Is capitalism sustainable?

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Capitalism is the predominant economic system of our time. But can it remain so? Systems like mercantilism and serfdom lasted for centuries before the establishment of the Bretton Woods system. Have we reached what political theorist Francis Fukuyama has called the "end of history" where liberal democracy matched with free markets are the last viable option for organizing society? If capitalism is to be overthrown, what could replace it and would it be a step forward or back?

Capitalism is sustainable[edit | edit source]

  • Argument Argument There's no viable alternative.
    • Objection Objection This doesn't imply that capitalism is sustainable.
    • Objection Objection An alternative will surface as soon as it becomes necessary. In war times, capitalism is usually put on hold in favor of central planning.
      • Objection Objection A war economy is much less sustainable than capitalism, and the peacetime failures of central planning are well-known. And the fact that some as-yet unenvisioned alternative might surface is pure speculation.
        • Objection Objection The peacetime failures of central planning occurred in an era lacking the technological and scientific abilities of today. Unenvisioned alternatives have greater plausibility of surfacing with access to tools and processes which didn’t exist in former eras.
  • Argument Argument Although Marx predicted that capitalism is a necessary stage for an eventual worker's revolution, capitalists after Marx have been able to slowly adjust capitalism so that it can sustain itself indefinitely. The shifts from the Industrial Revolution to globalized financial capitalism have made it impossible for workers to ever overthrow the upper class.
    • Objection Objection This argument assumes what must be proven. The fact that capitalism has been slowly adjusting to sustain itself doesn't mean that it will continue to be able to do so. Economists will try, no doubt.

Capitalism is not sustainable[edit | edit source]

  • Argument Argument Capitalism requires constant growth,[citation needed] and constant growth is impossible in a limited planet.
    • Objection Objection The planet is not the limit. There's an endless Universe awaiting.
      • Objection Objection Massive space colonization is unfeasible in the near future. We need a solution sooner.
      • Objection Objection If we cannot manage in this planet, how can we even hope to manage others much more hostile?
        • Objection Objection Other planets are relatively benign compared to earth with nothing actually trying to kill humans nor do they have ecosystems to protect, and there are also space habitats.
          • Objection Objection Like which ones? Naboo? Space habitats disregard resource extraction, they lack rich ecosystems at entropy levels that allow this. Feasible planets to live in, wether hostile or not, are merely fictional, as the ones we may find, will require energy to make habitable for humans, and quite probably, as our knowledge of existing planets suggests, unimaginable amounts of energy, more that we could gather or have the technology to extract. So this argument reduces to a low probability high risk endeavor with many ifs, if we find a planet, if we we are technologically developed enough, etc. which proves the point of capitalism not being sustainable in the first place.
    • Objection Objection Even assuming constant growth is required to sustain capitalism, this is constant economic growth, which is not equivalent to a constant increase in resource consumption. Economic growth based on intellectual property and more efficient use of existing resources (asymptotically approaching perfect efficiency) can be maintained in a finite system.
      • Objection Objection Economic growth based on intellectual property, which manifest as physical inventions and digital goods, still requires resources: people eating, using computers, servers running, etc. energy in general. To try to most efficiently use resources one would need to put the natural environment in a central role, capitalism abstracts and obfuscates the value of natural resources as it detaches them from the communities that learned to survive with those resources, it does not asymptotically approach perfect efficiency, it breaks the ecosystemic chain, almost always running counter to energy, eg. a plastic cup which costs one dollar and takes enormous effort, machinery and workers to produce. It prioritizes growth of only capital, it establishes an asymmetric relation that benefits a few, immensely more than the remaining majority. The energy in the system is finite, it is just distributed unequally, and it's systems crystalize future distribution, leading to non optimal use of resources and permanent destruction of others. In it's "pure" ideological form capitalism completely disregards the natural environment, even paints it as an obstacle or enemy, in the name of individual or market "freedom".
  • Argument Argument Capitalism breaks the second law of thermodynamics. Disregards energy and the natural environment over capital growth. The universe does not care though, it just reflects back, therefore becoming a recipe for destruction to the ones using it as their ultimate rule.

See also[edit | edit source]

Notes and references[edit | edit source]