Three hacks that could put capitalism back into its box

My recent article on how come capitalism is an extractive practice, and the later explainer of how it degrades real capital got, for me at least, a lot of interest. Very few, however, asked what could be done about it. Let’s do just that. We have described the problem, now we can get on and solve it. There are three ways to limit the destructive power of the capitalist form of production and its toxic side kick, free markets .They are surprisingly simple. Read on!

Just in case you are like me and don’t bother to go back to earlier articles here is a short summary of the earlier articles: Not crony capitalism, not raw capitalism, not capitalism in the hands of wrong people but capitalism itself is the cause of the environmental degradation and social misery we see around us. Capitalism offers the rules if you like, the players play by those rules, and the results are what we see.

Where most goods and services are produced in firms that are privately-owned, by employees who in turn get wages to buy goods and services

Definition of capitalism

By the way, the best definition of capitalism I have heard is where the relationship between citizen and organisation is one of employee/customer to owner. The presence of markets makes things worse although there are markets in non-capitalist countries so markets are not an integral part of capitalism per se .

Recap: why does this method of production bring about so many negatives?

To understand this employer-owner relationship let us start with the workings of the firm by following the flow of money backwards. The diagram below illustrates that:

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Let us suppose that owners and lenders want more money back on what they put in or are fearing slumps in customer demand and want to accumulate som cash. The options, laid out in the diagram below include:

  • Paying themselves more
  • Selling more
  • Raising prices towards customers
  • Reducing costs for inputs
  • Reducing wage costs

This is shown in the diagram below.

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So, to get more money out of the firm, or in some cases get some money out of the firm, managers have several options and all of them are extractive:

Persuade the customers to pay more or make the product cheaper by:

  • Ignoring health risks with cheaper ingredients
  • Using lobbying power to gain a near monopoly
  • Finding ways to get the customers “addicted” to your product and sell more that way
  • Cutting corners in production and transferring pollution risks to society
  • Pushing wages down

The capitalist production form forces extraction and exploitation.

There you have it: the “rules of the game”. Put you as owner (or representative of the owner) in the position where you are obliged to seek to lower costs of inputs including labour, raise the price of your goods and increase the size of the market. All of these act to extract from nature, society and individuals.

We must work to change the rules of the game so that our economic system

  • takes care of people — each to their needs
  • takes care of eco systems — harvesting regeneratively
  • takes care of mineral wealth — retains the wealth in circulation

What follows below are some simple solutions that can be applied with the stroke of a pen, in some cases not even that. They are not fool-proof. Any system can be corrupted, the idea is to put in place alternatives that are not as likely to produce negative results.

See this article as a starting point towards the structural and rule-based changes we need badly to consider.

Stephen Hinton

#1 hack the market

We are very used to seeing everything as buy and sell in a market. The problem with markets is that those who can afford to buy, do, and those who need but cannot afford go without.

The corollary of this is that those who can afford to buy a lot, do and this leads to the production of these goods polluting even more. Recent research shows that rich people are responsible, through their purchases for a high proportion of all pollution.

The richest one percent of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice as much carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who made up the poorest half of humanity during a critical 25-year period of unprecedented emissions growth.

#1A Replace the market with long-term subscriptions

One alternative lies in replacing the market with long-term subscription agreements.

Citizens could set up their own city service purchasing company and set up subscription contracts with suppliers of food and basic household goods, for example. Citizens in a city agree on an annual or quarterly basis to buy food from the supplier in return for terms of service such as availability, range, quality, etc.

Gone are supermarkets buying food and putting it on shelves hoping customers will buy. Waste is gone, destructive competition is gone, advertising not necessary, cutting costs not needed. In comes yearly planning which produces to order.

An economy without a market is indeed a planned economy. However, if you swooped over any given country at any given time with X-Ray vision and looked down at each firm, each government department, each municipal office as well as government agencies you would see plans — plans for the quarter, the year, the next 5 years. We live already in planned economies we do not however really plan for them to be successful in terms of people employed, standards of living equity and environmental performance. We might as well plan properly and ditch the pervasive market leaving it to function in the specific areas it excels at, like fine art auctions.

