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Sun Jul 26 15:10:43 CEST 2015

Reflections on the essay by John Bellamy Foster<br>
The Great Transitions Initiative is a reflection of the growing understandi=
ng that the very way capitalism functions is at the center of the ecologica=
l crisis that befalls the earth and its inhabitants. For this reason, peopl=
e associated with the Initiative have written that they =E2=80=9C=E2=80=A6e=
nvision the advent of a new development paradigm redirecting the global tra=
jectory toward a socially equitable, culturally enriched, and ecologically =
resilient planetary civilization.=E2=80=9D But why does capitalism=E2=80=94=
which I would describe as an economic system rather than a =E2=80=9Cdevelop=
ment paradigm=E2=80=9D=E2=80=94 need replacing? What would a =E2=80=9Csocia=
lly equitable, culturally enriched, and ecologically resilient planetary ci=
vilization=E2=80=9D be like?<br>
The significance of Karl Marx for the GTI is that his work offers a compreh=
ensive analysis and understanding of capitalism=E2=80=94not only as an econ=
omic system, but also its political, social, and ecological ramifications. =
The development of his ideas and theories did not come out of the thin air.=
 Rather, they were based on an incredible amount of hard work=E2=80=94detai=
led studies of history, economics, anthropology, science, and consultation =
of government documents.<br>
As John Bellamy Foster has laid out in detail, Marx and Frederick Engels we=
re aware of the negative effects that capitalism was having on the ecosyste=
m. Their remarkable writings contain what can only be considered as advance=
d ecological concepts, very much concerned with the human interaction (meta=
bolism) with the rest of natural world, especially in relation to the growt=
h of capitalist economies in the 19th Century.<br>
Let me summarize my view of the key ideas that come directly out of the Mar=
xist tradition as they relate to our current environmental crisis:<br>
The =E2=80=9Claws of motion=E2=80=9D of capitalist economies govern the ope=
ration of the system at its most basic level and compels it to strive to at=
tain continual growth of individual firms (with competition and buyouts des=
troying some in the process, leading to larger and larger companies) and th=
e entire economy. In the process, capitalism expands geographically to beco=
me a world system=E2=80=94something that was evident from its very inceptio=
n in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There can be no such system a=
s =E2=80=9Cno-growth capitalism.=E2=80=9D For when growth falters (recessio=
ns and depressions), the system is in economic crisis, with much human suff=
ering. Also, there can be no such concept as =E2=80=9Cenough=E2=80=9D in ca=
pitalist economies, because in order to accumulate ever greater amounts of =
capital=E2=80=94the driving force of the system=E2=80=94new products are cr=
eated continually and more of all products must be sold next year than this=
 one. This drives a complex and multifaceted sales effort=E2=80=94amounting=
some ten percent of the economy=E2=80=94 to convince people that they =E2=
=80=9Cneed=E2=80=9D these products. Capitalists and their allies also work =
politically, militarily, and economically to eliminate barriers to accumula=
tion of profits=E2=80=94the unstated, but underlying, goal of deregulation =
efforts, reduced taxes on corporations and the wealthy, the multilateral tr=
ade agreements such as NAFTA, the WTO, covert actions to destabilize =E2=80=
=9Cunfriendly=E2=80=9D governments, and outright warfare.<br>
As capitalism normally operates, what economists nowadays call =E2=80=9Cext=
ernalities=E2=80=9D are created=E2=80=94negative social and ecological effe=
cts. Not needing to avoid or remedy the =E2=80=9Cexternalities=E2=80=9D (ex=
cept for a few regulations to curb some of the excesses) is key to understa=
nding why capitalism is so profitable. As Engels wrote in the 19th Century:=
 =E2=80=9CWhat cared the Spanish planters in Cuba, who burned down forests =
on the slopes of the mountains and obtained from the ashes sufficient ferti=
liser for one generation of very highly profitable coffee trees =E2=80=93 w=
hat cared they that the heavy tropical rainfall afterwards washed away the =
unprotected upper stratum of the soil, leaving behind only bare rock! In re=
lation to nature, as to society, the present mode of production is predomin=
antly concerned only about the immediate, the most tangible result...=E2=80=
=9D(1) It is capitalism=E2=80=99s inability to rationally regulate the huma=
n interaction with nature and its resources that results in environmental<b=
crises (local, regional, and global) as well as depletion of resources, thr=
eatening the lives of generations to come. This is the problem addressed in=
 Marx=E2=80=99s famous theory of the metabolic rift. As Naomi Klein notes i=
n This Changes Everything, =E2=80=9CKarl Marx=E2=80=A6recognized capitalism=
=E2=80=99s =E2=80=98irreparable rift=E2=80=99 with =E2=80=98the natural law=
s of life itself=E2=80=99=E2=80=A6[Today] the Earth=E2=80=99s capacity to a=
bsorb the filthy byproducts of global capitalism=E2=80=99s voracious metabo=
lism is maxing out.=E2=80=9D (2)<br>
Fulfilling everyone=E2=80=99s basic needs on an equitable basis so as to al=
low for the development of each person=E2=80=99s full human potential will =
require the conscious regulation of the interactions between humans and res=
ources. While this does not guarantee an ecologically sound economy, attain=
ing such a goal is inconceivable without the people who actually do the wor=
k taking into account the needs of posterity. For example, if local fisheri=
es are under the control of people in coastal villages=E2=80=94rather than =
in the hands of large commercial trawlers owned by companies trying to maxi=
mize profits=E2=80=94there is the need to fish in ways that preserve the pr=
oductivity (or better yet, reproductivity) of this important resource.<br>
The only way to consciously regulate the interaction with resources is thro=
ugh a democratic approach that takes seriously Marx=E2=80=99s contention, t=
hat Foster quotes=E2=80=94=E2=80=9CEven an entire society, a nation, or all=
 simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not owners of the ea=
rth. They are simply its possessors, it beneficiaries, and have to bequeath=
 it in an improved state to succeeding generations as boni patres familias =
[good heads of the household].=E2=80=9D<br>
Some thoughts of basic principles, practices, and operating procedures of s=
uch an economy and society have been outlined in my article, =E2=80=9CAn Ec=
ologically Sound and Socially Just Economy=E2=80=9D=E2=80=94 <a href=3D"htt=
t-economy/" rel=3D"noreferrer" target=3D"_blank">
1. Frederick Engels, =E2=80=9CThe Part Played by Labour in the Transformati=
on from Ape to Man,=E2=80=9D in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected W=
orks (New York: International Publishers, <a href=3D"tel:1975" value=3D"+66=
1975">1975</a>), vol. 25:463.<br>
2. Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2014=
), 177, 186.<br>
Fred Magdoff<br>
Tuesday, September 1, 2015<br>

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