In his May 28 OpEd News article, "Global Monopolies Swell: Where's the Backlash?", Robert Becker identified the downside to the anti-corporate revolution: corporations provide virtually all of our everyday necessities of life like food, water and electricity, and virtually all of the enhancements like the electronics we are using to read and write these blogs.
In the comments, Jim Arnold pointed out that the monopolies or oligopolies that produce goods and services do not have to be privately owned. Concentrated private corporate ownership of industries serves oligarch interests in extracting maximum personal profit and "corporate liberty" to exploit nations' resources and economies for private corporate gain. Marx recognized that capitalism was a necessary phase because capitalists build up the means of production. But once the means of production are built up, capitalists don't stop and we end up with this planet-consuming endless growth mentality.
Governments of capitalist nations serve capitalist interests. They don't "overthrow" them and nationalize their businesses. Good luck winning a violent popular revolution against the airborn drone armies of the American corporate state. And after a "successful" revolution, who is going to keep all the global industries running to keep providing everybody's necessities of life? Looks like a meet the new boss, same as the old boss kind of scenario.
As long as we depend on the structures of Big, we need big centralized management to coordinate the myriad factors of production. Contrary to the "invisible hand" fantasy that economics governs itself "automatically", Big Global Business is heavily "managed" by Big globetrotting human managers. The managers meet with each other, refine and harmonize their worldviews, and coordinate their efforts. Corporate managers "govern" the global economy. Capitalism is actually a form of government: government by ownership. In that sense capitalism is just the Industrial Age version of feudalism, where a landed aristocracy governed by owning all the land during the Agrarian Age. Capitalists now govern by owning all the industries in the Industrial Age.
Robert points out that corporate industrial production is now transnational, so it's not like any national government can effectively regulate the corporate economy. Some people advocate global government as a solution, but government rule is actually implemented by endless bureaucracies populated by humans with all their corruptible foibles, so "idealistic" global solutions would almost certainly fail to produce the benevolent results their proposers imagine.
Corporations govern industries by maintaining a fairly rigid military style command hierarchy, with the Chief Executive Officer performing the role of the Commander in Chief. Corporate armies are no more or less "democratic" than are military armies. A Chief and his Executive decides the goals and commands the army, and the army does as commanded. Militaries court martial members who don't follow orders. Corporations fire them. It is a single-minded pursuit of narrow goals, unlike "life" which has broader and more diverse interests. Big hierarchical corporate management, whether exercised by people who call themselves "private sector" or "public sector", imposes somebody's vision of an 'ideal' uniformity on everybody else's life.
Freud published, "Civilization and its Discontents" in 1930. We want what we want but we don't want the consequences.
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If we give up fossil fuels to prevent global warming, then the globalized industrial production system crashes to a stop because virtually all transportation systems are powered by fossil fuels. Without the systems of ships and trains and trucks and highways and city streets, none of that globally produced stuff can be delivered to the local store where you buy it. And without your car, you can't haul it home. Since WWII the infrastructure of the developed world has been rebuilt to accomodate the fossil-fueled automobile. How much more fossil fuel will be burned rebuilding it all for a post-automobile, post-fossil fuel world?
Industrial agriculture is almost wholly powered by fossil fuels, so goodbye millions of acres of grain crops unless millions of people revert to plowing the fields with oxen and planting and harvesting by hand. Do any of us have oxen and handplows and any idea how to use them to farm land? Without grain there is no bread, so do we eat cake?
I share the opinion that Big is the root of its own set of irresolvable problems. Within the context of Big, there simply are no realistic solutions to the Big problems. The problems are the discontents of industrial mass civilization. It's a package deal. The problems are part of the package.
Leopold Kohr advocated The Breakdown of Nations into smaller human scale socioeconomic units. Kohr's student and friend EF Schumacher said Small is Beautiful. I agree. The solutions to our Big problems will not be Big centralized monolithic ideas imposed on "everybody". The solutions will involve an evolutionary opting out of the Big systems by individuals, and their personal conversion to small local ways of living. Success breeds imitation. Early evolvers experiment and figure out what works and lead the way for later imitators.
