Friday, August 17, 2012

What to demand of neoliberal capitalism in crisis

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The crisis of neoliberalism has reached the heart of the core countries that arrogated to themselves the right to run not only economic and financial processes but also the very course of human history. It is the crisis of the political ideology of the minimal state and the privatization of public goods, but also the capitalist mode of production, extremely exacerbated by a concentration of power as never before seen in history. We believe that this crisis is systemic and terminal.

The genius of capitalism has always found a way out for its purpose of unlimited accumulation. For that, it has used every means, including war. It profits from destroying and profits from rebuilding. The 1929 crisis was resolved not via the economy but via the Second World War. That recourse now seems impractical, because wars are so destructive that they could wipe out human life and much of the biosphere. But we aren't sure that, in its insanity, capitalism won't use this means.

There are two insurmountable limits this time, which justify saying that capitalism's historical role is concluding. The first is the full world, that is to say that capitalism has occupied all the space for its expansion at the global level. The other truly insurmountable one is the limits of planet Earth. Its goods and services are limited and many, non-renewable. In the last generation we have burned more energy resources than in all previous generations, Italian analyst Luigi Zoja tells us. What will we do when these reach a critical point or simply run out? The shortage of drinking water could put mankind face to face with the destruction of millions of lives.

The regulations and controls proposed so far have simply been ignored. The United Nations Commission of Experts on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, whose coordinator was the Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz (the so-called "Stiglitz Commission") made a great effort starting in January 2009 to present intrasystemic reforms along Keynesian lines.

It proposed a reform of the international financial organizations (IMF, World Bank) and the WTO (World Trade Organization). It provided for the creation of a Global Economic Coordination Council at the same level as the Security Council, the establishment of a global reserve system to counter the hegemony of the dollar as benchmark currency, the institution of international control, the abolition of tax havens and bank secrecy and, finally, a reform of the certification agencies. All were rejected. The UN accepted only the permanent constitution of an Expert Group on the Prevention of Crises, to which no one attaches any importance, because what really counts are the stock markets and financial speculation.

This disappointing fact convinces us that the logic of the hegemonic system could make the planet no longer friendly to us, and lead to very serious socio-ecological catastrophes to the point of threatening our civilization and the human species. The truth is that this type of capitalism, which at Rio +20 was dressed up in green with the aim to put a price on all natural common goods and services of mankind, is not in a position in the medium or long term to ensure its hegemony. A different way of inhabiting planet Earth and using its goods and services ought to emerge.

The big challenge is how to process the transition towards a post-liberal capitalist world, understood as a social system that is guided by the common good of mankind and the Earth, that sustains all life, and that expresses a new relationship of belonging and synergy with nature and the Earth.

It's necessary to produce, but respecting the scope and limits of each ecosystem, not merely to accumulate but to meet human demands sufficiently and decently. It is also important to care for all forms of life and seek social equilibrium, without ceasing to think about future generations that are entitled to a preserved and habitable Earth.

It's not the place here to throw out alternatives in progress. We abide by what is possible intrasystemically, since there's no way out of it in the short term.

We are witnessing the fact that Latin America and Brazil, in the international division of labor, are condemned to export what is extracted from their mines and commodities, natural resources such as food, grains and meats. To deal with this type of imposition, we should follow the steps already suggested by several analysts, especially a great friend of Brazil, Fran├žois Houtart, in his recent book with other collaborators, A Post-capitalist Paradigm: The Common Good of Humanity (Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2012)

First, fight within the system for international environmental standards and regulations that care as much as possible for the natural goods and services imported from our countries, that deal with their use in a socially responsible and environmentally sound manner. Soy is for feeding people first, and only afterwards, animals.

Second, care for our autonomy, rejecting the neocolonialism of the core countries that keep us, as before, on the periphery, subordinate, add-ons and merely suppliers for what they lack in natural resources. Before, we must take care to incorporate technologies that give add value to our products, create technological innovations and steer the economy, first, towards the domestic market and then, the foreign one.

Third, requiring importing countries to pollute their environments as little as possible and contribute financially to the care and environmental regeneration of ecosystems from which they import natural assets, particularly in the Amazon and the Cerrado.

It's about reforms and not yet about revolutions. But they help to create the basis for proposing a different paradigm that wouldn't be the extension of the current evil and decadent one.

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