After Capitalism

An animation calling for economic democracy.

Words by George Monbiot, animation by Yann Pons, Alban Connell, Moet Suzuki and Mohamed Ali, broadcast on the Guardian’s website, 23rd August 2012.

This is the text. You can see the animation here.

To answer the question of what the world will look like after capitalism, we first have to decide what we mean by capitalism. If it means a system that arises from lending money at interest, then there will be no “after capitalism”. Even when usury was banned on pain of execution or excommunication, it continued, so powerful was the profit drive. While executing bankers has much to commend it, it’s likely to be ineffective. Lesser measures would produce even poorer results.

If on the other hand capitalism means something like the current dispensation, which allows a few people to seize much of the wealth generated by everyone, which blocks social mobility, which re-engineers the political system to serve the economic elite, then, yes, there’s a lot we can do about it.

For the past 200 years, men and women have fought stoicly for political democracy. Now we should fight for economic democracy. The natural wealth of the world, its land, its soils, its crops, minerals, water, forests, fish, is limited. The wealth arising from its use and multiplied through all the complex layers of the modern economy, is also limited, bounded ultimately, as the subprime mortgage crisis showed us, by the real value of assets in the physical world. Just as it was wrong for monarchs and aristocrats to concentrate so much political power in their hands, so it is wrong that billionaires and corporations should be permitted to seize so much of the common treasury of humankind: the wealth arising from the use of a finite planet.

We deserve a political and economic system that redistributes both wealth and the decisions about how it is used. Not communism, but an advanced form of social democracy. Here are a few of its possible components:

– Participatory budgeting, of the kind pioneered in Latin America, where public budgets are decided openly and informed by consultation. Why should the likes of George Osborne be able to decide in secret what the budget will contain?

– A more progressive tax structure, distributing money from the rich to the poor in the form of higher public spending. I would start with much higher inheritance taxes. You can’t take it with you, and if you bequeath too much to your children you’ll only screw them up. Why should the rights of the dead trump those of the living?

– a living wage for all workers, so that no one can become rich by keeping other people poor.

– tougher rules protecting the natural world from destruction by greed and short-termism.

– an end to private schooling, that frustrates social mobility, both upwards and downwards, and allows the economic elite to see itself as a class apart.

That’s not the whole answer, but I hope it begins to give us a measure of the economic democracy we lack.