I would go so far as to claim that capitalism is fundamentally broken. (I told you I was going to talk about politics!) If you listen to right-wing talk radio, you’ll hear that the great debate is between red-blooded American capitalism and commie socialism. But we already have a socialist military: it’s paid for by all of us, whether we like it or not, and run by the government on our behalf. We have socialist highways, too, and schools and parks and zoning laws, and all the public services that everybody counts on—paid for by everyone, whether they like it or not, and run by the government on our behalf.
The real debate isn’t about whether the government is supposed to do things on our behalf. Of course it is! The real debate is about which things it should do. I’ve never understood why it is, for instance, that we consider fire protection a communal right, but health care a personal responsibility. Why is it that if my house catches fire, my neighbors are expected to pay to put it out (via the tax-supported fire department), but if I get cancer and don’t have health insurance, I’m just supposed to die?
The real debate isn’t about whether we should manipulate the market, either. We do it all the time, to discourage smoking, encourage oil exploration, or reward the holders of home mortgages. And frankly, many of our direst problems stem from the lack of manipulation. Economists (and power utilities) will tell you that it’s significantly cheaper to generate electricity from coal than from solar energy, but that’s only because the price of electricity doesn’t reflect its cost: it doesn’t include the value of the blown-up mountains or the smogged-up sky, or the more than 10,000 people each year, in the US alone, who die from pollution from coal plants [americanindependent.com]. These external costs completely warp the system, and drive the economy against our better interests.
The real debate isn’t about socialism at all, it’s about our future as a species. Choosing not to save the planet because it’s going to cost too much this year is simply not an option. A 10,000-year horizon requires zero growth. We need a system that embraces that.