A column in the New Statesman asserts that only the end of capitalism will ensure the environmental survival of the planet. The writer does not suggest how capitalism may be brought to an end, only that end, it must. The definition of “capitalism” implicit in the column seems to embrace the entire working of the free market.
How would the writer propose an inhibition of the free market? Create a siege economy? Ban travel outside the country? In the absence of a price mechanism, how would decisions on production and distribution be taken? Presumably there would be high fences and disciplined border guards who would keep us all inside the country?
What would the end of capitalism in one country achieve? There would be an exodus of all of those who had the means to leave. There would be a collapse of trade. There would be a severe restrictions on civil liberties.
Is this the sort of society envisaged? And how would its adoption by one country address the issue of climate change? Perhaps the aspiration is not limited to one country, but is a hope for a return to a worldwide pre-industrial society: how likely is such a vision? How likely is it that the international community would turn its back on Twenty-First Century life and embrace a life free of capitalism?
There seems a Millennarian wing within the environmental movement, people who are like Christian fundamentalists in their belief that their vision of the future is the only one possible and that to accept their ideas will usher in some Golden Age. Realistically, to assert that capitalism in the world must come to an end is as wild an idea as the notion that everyone should convert to some narrow sectarian religious belief.
And who would be most hurt by a project to eliminate the working of the free market in a country? Who always gets most hurt by bans, prohibitions and levies?
An project to bring the end of capitalism in one country would mean the wealthy would depart, taking their money with them. Shortages of consumer goods would lead to a mushrooming of the black market comparable with that in the old Soviet Union. Rationing would place a premium upon particular items and allow for profiteering. It would take a voice out of the international community: create a pariah state.
The answer is not to end capitalism, but to endeavour to use markets to bring the changes that are needed.