Sustainable Capitalism? Nice Idea, But …

The Sustainable Thesis

Al Gore and David Blood have proposed developing a sustainable capitalism. I agree completely with the underlying sentiment to create a system that does not over-exploit the planet’s resources nor ignore the people who are not included in the equation governing capitalism. Unfortunately, capitalism is not designable — it is a spontaneous, self-generating process that reacts to external forces operating on individual entrepreneurs or capitalists. It is possible to influence capitalism if you can exert external forces from outside the system. From inside the system one can only react as do other individuals in the system. And we are all inside the system.

I suspect that Gore and Blood share with many of us, the sense that capitalism appears to compete with ruthless (in human terms) strategies. They propose to design a system that is not competitively ruthless. This might be possible, but I doubt it. On the other hand a more appropriate approach might be to examine how econosystems work using a biological metaphor and see if it is possible to make a better analysis and projection of what can actually be achieved by attempting to manage what is a spontaneous self-generated system, with no predetermined end points.

Capitalism is Spontaneous, Not Designed.

In their white paper they define: “Sustainable Capitalism as a framework that seeks to maximize long-term economic value creation by reforming markets to address the real needs of all stakeholders while considering all costs.” This feels really good. However it makes a very common, but completely incorrect assumption that capitalism is something that can be designed. In fact, capitalism is a spontaneously arising phenomenon that seeks to improve the competitive efficiency and effectiveness of participating entrepreneurs and capitalists to control the production and distribution of products so that wealth can be shared amongst themselves. I have treated this in other blogs, but briefly, capitalism has no master plan and is not directed by an external goal. The people who combine their capital holdings are merely creating a more effective competitive mechanism than individual entrepreneurship. Like competition in an ecosystem (not like in an evolutionary system, by the way), survival of the fittest operates on the individual animal/capitalist owner. It does not operate on the species in an ecosystem, anymore than it operates on groups of similar corporations in an economic system (an econosystem). It specifically operates directly on people who make decisions based on their own characteristics and the economic results of their earlier decisions in an economic environment. In an ecosystem, an animal’s characteristics define the scope of choices it has, just as the characteristics of a person or persons and a business of a particular type are constrained in the choices they can make. Each plant and each animal in an ecosystems attempts to maximize its biomass production and distribution to dominate the ecosystem. A corporation in a capitalist system attempts to do precisely the same thing: control the production and distribution to dominate the market. In both cases they rely on the resource base, but do not take responsibility for maintaining the resource base — they can’t, they are too busy competing for it.

Bootstraping and Labour as an Expendable Resource

Gore and Blood acknowledge that the resource base (or at least the part they recognize as a resource base) is important and starting to be constraining: “The challenges facing the planet today are unprecedented and extraordinary; climate change, water scarcity, poverty, growing inequality of income and wealth, demographic shifts, and a global economy in a state of constant dramatic volatility and flux, to name but a few.

Capitalism is not interested in carrying the environmental costs unless it must to compete effectively: “While governments and civil society will need to be part of the solution to these challenges, ultimately it will be companies and investors that will mobilize the capital needed to overcome them.” Governments can regulate if they are outside the system, but not if they are tied into the system because they will face the same forces as the capitalists. It is like expecting someone to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. So the first challenge will be to separate the governance of the capitalist system from the system itself. Secondly, it is of critical importance to recognize that capitalism includes entrepreneurs, business owners, and capitalists only, nobody else is in the club. If you are not an entrepreneur, business owner, or capitalist, you are not inside the capitalist system. Instead you are an expendable resource, a source of energy and skills. If you can be replaced by something cheaper such as a horse, a person in a sweat shop, or a machine, it will be done.

Analyzing the Recommendations

They recommend five key actions for immediate adoption to accelerate the mainstreaming of Sustainable Capitalism by 2020. The first is to: “Identify and incorporate risks from stranded assets. By this they mean to set prices of key resources and they cite three examples: carbon, water and labour. They understand the strong market forces that encourage competitively sequestering and using the resources by corporations, but feel that what they call “fair pricing” will come about when people realize how important it is to maintain these in the long-term. They further encourage academics to identify the impact of “stranded assets” to underscore the importance of the concept. This is a wonderful concept, but it really flies in the face of reality. Capitalism is based on letting the market determine the existence and pricing of a product. Maximizing profit demands competitive actions. Defining products and setting prices to artificially create sustainability in a capitalist system simply does not work without external regulations. There are hundreds of examples in modern wild harvests, fisheries, hunting and gathering. The only managed sustainable harvests are under strict regulation and enforcement regimes. History also tells us the regulations and enforcement only come into effect once the resource base has collapsed.

