What media calls ‘the economy’ is really just a graph of rich people’s feelings. It’s the end of the world as we know it, and they feel fine. They also have another word for the actual economy, that people live in. The real economy.
This real economy — where real humans, animals, and the Earth live — is literally not accounted for. A mother hugging a child has zero value according to GDP. Polar bears have no investment value, so they can fuck off and die. The Earth is just an endless fount of ‘free’ resources, used to make a line go up. Everything that really matters, it literally doesn’t count.
As Bobby Kennedy said a few months before he was shot:
As you can see, these are not original warnings. Forget the ’60s, ever since the first corporations started raping the world in the 1600s, people have been saying “uh, this sucks.” The trouble is that at every turn real people have lost and rich people’s feelings have won. And so, in the end, we lose it all.
What was once an academic debate is now a scientific certainty. Capitalism doesn’t just regularly crash the real economy, it crashes the real world we live on. As a recent IPCC report (an increasingly futile exercise) says, “economic growth is a main driver of emissions.”
The constant drive for profit and wealth far in excess of human needs is leading to us far exceeding planetary limits. We live at a time when rich people’s feelings are not just hurting working people, they are robbing every generation yet to be born.
Indigenous people have been saying this every since joint-stock companies severed them at the joints. Prophets have been saying this forever, but the rich worshiped the golden bull market instead. Marxists have been saying this for centuries, but they just get laughed off. As Marx said 170 years ago:
He said “In every stock-jobbing swindle everyone knows that some time or other the crash must come.” As Jeremy Irons said in the movie Margin Call, about the 2008 crash:
It’s certainly no different today than its ever been. 1637, 1797, 1819, ’37, ’57, ’84, 1901, ’07, ’29, 1937, 1974, 1987 — Jesus, didn’t that fuck up me up good — ’92, ’97, 2000 and whatever we want to call this. It’s all just the same thing over and over; we can’t help ourselves. And you and I can’t control it, or stop it, or even slow it. Or even ever-so-slightly alter it. We just react.
Capitalism has somehow recovered after each crash, but the real world isn’t like that. The heat just builds up in the oceans, in the air, and then the entire climate that supports life as we know it will just snap.
And then “après moi, le déluge” goes from being an economic metaphor to a real, physical fact. Ice shelfs the size of Rome are already shearing into the sea. Over the next centuries if we’re lucky (decades if we’re not) every coastal city we know will be flooded in reality. And what are the rich doing in these final moments, while we still have a slim chance? Buying yachts.
As that IPCC report says, “there is a growing realisation that mere monetary value of income growth is insufficient to measure national welfare and individual well-being.” What this mouthful is talking about is really degrowth, ie stopping the endless greed in rich countries and bringing the poor up to a shared level of prosperity.
Instead of the neoliberal idea of everything (including the planet) operating within a market, this is the idea of markets operating within a society. Socialism, essentially. Communism if you’re nasty.
As Deng Xiaoping said (via Weber):
Markets have many benefits, but they should operate as they long have, within a town square, within a planet, and not devouring them all.
The fact is that markets left unchecked will keep increasing the wealth of all they measure, to the detriment of all they don’t. And they don’t measure the planet, human happiness, or get anywhere near the soul. All of these metrics we call ‘growth’ are just a measure of rich people’s feelings, and quite frankly, it’s time for rich people’s feelings to get hurt.