3 January 2012
The millenarian prophecies of doom that have rumbled on since 2000 are coming to a head this year, with the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world receiving serious news coverage. Often these reports run alongside statistical analysis of the state of the global economy and appear to have much the same level of credibility. Both encapsulate the feeling of powerless of the modern citizen and the give the lie to the notion of ourselves as rational economic men.
Apparently it was the Slovenian social critic Slavoj Zizek who questioned why we find it easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. If we want a better economic system then we must have the courage to do this and must spread the word to our friends that 2012 is the end of one corrupt and destructive economic system, not the end of the world itself. And we must propose our alternative with confidence and grace. We are not speaking about revolution but revulsion against an economy that is destroying our mother the earth and blighting the lives of humans and other species.
There are three central aspects of capitalism which I think we can all decide to end in this year. First we have the way the system creates money and uses it to concentrate power in the hands of the few. The creation of money as debt in the private sector ensures the engorgement of the 1% at the expense of the 99% while simultaneously creating a pressure for economic growth that is causing the ecological crisis. We can share this message as well as taking steps to use our own money differently: switching our bank accounts to the Co-operative Bank or the Nationwide, making sure our mortgages are with mutual providers (the old building societies) and if we have any accumulated money investing it in local eco-projects rather than depositing it to gain interest from the corrupt system we are seeking to change.
Secondly, we can reconsider how we work and how the dominant economic system shares the rewards of work unfairly and also removes our autonomy and our self-respect in work. This is where I began as an economist, challenging the Seven Myths About Work which persuade us to give our creativity to the system that is destroying our happiness. We need to counter the lie that says that all wealth is generated in the private sector with the public sector parasitic upon it and to encourage the growth of co-operative enterprise, where work and rewards are shared fairly and the business is democratically controlled. It is perhaps no coincidence that the UN has declared 2012 the Year of Co-operation.
Finally, we need to undermine capitalism at the level of culture and ideas. My book Market, Schmarket described how capitalism operates through a system of mantras that encourage us to behave like selfish individualists. Every time we do something for nothing, or buy something that is more expensive because we value its maker, or give away something we could sell, we are undermining the hold of the mean-spirited culture of capitalism on our lives and in the world.
So, 2012 offers tremendous hope to the world and all its peoples. If we believe that the world will end then it will, but if we believe that the world will change fundamentally and positively, then this also becomes possible. It is profoundly untrue that the alternative is not clearly articulated: a green vision of economic and social life has been developed over the past 30 years and is ready to be tried. 2012 is the year when we need to make this humane, balanced and joyful expression of human possibility the path to our future.