Economic (and Other) Impossibilities for Our Grandchildren

Many of us have probably had the most comfortable lives ever lived. But as a society we are asleep at the wheel. And our apathy is to blame for the reckless way society is currently set up.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

A 2013 Pew Center opinion survey of 39 countries found that only 33 percent of Americans and 17 percent of Brits believe their children will live better lives than they had. And evidence of our imminent freefall into climate chaos and "debtonation" suggests that they are right to be so pessimistic. Indeed, for the first time in human history life is now likely to be worse for our grandchildren than it has been for us.

That's a sobering thought. It's the end of the post-Enlightenment narrative and paradigm of 'progress'. As Noam Chomsky is saying, things aren't getting better any more. They are getting worse.

In his 1931 Essays in Persuasion, Keynes wrote an essay on "The Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren." He predicted a time when humanity would overcome its scarcity problem and the accompanying psychology of self-interestedness. He was talking about 2031 and I guess its possible things might improve by then. Currently though, the direction of travel is in the opposite direction, with greed and avarice of those 1 percent in power on the increase and equality for the 99 percent on the decrease. Combine that with a myopic growth obsessed economics and it makes for an Unhappy Planet. Indeed 2031 is the date some climate analysts predict as being game-over for humanity based on our current trajectory.

And lets be clear, the blame for this mess we are in lies with those of us who are already adults. We've had it good. At least those of us over-privileged few who have computers, read blogs, have jobs, can make ends meet. Many of us have probably had the most comfortable lives ever lived. But as a society we are asleep at the wheel. And our apathy is to blame for the reckless way society is currently set up.

Two years ago I wrote a blog, "Daddy what did you do when the earth was unraveling?" just after I had my first child. I've just had another child. I think bringing a new life into this uncertain world scares me. In fact it scares the hell out of me. It also makes me more and more determined not to allow those in power, the cynical, the selfish, the apathetic, to get away with it any longer.

Because it does not have to be all doom and gloom. We could (maybe) still avert the freefall into climate chaos if we all step up, be counted, make our stand and push for radical change in the way our economy is run. We need a new economics which puts the well-being of people and planet at its heart instead of power, inequity and plunder. The building blocks of this new economy are already out there. We just need to nurture the good stuff and kill off the bad.

There are great examples of what Polanyi called the 'double movement' -- of society fighting back against the destructive forces of an untamed market. We need to champion these movements and scale them. Be it Los Indignados, Occupy, Bien Vivir, the Commoning, Cooperatives, Degrowth, Maker, Collaborative-Consumption and Transition movements -- they and many others, represent elements of a very new way of doing things.

As Kevin Keely, former executive editor of Wired magazine has said of the peer-to-peer economy, "How close to a non-capitalistic, open source peer production society can this movement take us? Closer than we thought." Jeremy Rifkin has recently written of a "collaborative commons eclipsing capitalism", and Harvard Professor Jim Heskett says, "Now questions are again arising about whether we are about to experience a post-capitalist society centered around the creation and sharing of goods and services that have marginal costs approaching zero."

That's why a group of us are launching an exciting new initiative, the Real Economy Lab, to explore, popularize and support the flourishing of a new form of people-powered and sustainable socio-economics.

In 2031, the date Keynes predicted that all manner of things will be well, my daughter will be 19 and my son 17. I'm optimistic that the world then will be a better place -- or at least not a worse one. But not just for them, for all of humanity. That's possible and its surely worth fighting for.

But it's a fair bet that whatever form 'progress' or prosperity takes in the future, it won't be defined by our current paradigm's measures of wealth and growth. My hunch is that, if we make it out of our current nosedive, we will have moved on from what we call 'capitalism' and our current formulation of 'democracy' to new forms of peer-to-peer, participative, collaborative and co-operative politics and commerce beyond 'growth' as its narrowly defined today.

Exciting times. Vive la Revolution.

Popular in the Community