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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Defending Naomi Klein on Grist

Over at Grist, Gernot Wagner has responded critically to a Naomi Klein piece I already elaborated on here Monday. Wagner's critique is here. My response (which was sympathetic to Klein but connected her argument, predictably enough, to anti-futurological concerns) is "Geo-Engineering" As Right Wing War and Revolution. Today, I also posted the following comment on Wagner's criticism there:
Wagner claims that Klein proposes only one substantive solution, "taxing the rich and filthy," but then accuses Klein not only of demanding a wholesale abandonment of capitalism but also of evading "human nature." Is it really true that calling for more taxes on the rich is the same thing as radical anti-capitalism, despite the endlessly many folks who call for this who are not anti-capitalist (whether or not Klein happens to be anti-capitalist for other reasons)? Also, if one wants to propose that capitalism is to be identified with "human nature" then the fact that many systems that look little like contemporary capitalism have thrived suggests that probably Wagner needs a more elastic definition of what might be in the neighborhood of capitalism.

Heck, maybe even societies with considerably higher welfare entitlements than ours and agriculture and economic policy oriented to sustainability paid for by steeply progressive taxes might still be recognizably "capitalist," even if Naomi Klein was willing to struggle toward attaining this outcome?

In insisting that we not tax the rich but only the filthy, Wagner is of course dismissing the threatening possibility that few can arrive at riches without becoming filthy in the process. I fear the truth is that market norms and forms pretending infinite growth is possible in a finite world, that brute productivity can bulldoze away all stakeholder differences over the long haul, that make the commodity form ubiquitous even over public and common goods to which it does not apply and which it destroys, that privilege short-term profitability over long-term deliberation, that encourage consumption, pollution, and waste in the service of apparent GDP health are simply unsustainable. This does indeed imply, precisely as Klein argues, that serious environmentalism inevitably will demand changes that will look absolutely radical if not outright revolutionary from the vantage of the current parochial winners in our corporate-militarist industrial-extractive-petrochemical consumer-financial capitalist order. Whether we decide to call the result "capitalism" still is a matter on which I am personally indifferent.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

I think he's splitting hairs as I can't see much of a substantive difference between what they're saying. Capitalism is a a very flexible ism, we apply it to modern day China and the WW2 western powers as well as our current system. So when people throw terms like capitalism or the "free market handbook" it'd be helpful if they elaborated.

My takeaway is that when Klein says "the free market playbook" she's probably referring to the Washington consensus which is basicaly the modern American form where you have a lot of financial "innovation" whose risks are underwritten by the working class and the primary concern of government is to make sure that capital investors get a good return. I'm assuming that because of her other writing.

I think we can tackle climate change by taking on elements of a command economy but still retaining most of the DNA of capitalism. Lots of countries did it in WW2 during pretty economically depressed circumstances so there's good historical precedent.

I went to an interesting panel discussion on climate change politics at the University of Sussex yesterday where I saw a lot of similar exchanges. A lot of people who basicaly agree splitting hairs with each other primarily out of a frustration from a lack of progress.