I want to bring your attention to this group, if you don’t know them already. They’re called ‘The Next System Project‘ – very slick, very American and very new (founded in March this year), but what they’re saying is rare and, I believe, essential.
They are saying what we’ve been saying for years – we need a new system. The best we can do by tinkering with the current system is to buy ourselves time, until we can install a new one.
As this corporate system that we find ourselves in has at its heart gambling, compound interest on imaginary money and perpetual growth, it is completely impossible to reconcile it with environmental sustainability – they are in fundamental opposition. Tear those things from the heart of this system and you don’t have this system any more.
And they don’t have an ideology – all they are suggesting is that we begin conversations about what a new system might look like, and how we get there. This is essential, so as not to alienate the right. There’s no reason at all to assume that the right like environmental destruction, or corruption, or corporate domination. There’s nothing in right-wing ideology to indicate that they naturally would – why on earth would they? There’s scope for collaboration when it comes to systemic change, and we can argue about the details later.
They rightly point to all the co-operative, renewable, mutual, decentralised projects that have sprung up to provide an alternative to corporations for the essentials of life, but they (also rightly) don’t suggest that this is enough. It isn’t, because however optimistic you become at the range and creativity of new initiatives, not enough people are going to be recruited. The majority are still going to be seduced by corporate advertising. Corporations know this, which is why they spend £350 billion on it globally.
They list the types of model that lend optimism to the current situation:
- Worker ownership: (David Schweikart, Richard Wolff) democracy at work, including in the financial sector – worker co-ops, credit unions and mutuals, but also partnerships and self-employment (cf. distributism).
- Localism: (E F Schumacher, David Korten) – small-scale, decentralised economies, as well as the worker-owned businesses mentioned above. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful is the seminal work; Korten points out that corporate capitalism is its exact opposite, as it extracts wealth from local communities to pay distant shareholders. Constraints on corporations, banks and central banks are proposed.
- Reinvigorated social democracy: not so thrilled about this one – very similar system, i.e. growth and profit oriented, but more of a role for the state. As the state is corrupted by corporate political donations, lobbying and board positions for ex-politicians, I don’t think this one is worth pursuing too vigorously.
- Participatory economic planning: this is where the public is at the heart of economic policy-making. The best example of participatory budgeting in action is probably Porto Alegre in Brazil.
- Ecological economics: (Herman Daly, Richard Douthwaite, Richard Heinberg, Tim Jackson) in other words ‘no growth’ economics, for which Lowimpact.org has been a cheerleader for many years.
- Bringing some parts of the economy back into public ownership: sometimes this seems like the only solution, and in the UK, the railways spring to mind, and the banks, and even land, if you’re feeling adventurous. They can always be broken up and redistributed at a later date, when we work out how to keep grubby corporate hands off them.
- Bioregionalism: (Kirkpatrick Sale et al) let’s get everything we need from our own part of the planet, instead of getting butter from New Zealand, beef from South America or apples from South Africa. We can produce our own butter, beef and apples – it may make economic sense to transport basic foodstuffs around the globe, but that just goes to show the inadequacy of economics as a guide to anything worthwhile.
- ‘Pluralist commonwealth’: basically, an amalgam of all the above approaches, rooted firmly in the principles of co-operation and subsidiarity.
The take-home message is that we don’t have to make do with either corporate capitalism or bureaucratic state socialism – there are alternatives that could form the basis of something new. All the above proposals can form the basis of a new society – but first we have to find a way of relocating global power to a new, non-corporate place, otherwise the main aim of the human economy will continue to be profit and growth – the root of our looming environmental catastrophe. As well as continuing to burrow away at the current system at the grass roots level, we need to be talking about how to transfer decision-making powers away from corporate boardrooms and professional politicians towards something a lot more democratic. It’s a question of political structure as well as of good works on the ground.
That’s the tricky part, and they admit that they don’t have the answer – but they want to inspire conversation. Human ingenuity is a wonderful thing. It’s a shame that so many bright, creative young minds have been seduced into advertising, finance, corporate R&D and into climbing the corporate hierarchy generally. They are lost to the task of imagining and building a new system, but enough brilliant minds have deliberately avoided the corporate route. Enough to successfully challenge the corporate system, I’m sure. But what I’m more sure of is that we won’t survive unless we do.
They really want to engage the media in discussions about systemic change, instead of the largely trivial and bipartisan arguments that fill the newspapers now. There’s a dearth of this at the moment, not surprisingly, as most of the media is corporate, and therefore not necessarily set to benefit from systemic change. But we need to start the discussions to shake people out of the belief that ‘there is no alternative’ (M. Thatcher / T. Blair) to global corporate capitalism.