Gore and Blood have a notion of this requirement because they would require that corporations be “Mandated to use integrated reporting.” Integrated reporting means accounting for all the costs and revenue associated with environmental, social, and governance activities along with their financial results. Currently there is no way to figure that out and it is of no relevance inside the capitalist system because the resources are essentially free goods that have only the costs of extraction or production associated with them. Unless there is some actual condition that affects the cost of the goods that are currently free, the corporate budget will continue to see and use them as a free good. Again it is only an external body applying the equivalent of an ecological condition that will cause the capitalist to recognize the condition as a competitive force to deal with. In nature, a force that encourages diversity and a more distributed use of the resource base is the amount of physical cover. This is similar to the effect that a tax might have. Issuing a tax demand to cover the cost of the free goods is not going to be easy. Furthermore, we do not currently have the mechanism to redistribute the recycled end product of the free good back to the environment — even if we were to collect money for it.

Why does it work in nature? It works because of two things that unfortunately absolutely no longer apply to econosystems: 1) the energy resource base is not infinitely available for all time because we now rely on fossil fuels (in ecosystems the sun is an infinitely available resource), and 2) in nature everything is completely recycled, and there is a large contingent of organisms dedicated to the job, where as in the econosystems of today, almost nothing is recycled back into the system, and there re precious few corporations dedicated to the job. With these two glaring problems, there is no possibility of a very long-term sustainability. Short-term yes, but long-term, no.

Their third, fourth, and fifth requirements: “End the default practice of issuing quarterly earnings guidance; Align compensation structures with long-term sustainable performance; and Encourage long-term investing with loyalty-driven securities” all require reducing short-term competitiveness in favour of long-term stability. Using the biological metaphor again, short-term competitiveness is a critical factor in ecological survival because it is the “today” aspect of acquiring and using resources that is important in individual survival. Exactly the same principle applies in corporate competitiveness. Some species of animals or plants that have a predictable annual need to use stored resources can spend extra energy to build reserves for a short period of time then rest during a winter or dry period. This is also true for corporations, but constraining the use of available resources for periods longer than a few years severely compromise competitiveness and effectively opens new niches for other competitors.

Survival in Changing Conditions

Before moving forward, I want to re-emphasize that the useful metaphor in this context is ecology, not evolution. I state this emphatically because free market thinkers routinely attempt to use principles of evolution in free market modelling. The time frame for evolution is a much longer than years or decades. It is in thousands of years. There is not enough time to hope that evolution will take care of any immediate problem for us. It might eventually, but many generations of people will have come and gone before it happens.

When an ecosystem begins to run short of one or more parts of its resource base (there are many reasons why this can happen), the system spontaneously adjusts by virtue of what individuals in the system do in response to the aspects of the resource base that have been reduced. For example, if individuals of a species in the system are only capable of eating grasses, and the grasslands is now shifting to an early forest environment, those grass-eating individuals will most likely not be able to shift to eating the leaves of trees. If that is so, most will die. The few remaining individuals will find limited grasses where trees fall down. In the same example, if there are individuals of a species that is not very common in the grasses, but does manage to survive by nibbling on the woody stems of low growing bushes, it may easily find itself pre-adapted to take advantage of the changed conditions by feeding on the new growth of leaf petioles of the trees. It will flourish in the new environment while the other species declines. In this case, one species is better adapted to the changing conditions than the other one. Still within the same example, there might easily be an animal that eats mainly grasses but also can eat the entire leaves of the low growing bushes. In this case, the animal is more generalized and has the ability to shift from one resource to another. In the new forested environment, this more versatile species might do even better than the one that can only eat the petioles of leaves. So in the new environment, we have the same species composition, but the common one is now rare, the petiole eater is doing better, and the species with a more generalized eating habit is doing well. There is no direct competition, it is just that one species is pre-adapted to the changes and the other is not: survival of the fittest without competition.

In an economic system, just as in a biological system, developing lots of specialized corporations for which there is no available resource or market or producing lots of babies simply results in those babies or those products being wasted. In a biological system, the mother is using resources that do not contribute to the gene pool. In the economic system, the income is being spent where there is no return on the investment. So in both cases the rare species is there because the habitat has a niche for it, a small one, but it is an available niche nonetheless. The same is true for an economy, there is no point in developing products that no one will buy. Also there is no point in spending a lot of money to attempt to predict what a far-future market will want. Both ecological and economic systems take surprising turns based on spontaneous inventions or developments that cannot easily be foreseen.

