitalism by undermining its capacity to meet the needs of everyday life.