How do we solve the problems caused by industrial capitalism and its corollaries? What alternatives exist?
Historically, solutions to the excesses that industrial capitalism cannot help but be tempted into (environmental degradation, resource overuse, and labour exploitation) have been attempted: Marx and Engels, with their visions of communism’s overthrow of capitalism, interventions by government to impose limits on the excesses of capitalists (thus is born the welfare state and mixed economy capitalism), fiscal interventions and the idea of the rightness of a ‘temporary’ budget deficit, environmental legislation designed to protect such areas as those deemed of world heritage… the list goes on.
Perhaps the key to resolution of industrial capitalism’s excesses and ultimate failure (other than business as usual ending in mayhem and irretrievable ecological collapse) is that the world must recognise and act upon the idea ‘that economics is a purely human construct that depends on a functioning ecology for its existence, while ecology is a fact of nature like gravity that functions on its own. … Recognizing the primacy of ecology, and… understanding and accepting that our economies are only branch offices…’ (Cherfuka P., 2009)
A Steady state economy is ‘an economy with constant stocks of people and artifacts, maintained at some desired, sufficient levels by low rates of maintenance ‘throughput’, that is, by the lowest feasible flows of matter and energy from the first stage of production to the last stage of consumption’ (Daly H., Centre for the advancement of a steady state economy [CASSE]). This simply means ‘an economy with stable or mildly fluctuating size. The term typically refers to a national economy, but it can also be applied to a local, regional, or global economy. An economy can reach a steady state after a period of growth or after a period of downsizing or degrowth. To be sustainable, a steady state economy may not exceed ecological limits.’
The most important ingredient of this steady state economy is that it MUST NOT exceed its ecological limits; as such, it completely rejects the idea of continual economic growth. Economies must attain an optimum scale; growth in circumstances where such growth does not impose unsustainable ecological costs and degrowth where overconsumption has profound ecological impacts. This obviously imposes a need for significant re-distribution of wealth on a global scale. Population must be stabilised. The book Enough is enough, Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources by Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill offers much thoughtful reflection on how this might be achieved. See the YouTube film on the book.