Coping strategies
What are the most likely physical and biological changes over the next 50 years? The sea will rise, people will need to move, near-shore infrastructure will be lost or protected, the planet will get warmer, water will be in short supply, weather will be more extreme, Arctic and Antarctic areas will open up, tropical diseases will spread north, the deep tropics will be very hot, the mid-latitudes will be much warmer, resource wars will increase, and a host of other changes will occur. In all of these changes there will be early markets available for early innovation, even today.

It makes good sense in situations where changes are predictable in a time frame that makes capitalistic sense (we humans do have the ability to use our brains this way, even if it is a rare event) to develop small self-supporting child corporations to tap these developing small market niches so that a high degree of pre-adaptation is in hand when it is needed. By ensuring that the appendages are self-supporting, short-term capitalistic competitiveness is not lost.

In other blogs, I have noted the determinants of richness and diversity in very large economic systems akin to biomes and called them economes. One of the factors improving richness and diversity is infrastructure. In biological systems, a complex physical environment encourages a diversity of species and a wider distribution of resources. But the most telling infrastructure is biological wherein animals and plants can interact within the enhanced physical structure that is itself living. I called this an organic matrix. Examples include Kelp beds and Rain forests where the infrastructure is the main primary producer, and coral reefs where the main infrastructure producers are coralline algae (primary producers) and a wide range of plankton feeders, extracting food from currents drifting past them (effectively also primary producers capturing the energy from another ecosystem). The same is true of economic systems. The greater the infrastructure the more diversity and richness develop. This is especially true if the infrastructure is based on primary production or primary production derived from other econosystems. The trees, kelp, and corals all provide living areas, distribution, communication, cooperatives, and many other functions, just as a highly developed economic infrastructure might provide. The recent expansion of social media using the Internet is one potential area for infrastructure growth while at the same time it is a market ripe with open niches suitable for small business ventures (I will come back to this point shortly).

Individuals who are not small business owners, entrepreneurs, or capitalists are not included in the capitalist system to share wealth. Instead they are expendable resources, packages of skills and energy to be used as needed by businesses. Given ample historical and recent evidence, as capitalism develops the labour resource is increasingly exploited, or substituted, leaving a large body of unemployed or very low wage, even serf-like people unsupported. The only effective self-defense in a capitalist system is “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” If you don’t have a job, or even if you do, it pays to develop a business of some kind based on real markets that exist today but that are likely to be increasingly needed in the not very distant future. If this new business can be built in the burgeoning Internet communication sector, that is probably a good bet for the next ten years.

Governance of Capitalism
Governance of capitalistic systems has been and continues to be the current mode of offering a safety net for people who are not inside the capitalist system. Increasingly today, capitalists are finding ways to reduce the wages and replace workers, so governance of an economic system but apolitical one is becoming a vexed question. The tragic misunderstanding (giving them the benefit of the doubt that they were just sloppy and did not understand the science they were using) that Hayek and Friedman imposed on the concept of an unfettered free market system by using evolution rather than ecology as the predictive model, still remains today and has become an almost religious ideology, falsely predicting that a free market will deliver lots of well-paying jobs and a diverse economy. It just cannot not do that and still maintain its competitiveness.

Similarly, the now usual system of removing resources from tropical countries to support the demands of temperate countries works for now, but it is an unsustainable system. In general, the tropical countries are not developing any significant infrastructure and the wealth their resources potentially provide to their own countries is being sucked out of them. The temperate countries usually have a reasonable resource base, or if not, they scam the resource base from the tropical countries. And as I mentioned earlier, having shifted from an energy base that runs on a non-renewable base (petroleum products) that will disappear. In addition, non-recycling systems currently use raw materials in ways that are not sustainable. So in the long run, there is no such thing as a sustainable system without fundamental changes beyond the scope of capitalism or any profit-driven economic system.

It is perhaps too much of a generalization but I will make it anyway; I think the world is fundamentally beyond the point where gross countrywide servitude will be tolerated for long. If we accept that or at least that it is true for part of the world, then the concept of libertarian free market capitalism — that is an equivalent to a natural state ecosystem — is probably not acceptable because the predictions based on an ecological metaphor given our current level of infrastructure inevitably lead to a mega-corporation economy with a large body of unemployed people in-waiting for low-paid workers of the mega-corporations to drop out and be replaced.