65 million years ago the giant lizards who had ruled the Earth for 160 million years were suddenly extinguished by a global cataclysm. Big depends on a very fragile balance within a compex adaptive system that includes a fairly stable climate. Big lizards did not survive dramatic climate change. But small mammals survived. Over the recent 3 million years of ice ages and interglacials, the geological Pleistocene era of extreme climate change, adaptable mammals have prospered.
During the current interglacial, the Holocene, homo sapiens arose as the planet's new dominant species. But over the past 2 centuries we have rebuilt dinosaur-size financial, industrial, social and political institutions, and most of us have become utterly dependent on their ongoing functioning. These Big institutions depend on a very fragile balance within a complex adaptive system that includes not only climate but finance, political economy, and geopolitics.
Individual humans who control vast corporate power are now able to make decisions that affect the whole interconnected system. Any one of what John Mauldin calls "fingers of instability" is capable of setting off a landslide that crumbles the whole Big edifice. And if the Big globalized systems that produce and deliver our necessities of life fail, or even stall for a significant length of time (especially in winter), humans who depend on those systems will go the way of the dinosaurs.
Big is not adaptive to dramatic changes of circumstances. Small is niche-seeking and adaptable. Whole Big species rise and fall as a single interconnected corporate body. More independent individuals and groups can fail without taking the species down with them. That's the strength of free markets populated by myriad small participants. And that's the weakness of monopolies and oligopolies and everyone who depends on them for their necessities of life. Small is more hands-on and not so opulently rich as Big. But small is more nimble and quicker to respond to exigencies.
It may be true that no one is an island entire of itself, but neither are we continent or planet size creatures. What works for "us" in our little neck of the woods won't work for "them" under their different circumstances. "Local" is a radical departure from the mentality that millions of people in vastly different circumstances spread across a continent size land mass are "all in this together". That is the mentality of Big, and Big is the problem that "local" solves. Local solutions that work to solve local problems for the benefit of the people who live in that locale.
Local people can participate in regional and wider scale cooperative infrastructure with other local people. We don't need to abandon our connectivity. But we should be cellular, not monolithic. If one cell goes down, it doesn't bring the whole body down with it. Other locales can help out. Each cell should be self-sufficient at least in bare necessities like food production and water. There are natura limitations to personal liberty: If there's not enough arable land or water, you can't live there. We can still trade with each other, but back to the idea of trading our "surplus" food and goods, while producing food and goods primarily for our own local consumption. Local self-sufficiency in necessities is resilient and liberating. Dependency can be fatal.
Capitalists and imperialists built "global". We are seeing what global looks like, and where it is heading. Global is the problem. There are no global solutions to global problems that are baked into the cake of Big itself.
All the Big infrastructure will still be in place to facilitate the evolution to small. You don't have to walk into the bush naked and start from scratch. As Robert described, industrial mass civilization has developed innumerable beneficial technologies, and there's no need to deprive yourself of the fruits of industry just to maintain ideological purity. There's no hypocrisy in decrying the unsustainability and antidemocratic, anti free market oligarchic structures of corporate capitalism while benefiting from its benefits. Seeing and telling the truth does not exempt you from still living here in Big reality.
We start from here, where we are. And we take what we need as we move to where we want to be. We're not trying to go "back" to a pretechnological way of life. We're trying to go forward, to a life that intelligently uses and benefits from scientific knowledge and technology rather than serving it as slaves to its corporate monopolizers.
You and I are not the plutocrats and demagogues who built the Big world. Our mistake was buying into the mentality of TINA, there is no alternative to participating in the Big capitalist-built systems and their Big governing institutions. When you break free of their, "we're all in this together" rhetoric, and recognize that "we" are all in this for "their" benefit, you will see that you are free to opt out of Big and learn to live like the little local human being that you are.