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Our Poisonous Economic System Needs A Grassroots Intervention


Our Poisonous Economic System Needs A Grassroots Intervention

Taj James

Last month, nearly two hundred nations signed on to a legally-binding global climate deal seeking to phase out the greenhouse gases known as HFCs. And this Friday, the non-binding Paris Agreement will officially enter into force for seventy-six nations, which have made voluntary pledges to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius and if possible, below 1.5°C.


"People around the world are rising up to release their governments from the grip of corporations".

How does voting for Clinton or voting for Trump further this goal ?


believing there will be any kind of change is delusional. the ppl in position to vote on changing the system are the same ppl that are benefiting from the system as it is now. I dont see congress voting to change their benefit package unless its to give themselves a bigger piece of the pie


How would one even define "grass roots" today? Even liberals so strongly believe in the success of our deregulated capitalism that they think everyone is able to work, there are jobs for all, therefore no need for poverty relief. We've been through another eight years of trying to point out just how poisonous our current economic system is, yet remain stuck at square one.

We've know at least since the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 that there is an "urgent need" to break our dependency on oil -- not just imported oil, but oil itself. Taxpayers have consistently voted down efforts to invest in building a comprehensive, Euro-level mass transportation system, necessary to reduce the number of privately owned motor vehicles.


Our governments are opting for false solutions: they are looking to oil companies and market-based approaches to fix a problem that oil companies and market-based approaches created. They seem to believe that banks and the fossil fuel industry are the only players powerful enough and smart enough to address this crisis.

And what does the author offer as the solution

moving money into a democratically-governed cooperative that invests in projects owned and operated by frontline communities

Yup... > like going to tobacco companies and asking them to handle the problem of lung cancer by coming up with a new tobacco product to cure it.

Time for the writers to learn what capitalism means - an exchange economy where production is for sale on a market...where the prospect of profits is the motivator. A model of capitalism designed to be humane and sane simply isn't going to solve the problems we all face because capitalist society can only be abolished as an entity, not factory by factory, town by town or farm by farm. Any such attempt will be reabsorbed by the dominant prevailing capitalist system.

Businesses organized on a cooperative basis will have to compete with each other for a market for their product just as the capitalists do today. To prevent the inevitable ruination that must follow unbridled competition they will have to resort to combination just as the capitalists do today and become giant enterprises to be in a position to oppress society just as the capitalists do today. Coops simply "prettify" capitalism, and would simply reproduce all the faults of capitalist society, from the anarchy of the market to periodic crises.

Competing against capitalist corporations is a David and Goliath situation in which the weaker will go against the wall or more likely be swallowed up by the stronger. To effectively compete you have to act ruthlessly in subordinating the interests of wage-labor to those of capital - in fact, becoming more like the very conventional capitalist enterprises you are supposed to be moving away from. This is precisely what has been happening in the case of Mondragon which has simply exported exploitation to developing regions of the world(before that is cited as something to emulate)

The cooperative commonwealth which socialists describe is the end result and how the new society is maintained, not the means towards it.


Sounds like a pretty sorry version of 'thou shalt not have any form of trading of goods and services'. It has often been noted that a substance that can serve as a medicine can be a poison at the wrong dose. Your argument:

Examples please.

According to your argument cooperatives seem to be damned as 'socialism' while at the same time being damned because they are 'capitalist'. Life is an ongoing project of the possible.


And there is also the case that there is not a safe dosage at any level such as in lead poisoning as the people of Flint are learning.

Sometimes it is an either or situation and no room for some dubious amalgam of both.

The socialist opposition to buying and selling has been declared since the Communist Manifesto and so thou shalt not trade has been an integral part of the socialist credo but it is part of a tradition that goes a long way back to early Christians and medieval anabaptists to 17th Century Diggers.> "Store-houses shall be built and appointed in all places, and be the common stock...And as every one works to advance the common stock, so every one shall have a free use of any commodity in the store-house, for his pleasure and comfortable livelihood without buying and selling or restraint from any." - Gerrard Winstanley

Cooperatives have existed as long as capitalism existed. It doesn't reform capitalism towards a more cooperative driven type of capitalism, instead, these worker co-ops tend to go bust after being out-competed by traditional business.