#1b hack markets with rationing

You heard right! War-time experience shows rationing works. For those who cannot afford the basics, they can get rations anyway. For those who can, they have a purchasing limit put on them. In times of crisis (and this surely is) rationing of things like fossil fuel and fossil-made electricity makes sense as part of a reduction mechanism.

#2 hack ownership

#2A remove ownership of land

One of the bugbears of the capitalist model is where people directly or through corporations own land. That means they can do pretty much what they like with it, like cut down trees and sell them and leave the local hydrology malfunctioning, carbon sequestration depleted and local groundwater overburdened with nutrients. Some call that ecocide — the killing of eco-systems.

The alternative is to see land as a commons — something you can use but you have to put it back in at least the same status you found it. If the right to own land was removed, and replaced with a lease that bound the tenant to abide by eco-stewardship rules, the temptation to increase profits by lowering eco stewardship costs would be gone.

The same can go for mineral wealth — this is seen as a commons and there should be agreed rules to its use in creating the circular economy.

#2B hack ownership structure of corporations

It is the owners who need to service their debts and remove money from the corporation. No owners, no need to service debts. Corporations can be owned by governments, municipalities and even constellations of citizens who are the beneficiaries of the corporation’s services. But then, where would money to set the firm up come from? A central government lending facility could provide money to worker cooperatives. Or citizens themselves can provide money up front.

#3 hack work

The government-run worker agency
This agency employs everyone. Then it hires people out to firms at a price. If there is no firm to rent the person out to, the person gets paid anyway. It is actually good for firms. The government-run agency at least can make sure the workers they provide to firms are healthy, well-trained, etc and that the firm treats them fairly. And if there is no firm to take them on they get wages anyway.

The advantages to firms are many: If there is a problem with an employee, the agency can just send another. The firm has almost zero administration for the employee — they just pay the bill, and all pensions, health care etc are taken care of. And for society it just takes the consequence of accepting the relationship employer — employee to its logical ending.

If firms cannot employ people then it will have to be up to the state or municipality to do that. Or indeed, the state agency could “rent out for free” workers to charitable organisations, state run institutions like the railways, road maintenance, even the banks and telephone network, health care etc. All these essential services could be staffed in a better way.

For workers, the security of knowing you will always have a job to go to, always an income to fall back on will take the stress of potential employers playing workers off against each other, or zero -hours contracts.

Encourage cooperatives, charities etc
A central lending facility could provide money to worker cooperatives funded from taxes or indeed from money created by central banks. The workers are mostly interested in getting paid for their work. The central (government or folk institution) is only interested in the debt being serviced in a sustainable way. The best results are when vital services are offered in a sustainable way. The capital cost can be secondary.

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Solutions combined in an example: the local commons food organisation

We could start small and from where we are. There are several local common areas of interest that impact lives and environment. One is the local market for food (a commons because it is in everyone’s interest) and the other is the food produced locally — again in everyone’s interest)

Within cycling and walking distance then, a community needs to acquire a shop or other premises from where all locals buy a good deal of their food. There is the commons market sorted. Then, they need to buy from local producers. To get started they could ask the national cooperative association to help them by getting a wholesale agreement with the local supermarket where the shop buys at wholesale and picks up from the shop.

Subscription works best so that everything the local shop buys in is pre-ordered or pre-bought by locals. That reduces food waste to around zero and helps keep the economy of the shop buoyant. That might need a nifty computer system but — hey — many love creating such things.

Next step is agreements with local suppliers and indeed community members who grow some food in their gardens to supply within the pre-planned yearly sales.

Of course, all systems can be improved, all deals can be made better. A major system design is badly needed and not just in the rules of the game. But that is the subject for the next explainer. Stay tuned, sign up for updates from my blog (in sidebar) or Medium account.

Articles related to this one:
Why all business is extractive
Monetary theory and a safe house for humanity
Business as usual destroys capital


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