Given the natural sense of justice with which we appear to be evolved, a degree of fair compensation for equal work or equal value of goods will be demanded. One example from nature is that if a group of monkeys are offered nuts in exchange for pebbles, everybody is happy. If at some point one of the monkeys is rewarded with a grape (which monkeys prefer to nuts), the game stops. None of the other monkeys will trade pebbles for nuts anymore. In a capitalist system, it is assumed that the cost of goods (pebbles, grapes, and nuts) will be set by the demand and supply. The monkeys are prepared to trade pebbles for grapes now because the price of pebbles just went up; nuts just are not valuable enough to buy pebbles anymore. Finally as Gore and Blood point out (and so do innumerable other people), the environmental situation is changing. The substitute for the sun that currently powers the production of society is now largely petroleum products, and they will run out. The climate is changing, the coastlines will recede covering coastal infrastructure, and so on. Making expensive changes today that only benefit people far into the future does not make sense for a capitalist competitor. But a growing number of people (even capitalists) see these as issues of concern, not for themselves, but for their genetic offspring.

I suspect it must be assumed that capitalism of some kind, or a variant of it, is undoubtedly here to stay. Because capitalism is no more designable than an ecosystem, we need to consider how best to influence it using external forces. The forces cannot originate with capitalists or entrepreneurs, but must act on them directly (just as forces in nature act directly on individuals).

Quick Lesson from Ecology
K selection and r selection are instructive from nature. I don’t want to start a new algebra of economics — there already is ample, however this one from ecology is simple and helps to understand how animals evolve to different situations in ecosystems. The equation is dN/dt=rN(1-K/N) where r is the maximum growth rate of the population (N), and K is the carrying capacity of the local environment.

R-selected species are typical of unstable and highly variable environments where ecological niches are not crowded but have a low carrying capacity. These species tend to have a high growth rate and produce lots of offspring, not many of which survive to adulthood. R-selected species are often “opportunistic” and move quickly into new environments. R-selected species don’t need to compete well as individuals because the environment is likely to change again soon, they rely instead on adaptability. These are usually small, quick to mature and have mechanism for rapid dispersal of young.

K-selected species are typical of high carrying capacity areas where the conditions are stable and predictable, but where there is intense competition in crowded niches. They usually have fewer offspring and take care of them so that they have a high probability of surviving to adulthood. K-selected species are more likely to be abundant in ecosystems that could be described as in equilibrium. They are typically able to compete successfully as individuals for limited resources. The populations of K-selected organisms are constant and close to the maximum that the environment can bear. Finally K-selected species tend to be large and have a long life.

I have taken the time to explain this because I hope it evokes the metaphor of economic styles of businesses. If we think about this as a potential model to consider how one might, as a governing body, encourage a change in the capitalist regimen it is important to understand that just as in nature, there will be a suite of species both common and some exceedingly rare or dormant that can spring to life if the conditions warrant. In an econosystem, corporate strategies will mimic the biological metaphors. The arrival of a relatively ubiquitous Internet has meant that it is possible for some small businesses (similar to r-selected species) to take control back from the mega-corporations at the level of biological herbivore or primary consumer (secondary producers in economics) for the production and distribution of products. Publishing music, books, and movies was very similar to “K” selected corporations which were large, highly competitive, in crowded market niches with little left-over resources for others. When conditions changed to allow printing, manufacture of CDs and DVDs without any significant mechanical production infrastructure, small highly adaptable, businesses rose up to fill brand-new uncrowded market niches. There were lots of them and they are small and capable of rapid widespread distribution of the products.

None of this was “designed.” It all happened spontaneously. The mega-corporations tried to out-compete the smaller businesses and failed because the conditions were changing rapidly and having k-selected characteristics, they were not adaptable enough to change with the conditions.

Whenever people have attempted to alter an ecosystem, the results have not been especially sparkling successes, in fact they are usually disastrous. Some examples include the introduction of exotic species to get rid of a species that people defined as a pest. Australia is a wonderful example of this type of experiment with a number of different species, all of which have been disastrous. We in North America are very familiar with the European starling introduced because someone from Europe liked them. Other examples include introducing game fish into tropical lakes. Predicted results are virtually never what is observed. So this type of intervention in an econosystem is likely to have similar results. Friedman’s experiments in Argentina, and Chile are similar to what happens in ecosystems. The introduced lucrespecies with no controls spread like wildfire, crowding out local businesses (native forms) and using local resources to pay distant capitalists.