Cooperatives transfer the ownership of an enterprise from an individual capitalist to a collective ownership by workers. This only recreates capitalism in a different form. It has little to do with socialism, which is the free association of producers in a planned economy.

Yes, cooperatives produce mixed reactions. Some individuals and groups may find they are a useful mechanism to escape the vagaries of capitalism by taking advantage of some niche but as a system-changing tool we have had 200 years of experience to discover the short-comings.

The history of cooperatives and of capitalism are surfeit with examples. Perhaps you overlooked my mention of the most commonly lauded example Mondragon which uses cheap wage-labour in it overseas concerns. Perhaps you missed the recent murder of the Evo Morales government minister when they tried to reform the miners cooperatives that were employing wage labour. Perhaps you may have read about the use of migrant labour by the kibbutzim in Israel. None of this is new. In the mid-19th C the Chartist Ernest Jones was describing the futility of co-ops within the capitalist system.

“I contend that co-operation as now developed, must result in failure to the majority of those concerned, and that it is merely perpetuating the evils which it professes to remove… That the co-operative-system, as at present practised, carries within it the germs of dissolution, would inflict a renewed evil on the masses of the people, and is essentially destructive of the real principles of co-operation. Instead of abrogating profitmongering, it re-creates it. Instead of counteracting competition, it re-establishes it. Instead of preventing centralisation, it renews it—merely transferring the role from one set of actors to another.
Your co-operative ranks are thinned, your firms find, one by one, they can no longer in make the returns equal the expenses, they cannot sell as cheap as the capitalist, they can therefore no more command the market, their co-operative fires die out in quick succession, stores and mills close over their deluded votaries—and the great ruin will stand bald, naked, and despairing in the streets.”

Co-operative worker-ownership schemes resolve none of the basic problems facing workers under capitalism. All the basic relations of capitalist production, exploitation of wage labour, production for sale and profit, and the like remain in effect. A "worker-owned" company run collectively and democratically by its workers, would still function within the overall context of a capitalist economy. Being a co-op does not miraculously free a business from the anarchy of the marketplace, competition, and the effects of capitalism's recurrent economic crises. In order to compete "worker-owned" enterprises have little choice but to intensify exploitation just as much as their capitalist-owned competitors do. They must cut wages, close old factories, modernize outmoded equipment and lay off workers made superfluous by automation although they may do so with a bit more compassion than conventional companies. To make such schemes "succeed" in a capitalist context, workers must make more self-sacrifices and intensify their own exploitation.

Too often i come across proponents of society where organized on the basis of worker-owned and operated industries, peoples’ banks, mutuals, consumer cooperatives, anarcho-syndicalist labor unions, individual and family enterprises, small farms and crafts workers associations engaged in local production for local use, voluntary charitable institutions, land trusts, or voluntary collectives and communes. But, of course, it can't work.

Cooperatives represent a paradoxical relationship between labour and capital, in which labour formally dominates capital, but has to meet the demands of capital by voluntarily perpetuating its own subjugation. Cooperative members are what you might call "self-exploiting workers"

If workers reformed capitalism initially so that all firms were based on a co-operative model, exploitation -- inherent to capitalism -- would still exist and eventually destroy the benefits that come out of such a model of 'market socialism'. Competition between firms, and the tendency of capital to concentrate, would destroy smaller firms. Eventually, monopolies would be built up and slowly workers would lose power as greater companies rise. Yes i give examples...the food processing factory in my hometown closed down because lack of profitability by its parent-company - a Dutch cooperative.

I am simply arguing for the rose-tinted glass to be removed and see the reality so we can go beyond capitalism in all its varieties of private ownership, the individual capitalist or the joint-stock corporation, the collectively owned state or municipal controlled, the sectional owned cooperative or syndicate. Yup...the end of the xchange economy nd the beginning of production for use and need. A society based upon "from each according to ability - to each according to self-defined need"


If you were in a burning building and had to jump, would you rather be on the 2nd floor or the 6th?