All in all, this is an excellent idea – it’s just a pity that it’s written as if there are no other countries apart from the US. Actually, it’s more than a pity – it’s impossible to change this system in just one country. It would scare investors away from that country and into the arms of its more rapacious competitors, who, if this system remains global, will outcompete and impoverish it – and more than that, probably compromise its security. I find the America-centrism strange – their main report mentions that there is no precedent for the kinds of conversations that need to be had, except for perhaps the communications that took place before the American revolution. It doesn’t mention the 19th century ‘Internationals’ at all – which were much more like what they’re suggesting – and they were truly international, in an age before flight or the internet.
They do say that they would like to build relationships with similar initiatives in other countries, however. To that end, we’d like to initiate something like this in the UK, amongst organisations who understand the need for systemic change.
More to come soon, as well as a critique of a similar US organisation that believes that we can achieve a sustainable, free and fair society without systemic change. Not surprisingly, I disagree.
The views expressed in our blog are those of the author and not necessarily lowimpact.org's
paul57woody April 24th, 2015
I strongly believe that our current system is wrong, I hate the way that power and wealth is restricted to so few people and that those people choose to allow the “Status Quo” at the expense of the majority in so many different ways. A systemic change is needed to make society a fairer and saner place to live and also save our planet from destruction.
I like the idea of getting our brighter and more creative minds to put their efforts into creating a new society, it has great value, as long as it doesn’t become elitist and leave us ordinary people out as in our current system. Perhaps we could start with young uncorrupted minds and get the ball rolling within universities, before these young promising individuals are entrapped into the slavery of our modern society. Could the Students Union get a national movement/debate underway to work out the next step?
Dave Darby April 26th, 2015
Good idea. A ‘new system’ competition organised by the student’s union. I might contact them to suggest it. I think that maybe the debate about whether we need a new system has to be won first. More and more people are getting it though, I think.
phil foggitt April 30th, 2015
I’m not an active member any more but I can’t see anything here which the UK Green Party hasn’t been saying for quite a while. I know some people are allergic to “conventional” politics but the Peoples’ Party and then Ecology Party- as it was initially, grew in response to the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth” an excellent document which is as valid today as it was then. We shouldn’t forget that the US also has its own Green Party albeit one that is even more ignored by the mainstream media than ours is over here. And of course the UK has a long history of radical politics going back to the Luddites, William Morris, John Ruskin etc. Its a mistake to think that we are in a uniquely different situation to that of these earlier thinkers- things have just got far worse.
Dave Darby - repliedApril 30th, 2015
Forgive me Phil, you’ve missed my point entirely. By taking part in this political system, the Green Party are not suggesting a new system – they’re trying to gain power through this one. That’s exactly what I and ‘The Next System’ are saying can’t work. Yes, of course I’d prefer a Green government than a blue, purple, orange or red Tory government. But corporate power can’t be challenged from within this system, because if a radical party forms a government in any country, it will scare off investors, damage the country economically – they’ll lose the next election, and then – relax, everything’s back to normal. Ad infinitum.
If you think the Green party are calling for a new system, then we don’t mean the same thing by a new system. I mean a new way of choosing decision-makers. This one is corporate-owned and corrupt.
Paddygoat April 30th, 2015
Technology may well provide the answer for a completely new system. Think ‘artificial intelligence’.
Dave Darby - repliedApril 30th, 2015
You mean like a silicon-rather-than-carbon-based-life-type system? As in handing over the baton? Have you been reading Ray Kurzweil? It’s quite persuasive actually, and I certainly don’t know enough about the technology to say how likely it is – although people working in AI seem to be saying it’s more or less inevitable unless we stop.
ginafonyo - repliedMay 1st, 2015
What’s wrong with NATURAL intelligence? Reliance on artificiality is what has gotten the world into the mess it’s in!
ginafonyo May 1st, 2015
The trillions of tons of methane seeping out of the permafrost NEED to be harvested, (1 trillion tons of methane entering the atmosphere = extinction). Rising sea-levels and drought NEED to be addressed.
There is money and resources in the global military budget, money in the global advertising and entertainment budgets and TRILLIONS in offshore accounts. That money and resources should be used to build a network of desalination plants to suck billions of litres of water every day from the oceans and transport it to arid regions and at the same time ending poverty and inequality, (simultaneously ending wealth and privilege).
Online forums and petitions are all well and good but, as Dr. Martin Luther King said, we need feet on the street, mass protests and strikes. Refuse to use your car, refuse to pay your mortgage, refuse to pay your credit card bill, refuse to collect money from customers in shops, refuse to arrest people as they walk out of shops with goods, refuse to evict people, refuse to associate yourself with exploitative, corrupt and polluting behaviour and refuse to vote……..not much left of your “life” now is there?
ginafonyo May 1st, 2015
Every year the Sunday Times does us the favour of telling us how the super-rich have got super-richer: the top one thousand and their billions. Even when it’s a crisis, says the Sunday Times, it’s not a crisis for them.