The Concept of Sustainable Yield from an Ecosystem
Suppose we agree tht the capitalist system is operating on its own but that somehow we can step outside it and harvest wealth from it the way we might harvest biomass or fish from a lake or the ocean. There is a working model for how this works in theory, called the Ricker Curve. In this model the idea is that a stable population of large adult fish holds down the production of young fish because there is no room for more adults — they currently use almost all the resources. When adults die, young can take their place.

Ricker Curve demonstrating the concept of sustainable yield in a fishery.

The idea of the Ricker Curve is that if you harvest adults, young will quickly take their place. If you harvest a lot of adults (up to a point) a lot of young will take their place. This increased harvest is theoretically sustainable if the carrying capacity of the system remains the same. Needless to say the adults hate it!

If we translate this into a economic system, and just change the axes to reflect the variables in an economy that are parallel to ecological ones, it will look like this.

Modified Ricker Curve demonstrating the possible effect of reducing the concentration of wealth.

The idea of this model is that if you reduce the concentration of wealth into mega-corporations of a given lucrespecies, it is theoretically possible to increase the rate of wealth production by that lucrespecies in a sustainable fashion. Needless to say the mega-corporations will hate it unless there is some compensating incentive! In a fishery there is none.

In the lake or ocean, the carrying capacity is supposed to stay constant for this to work. There are a number of reasons why this has not been so. The model works but the expectations of the fishery must be reduced to account for these unpredictable variations. The same could be done for an economic model. There are other indicators as well. There must remain a critical mass of adults of reproductive age at all times. Presumably the same is true for economic systems, the harvester of wealth would need to certain that enough larger corporations of the harvested lucrespecies remain or capitalism simply will not work.

In a fishery, the biomass is simply removed for our consumption outside the system and not recycled. This is clearly not a situation that could go on indefinitely, but in the life of human fisheries, so far that has only been a problem rarely. Much more common is that the fishery is over-exploited and crashes as the greedy expectations of too many fishers drive the numbers and sizes of adults below the threshold. That of course will be a similar problem in extracting wealth from large corporations in an econosystem by an “external” governing body. If the powers get too greedy, the whole system will collapse.

One could argue that the goal should be to have as many k-selected lucrespecies and as few r-selected species as possible. The rationale is that r-selected lucrespecies encourage massive unemployment and very low wages, whereas k-selected lurespecies tend to have few highly specialized employees that are nurtured and cared for until they are able to handle themselves in the market place as cooperative semi-dependent or full dependent linked species. Is it possible to conceive of an econosystem that is primarily composed of k-selected species? What would the econosystem look like?

Suppose the wealth of an econosystem were fed back into the system in a manner designed to enhance the infrastructure and complexity of the system such as to develop or enhance the equivalent of an organic matrix, in this case an economic matrix. The idea is to encourage the econosystem to move toward a very diverse system like a tropical rainforest or a coral reef where there are innumerable interactions that are not just competitive, but are cooperative, strategic alliances or even complete dependencies. A simplistic addition of non-spontaneous infrastructure will not work. The econosystem must be allowed to respond to the redistribution of wealth to create the economic infrastructure on its own.

The end goal is to reduce the number or largely eliminate mega-corporations other than those that by their nature deliver an infrastructure to provide an economic matrix. These would be primarily primary producers of large scale with many smaller entrepreneurial and capitalist based corporations inextricably aligned to each other. Strategic alliances, dependent and semi-dependent relationships are common in complex ecosystems. Is it likely that pre-adapted lucrespecies could spring into place if the right conditions prevailed?

A Draconian Hypothesis

It is not possible to design a completely new economic system based on internal competitiveness. Any competitive econosystem will maintain a spontaneous response to whatever forces are applied. By using the correct predictive model, however, it is potentially possible to keep the highly competitive capitalist system. The key is to harvest wealth to create a selective force against the concentration of wealth into secondary and higher consumer level mega-corporations. In mega corporations that do not process raw materials or produce finished products, taxation can be implemented so that there is an upper limit on the size of a non-primary producer or primary consumer corporation. A fully draconian solution would be to eliminate taxes on primary producers using renewable resources, and place 100% tax on the top level of revenue for corporations above a defined size. The effect is similar to harvesting only adults from a population of fish thus encouraging increased productivity in younger fish. In an economic sense, to encourage smaller corporations. The taxed wealth is used to assist in the development of an interactive economic infrastructure by mega-corporations primarily restricted to primary production. The model predicts that if the harvest is designed according to principles of sustainable yield, productivity will actually increase. The infrastructure will automatically open a new array of niches into which competitive, partly dependent and partly cooperative types of corporations can develop. The resulting econosystem will be primarily small, long-lived corporations and a few large, long-lived corporations based on primary production in a stable environment. This will reduce the proportion of r-selected corporations and thereby reduce the number of low-wage and unemployed people because the emphasis will be on the equivalent of a K-selected population of corporations. K-selected corporations nurture and develop specialized skills in junior entrepreneurs.