Voting for Clinton is like choosing the 2nd floor.


I am struck by a tone of absolutism of a capitalist lens awash in identity politics of the broad brush. Capitalism as monolith / all or nothing. Amazing that you can silo the above in isolation from money/currency management.


I'm sorry you get that impression. I am not excluding class struggle to protect and improve in conditions and i most definitely include certain types of cooperatives in that but i have to argue that these are defensive actions with limited scope for success and to say otherwise is to persist in offering false hopes and maintaining illusions

At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!" - Marx

Capitalism in my view is a global economic system which permeates every aspect of political economic social and personal life. So yes it is a monolith system that has to be brought down in its entirety.

Not sure what you mean by your last sentence.


It might be interesting to make an anthropological and linguistic foray into the period and context when the economic terms themselves arose that Marx later [borrowed/adhered to] in his critique of capitalism. As he notes in your quote, "...the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society."

One of things I find interesting today is that "the present system" also presents the opportunity to identify all of the "externalized costs" that are used to maintain 'profit margin'. Yet this has not, as far as I can see, been fully addressed as an aspect of the system. It is chipped away at from a perspective of the "wage earner", the 'laborer', an identity politics in part defined by past 'labor union' organizing in specific industries, etc., a dependency on 'the downward' dynamics defined by the predatory industrial model. This why I find the cooperative, worker-owned, more locally oriented proposition interesting. Is it a struggle? absolutely.

The last sentence money/currency in which money=debt is now in the hyper-derivative stage. The system is so dependent on sucking value, meaning and balance out of its 'components' that the fabric is riddled with voids from the denial of the integrity and full scope of all that has for so many centuries (if not thousands of years) scorned and denied as even existing. Those weaknesses, I would argue, actually represent human and natural strengths. They vary in balance, scope and specifics by locality which is also a strength.

The system of finance (fractional [reserve banking] being the operative term) and derivatives, more than being greedy is now subject to the vagaries of acceleration in its own sphere of exponential functions. And that train has already left the station, arguably on a runaway track (yes, that is a mixed metaphor).

Given the above, I find the 'block chain' accounting model interesting in terms of alternative model. I don't participate in it, but am exploring its implications for veracity of 'accountability'. Most people are possibly still unaware that the Federal Reserve is for all intents and purposes a private corporate entity. The same for the presidential election debate 'commission'.

But more than anything else, I anticipate the groans and travails of extraction fatigue in all spheres and senses of the term. We're dealing with a fatally flawed architecture. My impulse tends to be to study how to stay out of the way of falling debris; identify elements of integrity represented by people and parts worth saving.


“It might be interesting to make an anthropological and linguistic foray into the period and context when the economic terms themselves arose that Marx later [borrowed/adhered to] in his critique of capitalism.”

The term ‘’socialism” is found for the first time in the Owenite Co-operative Magazine of November 1827, arising from debates with JS Mill and it was to describe the elimination of the system of individual competition via the abolition of remuneration/the wage and holding the results of production in common as well as the means of production. “Communism” came later nearer the 1840s. Marx (or rather Engels, perhaps) explain why they opted for the “Communist Manifesto” and not the “Socialist Manifesto”

Marx did adopt much of the economic and political vocabulary of the time from other classical political economists and also like many innovators, adapted words to express new meanings and improve on their usage. Sometimes he utterly failed in attempting to clarify ideas such as introducing the totally discredited phrase “dictatorship of the proletariat” to stand simply for working class democracy and it was no surprise it quickly lost its original meaning when others who came after distorted it to mean "party dictatorship over the proletariat"

I like your description, “a fatally flawed architecture”. Capitalism is indeed an edifice standing on weak foundations, set upon clay…It eventually will fall. The question, will we with foresight and knowledge demolish and dismantle it or will it crumble and collapse with us underneath and suffer what again Marx described as the “common ruination of the contending classes”...or as Rosa Luxemburg put it .."socialism or barbarism"

I can’t agree with your perspective on money/banking theory, I am afraid. For my reasons see my replies to Scott here