Even when it’s a crisis for you, says the Sunday Times, it’s not a crisis for them.
I send this information to my friends. We tweet it. We Facebook it. We recycle it as damning info, evidence that this is how capitalism works, an argument for showing that all this talk of benefit dependency or the deficit or ‘balancing the books; are a smokescreen for a system that creates inequality. This is not the Big Issue saying this. Or Socialist Worker. Or Socialist Revolutionary Worker. Or Revolutionary Worker Socialist.
The Sunday Times must be so confident that we’ll do nothing.
Maybe moan a bit. Write a really angry poem perhaps.
Is it because in the end we think this is how it has to be?
That it’s the best way to divvy things up?
Or that it’s the only way?
Or that trying anything else would be too risky and would end up with prison camps and starvation?
So in the meantime we should just carry on doing what we do, knowing that everything any politician says about fairness, justice and equality is complete hooey?
Or is that people think we aren’t strong enough or clever enough to change anything or run things ourselves?
Or are we each so in debt that we don’t dare defy anyone in case we get thrown out of our homes?
Or that we so long for things in the shops that even when we can’t afford them we want to hang on till next week, next month, next year, next decade…when we might just possibly be able to afford it?
Or is it that we’re all in a race which any of us could win so we’d better not do anything that might stop the race, even though there will only be a tiny handful of winners, who will only be winners because the rest of us are in the race, doing the running, doing the work, that makes those tiny few the winners anyway?
Dave Darby - repliedMay 1st, 2015
I feel your pain, really. The problem with relying on individual action to bring about change is that not enough people will do it. Think about the most popular newspapers, beverages, snacks – they’re all corporate because most people don’t think too much about it. That’s the bad news. The good news is that change can come about without them. But the people who do think a lot about it have to start discussing an alternative system and how to implement them. This is why I brought attention to ‘the Next System’ – let’s see what they come up with. Things change – and they will. We just have to make sure the next system is a better one.
Paddygoat May 1st, 2015
Hello everybody. No, I’m not really a fan of Kurzweil, apart from his amazing synthesisers of course. My own personal beliefs are far more radical than kurzweil and actually a lot more optimistic. To start with, I had to examine what intelligence actually is and how us humans would be different from artificial intelligence. I came away with some extremely positive conclusions! The next thing in the logical train of thought was that artificial intelligence will actually recognise that human beings and animals and other life forms in general are very different from themselves and worth protecting. For human beings ourselves, the protection would involve protecting ourselves from ourselves, think global warming et cetera.
Ultimately, technology saves ourselves from global warming, fixes the human dominance and self-destructive problem, and most likely takes away most of our technology in the process. Kurzweil predicts the world in the future with loads of crazy technology, personally I predict the world in the future that exists in a complete technology vacuum as all technology would now be strictly controlled by artificial intelligence in order to protect ourselves from ourselves.
Of course, my idea is going to sound completely and utterly insane to most people, but in a way this kind of reassures me! In the meantime, there is no need for boots on the streets, strikes, protests, political manoeuvring, violence, anger, frustration et cetera et cetera and I am just going to get on with planting my broad beans. PS. I am more than happy to elaborate if anybody is interested? I also have some great tips on gardening.
ginafonyo - repliedMay 1st, 2015
I said “feet” not boots! When you say “boots on the streets” you add an element of menace to what I said, also, I never said anything about political manoeuvring, violence, anger or frustration either. Take issue with what I say by all means but please do not distort my words.
Dave Darby - repliedMay 1st, 2015
Technology controlled by AI to protect us from ourselves! I’m going to have a bit of a lie down. I think an article on AI would be very interesting – I don’t think people realise what trouble we’ll be in if the singularity happens – but of course no-one really knows if it will or can. But the fact that AI professionals seem to be saying it’s inevitable is a worry – unless the future of evolution is silicon-based rather than carbon-based. It’s difficult to look at that possibility from a non-anthropocentric position though, isn’t it?
ginafonyo May 1st, 2015
Gardening tips? I’ve heard it said this country, (UK), needs a million more farmers. Is that about right? What about using golf courses and the estates of the landed gentry as farmland?
Paddygoat - repliedMay 1st, 2015
We do need to completely re-evaluate food production and employment in farming and at least 1 M farmers. The first thing that I will do when the Revolution kicks off is to drive my tractor onto the neighbouring golf course and plough it up for cultivation! PS. Apologies for miss quoting your words previously.
ginafonyo May 1st, 2015
The “next system” needs to prioritise 3 things.
AIR: Without air we are dead in 5 minutes.