Before this can occur, a period of transition and continued poor social conditions will exist as the r-selected lucrespecies move into the newly empty niches and before k-selected corporations can out-compete them and move in and take over. The downstream effects of minimum wage provisions are to reduce the number of people employe or to move the labour parts of the processes to other areas where labour is cheap. Nonetheless, in the short term, minimum wage controls and other safety net provisions can serve as a bridge in the transition to a complex econosystem where almost everyone is an entrepreneur. A state that does not feel responsible for the welfare of its citizens is unlikely to bother with this transition period and thereby risks revolution.

Is there a Solution?

Yes, a cooperative system will ultimately be needed if the planet is to have an economic solution to what is an inevitable crunch period as the population approaches the carrying capacity of the earth, the climate warms forcing millions of people to seek shelter inland, internecine and resource wars become more common, and the increased weather extremes and diseases cause potentially massive die-offs of humans. Will we be able to collectively agree that a better solution than lethal confrontation is possible and needed? Only time will tell.

However, we can look at past history. Home sapiens – that’s us – origin dates back almost 250,000 years. However, despite our early successes for nearly 150,000 years, we were almost wiped out. It is speculated we were reduce to only remnant population of about 15,000 people hiding out in South Africa about 100,000 years ago. That near extinction forced our ancestors to learn how to cooperate. Their early cooperation was at the level of subsistence, and later to bartering. Believe it or not, there are examples of cooperative systems today. I was privileged to go on a research trip to the Fijian outer islands. This is described in another blog in detail, but essentially everyone on a small island owns property and develops their own wealth within a larger system governed by a Chief who essentially is the super owner of everything including the people, the land, and the ocean. He holds it in trust for his people. Individually, if you are in need, and another islander recognizes that need, he or she will offer assistance without any expectation of immediate return of value. There is a common expectation of reciprocal offering should the need arise, but only if the need arises, otherwise it is a gift gladly given.

So it is possible for a culture to develop a sense of cooperation for physical and emotional needs within the group. Historically, it only develops naturally out of need. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that the next time.

I see three scenarios and a fall-back position:
1) In the short term — say the next 50 years, it is likely that such a “need” will not arise. However in the medium term (100 – 200 years), it is quite likely that draconian measures will be thrust willy-nilly upon the human population that remains.
2) In the short term, the world will magically come to its senses and countries will independently and dramatically institute all-encompassing sustainable practices so that there is no “crunch” of material and energy shortage. Even in these circumstances, recommendations such as Gore and Blood suggest need to be tempered with a realization of what capitalism itself will and will not do without external interference. The exact results of any internal interference are very difficult to predict because the economic entities in a capitalist system are competitive and the politicians are essentially a part of the economic system.
3) a) In the medium term (100-200 years), the powers of a United Nations type of organization will be vastly increased in the face of incontrovertible evidence that central control of the use of the world’s resources in sustainable fashion is necessary. These controls will be enforced by a combination of comprehensive education and a culture of respect for the world as a place where we live, not as a base of resources.
b) In the medium term (100-200 years) it all falls apart and internecine and regional warfare for resources and space overpowers rational governance with a spontaneous return to a tribal and feudal system that may or may not be able to sustain itself with whatever is left of the human-necessary resources.
4) Fall-back position. After any of the three options, at some stage in the future of humankind, complete or almost complete central control of the use of resources will be needed as an emergency strategy to cope with the long-term results non-sustainable practices of capitalism and to inculcate a respectful attitude to our planet. The fall-back position will not begin in the context of a feudal or warlord society. It will only begin if there is a repeat of the near extinction of humankind, or if there is a recognition of that impending event shared by everyone. The cooperative strategy is to offer a culturally-based safety net, coupled with widespread sharing of work and sustainable use of resources or at least much less destructive and wasteful use of resources. This option has almost sci-fi overtones envisioning a much more egalitarian world where everyone works and no one wants. But I have seen it operate in isolated communities with limited resources.

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