I know a lot of Elizabeth Warren types; people who are comfortable with capitalism, who say they like it, but say they want it to be regulated and to be more fair. I am not an economist, not even close, but I see capitalism crushing most people and only a very small handful of people are making a lot of money. (I suspect the obscenely wealthy may not be morally or spiritually well off, but they’ve got the money the workers have earned.) I’ve usually said I’m a left libertarian (social anarchist) but I always assumed we’re stuck with capitalism, so I want capitalism that’s very, very regulated so unchecked greed doesn’t rule.

The problem for me is that I can’t even *imagine* any other system than the one we have now. And, it turns out, I’m not alone in this.

I heard a podcast the other day where an economist explained that it’s a lie that we are stuck with capitalism, and that changing the systems entirely is not impossible.

I hope you will consider listening to at least the first 25ish minutes of this recording (linked below). It has framed our economic system in a way that makes it feel much more malleable than I’ve ever felt it was before. (I’m a feelings person, not an economist or logistician or anything linear like that…) There are lots of ways to watch/listen to this. I listened to the whole thing using Apple podcasts.

From the podcast’s description: After briefly walking us through the history of contemporary economic systems from feudalism to capitalism, Marxist Economist Richard Wolff explains why we must move past capitalism before it’s too late, and how to achieve that transition.

Later on in the podcast (it’s more than an hour long, the segment above is about 25 minutes) “he weighs in on the importance of third party candidates, the #forcethevote debate, his former classmate Janet Yellen’s ideology, the efficacy of an “inside/outside” strategy, and how Bernie disappointed him.”

When I complained about recycling, it wasn’t that I think the environment isn’t in crisis. I know it is. I complained because I believe there is an opiate-like effect for people who want to feel not-powerless, so they believe “reduce, reuse, recycle” is close to enough. They are doing their part. As a friend said in the comments, “But if you buy a Prius you can pretty much do what you want because you’ve already done enough.” It’s that kind of thinking (that is almost not an exaggeration) that I find troubling.
In “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things,” the authors paint a beautiful and hopeful picture of what our future could be. Why not change everything about how things are made? They suggest we move from being “less bad” (reduce, reuse, recycle) to being “always good.”
Using a cherry tree as one of the metaphors for evolutionary design, they note that the “efficiency” of a cherry tree doesn’t involve having the fewest blooms possible producing the ideal single fruit with the one seed that will grow into a new tree. The tree is an integral part of the greater system. It is entirely interdependent on and with the life around it. The blossoms fall off and feed the soil, the fruit and seeds feed insects and birds and mammals, the wood and branches provide homes for critters, etc… The authors do a beautiful job of articulating how the design of the tree isn’t so much efficient as it is sustainable, effective, beautiful, and, of course, entirely biodegradable.

the cherry tree in the backyard of my parents’ summer place, taken on Mother’s Day 2012
A friend shared this link to an article about a fungi that eats plastic. That’s potentially fantastic. However, it strikes me without changing our whole point of view that having one more way to sort of clean up after ourselves won’t solve much. “Why try to optimize the wrong systems?” is the question the Cradle to Cradle authors ask. In the context of that question, this fungi could be a part of a grand change in the design and production of materials using the cherry tree model (entirely interdependent, 100% biodegradable, energy producing not just consuming, life-giving). Or, it could be something that’s used to kind of, sort of, take care of some of the problem while we all continue feeling a little guilty about the materials we’re using.
I’m new to all of these questions and issues. But, my gut says that household recycling and returning your wine bottle corks to Whole Foods isn’t going to make much of a difference in the environmental crisis (reminder, I’m not suggesting you don’t recycle just that you don’t think that’s “the answer”). Supporting the legislation and industries that will turn Industrialization on its head seems a good use of our time. We should stop trying to find new ways to deal with the problems of our current systems. Instead we should create new products, processes, materials, and systems that—instead of doing less harm—actually make the world healthier and stronger because we are using them.