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Critiques of modern economics

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Though more countries than ever before are engaging in capitalism there remains a small but outspoken contingent of its critics. Our current system can be recognized for increasing overall human quality of life through market-driven technology and innovation over the past few centuries. However capitalism's premise of continuous growth has lately been called into question by economists, academics, politicians, activists, religious leaders and others who question the viability of such a model on a finite planet (hint: they're not all Communists). The need for change is found in much of the literature surrounding sustainability. Commodification, globalization, and capitalism in our cultures around the world has led to a state of degradation and decline to every major biotic system on the planet. Ironically, we depend on many of these for economic success and our very survival, so in a way we are shooting ourselves in the foot.

 

Furthermore, the definition of success in a capitalistic economy can and often does lead to exploitation. Here's how it works: One individual owns the means of producing a product (capital) and the means of hiring others to produce it. These others (workers) must work because they do not have the wealth or power to own their own means of production. After the product is sold and the profit has gone to pay bills and business expenses, there is ideally some money left over. This extra capital can be invested back into the business by buying new machinery, upgrading the work environment, or providing benefits and higher wages to workers. Alternatively, this money can go to the owner's pocket. If they are in business by themselves then only their moral code is consulted to make the decision. If they have a publicly traded company the investors' opinion matters as well. If they are not satisfied with how much extra money there is or how it is being spent they can divest from the company and it will lose value. Not surprisingly, often the extra capital does not go the worker but to to the owner or back into the business to make the owner more money. Occasionally it is even taken away from workers, disguised as efforts at 'efficiency'. Machines are purchased not to make easier or safer but to work more quickly, replacing people. others must be exploited living in a constant state of economic scarcity, trying to support their right to life through labor, while labor opportunities often don't exist or are unattainable for various reasons.

 

(CC video by Wealth Inequality in America explaining the difference in our perception of the wealth distribution in America vs the reality)

 

Alternative economic models have always existed in communities around the world and are continuing to develop and spread in spite of-and even in response to-the globalization of capitalism. These alternatives emphasize sustaining a quality of life instead of continual growth for profit. Gift economiespeer-to-peer lendingmicro-loanslocal currenciestransition towns, and other initiatives are working towards other ways to survive well with each other on this planet. Furthermore, the idea of intentional communitiescooperatives, and mindful living focused on connection, cooperation, and sharing is beginning to emerge in pockets within the US as people seek options to better fit their economic practices to their ethics, values, and morals.

(A short film with author and "degrowth activist" Charles Eisenstein on Sacred Economics):

 

The following references argue that our current socio-economic model is a factor in the the degradation of our social and natural systems. Many argue that the current economic models are not viable in the long term.

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"Where are the public spaces for young people, to learn a discourse that's not commodified? To be able to think about non-commodifiable values like trust, justice, honesty, integrity, caring for others, compassion – those things, they're just simply absent." - Henry Giroux

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