WATER: Without water we are dead in 5 days.
EARTH: Without food we are dead in 5 weeks.
The “next system” needs to have contingency plans for the failure of the global wheat crop two years running, the methane seeping from the melting permafrost, regional disasters, drought, fuel shortages, power shortages, population shifts, pandemics.
The “next system” needs to abandon warfare, abandon nation states and flags, abandon superficiality and come together as one species on one planet.
The “next system” needs to consider what the implications of stopping putting poison gas into the air, putting poisons into the water system and putting poisons in the earth are:
Perhaps a few people in the petro-chemical industry and the arms trade will have resign and hand ALL their money and resources over to people who will use them to repair the damage done to the planet and it’s inhabitants by the petro-chemical industry and the arms trade.
Perhaps people who say they need “the car” to get to “work” should consider what that “work” is and if it is in any way non-productive, divisive or exploitative then they should stay at home and their “bills” will be paid out of ALL the “money” in the global military budget, the global advertising budget, the global entertainment budget and the profits that have been accruing since the inception of the economic system, profits that have not disappeared off the face of the earth but are hidden away in secretive accounts in secretive banks.
The “next system” needs to take the concepts of profit and loss and tax and interest out of the economic system. Without the winners and losers aspect, without taxation, i.e. a force that demands part of your earnings but which does nothing for it apart from threaten you with violence if you don’t pay up and interest which keeps people in debt bondage the economic system would be a form of madness, people would be wandering around carrying bits of paper and metal disks with numbers on them trying to convince people they are worth something. In the present economic model they are only worth something when they are reinforced with a THREAT! The “next system” needs to lose the threatening aspect because it is nice to be nice and compassionate thoughts and behaviour make people HAPPY!
The “next system” needs to observe nature which doesn’t have rules, regulations, laws, diktats and threats but where each and every creature understands implicitly their role and function without having to be told. Humans have that capacity to but it has not been allowed to flourish. We ALL know instinctively what is RIGHT but we have all been terrified into “knowing” what the “right” thing to do and the “right” thing to say is. Stand up Rupert Murdoch, the BBC, the Stock Exchange of London, the British Military, the British Police Force and the British Prison Service, these are the mechanisms that determine our thoughts and behaviour. We need to tell them it is over now. We want to turn back from the brink of extinction and turn the planet into a garden. It is not rocket science.
ginafonyo May 1st, 2015
ginafonyo May 2nd, 2015
From thread on Guardian, following news that Cameron is not ruling out cutting child benefit, my comments:
What a great idea: make children hungry so that ‘the deficit’ can be got rid of. Why do we need to get rid of the deficit? So that the bond markets can remain ‘confident’. But is there any evidence that the bond markets have lost confidence? Nope. And who or what are ‘the bond markets’ anyway? They’re very rich people shuffling moolah. So what’s going on is that the children need to be made hungry in case some rich people stop being ‘confident’ that they can go on doing stuff that makes them very rich.
But in fact, they’re not unconfident. What happens is that the politicians make up stories about ‘loss of confidence’ in order to make us scared. When we’re scared, they can pose as people who know what they’re doing to make us less scared. They’re going to ‘balance the books’ they say. In fact, they won’t and can’t. And plenty of people think it’s undesirable to do so anyway. Why not borrow to invest in order to stimulate growth? Isn’t that what all capitalists do anyway?
But ‘balancing the books’ sounds grown-up. Years ago it was the ‘balance of payments’. That was the big bogeyman. oh my how we all worried about the balance of payments. It was a great way to bully workers into accepting pay freezes and pay cuts. Then they forgot about the balance of payments bogeyman and came up with ‘The Deficit’. Now everyone talks about ‘The Deficit. Especially news interviewers on the BBC. This is their trump card. What about ‘The Deficit’? they say to all politicians. In a few years time, they’ll have stopped doing that and started talking about something else: the money supply or productivity. And that’ll be the killer bogeyman.
It’s all about which gang of economists get the ear of the top politicians in the US. And we tag along behind.
In the meantime, the rich people in the bond markets are very ‘confident’ that the Bank of England can always print some more money (er…do some ‘quantitative easing’) if things get a bit sticky. That’s the problem about being Greek. You can’t print money. So you get screwed by people who can.
Oh yes, and the other great advantage about going on and on about ‘The Deficit’ is that it gives you an excuse to demolish and destroy the welfare state. That’s because the Welfare State is ‘socialism’ and ‘socialism’ must be destroyed. Only the market can satisfy all our needs: as with housing in London for example. Oh…well, not actually housing. Yes, forget about housing. How about chocolate. Yes, chocolate. The market is brilliant at satisfying our need for chocolate. Thank you.
ginafonyo May 2nd, 2015