The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Will Capitalism Be Replaced By Something Better?

The short answer is: “Who knows?”

The longer answer is “probably not,” simply because we have such a mess coming down the road in terms of climate change, resource exhaustion, imperial collapse, and so on.

But the answer isn’t “No.”

The answer is that it is possible. Not likely, but not so unlikely as to be a write off not worthy of consideration.

Far better systems can be thought up, I believe. I believe it’s even possible those systems would work with human nature well enough to be viable (a.k.a., are not utopian, in the impossible sense).

I also think they are our best alternative.

Wait? What?

Yeah. I think the odds are less than even that we pull it off, but I also think it is our best chance.  Sometimes the best bet you’ve got just isn’t a very good bet. We either fix the way our economic system works (how we turn resources into goods and services) and our political system works (how we make group choices) or we could go extinct. Better case scenarios involve billions of deaths and amazing amounts of suffering.

Of course, dividing the problem in two is wrong. Capitalism isn’t “just” an economic system.  The great mistake of the social sciences was changing from “political economics” to “economics.” Capitalism is a political choice, but it’s also how we make most of our group choices.

The right is right. Ideas matter, and the ideas on the ground during a crisis are important.  We’ve got a lot of crises ahead of us. That is bad, but it is also our hope. Setting up to win those crisis points is what matters. The neoliberals won the last one (the financial crisis), but no one wins them all.

It would be good if we had some radical options on the floor which would also make most of humanity better off, provide for freedom, and so on.

So figure out what you want to replace capitalism (or how it can be radically fixed); and do look seriously at the political system. Democracy is not going to be immune from the fallout (nor is the sort of one-party state China runs.)

We can create a better world, but that doesn’t mean we will. It’s up to us, to humanity, in the largest sense.

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  1. Billikin

    I think that the odds of a better successor to capitalism arising are better than 50-50, and the BRICS will lead the way. Why? Because they are best equipped, politically, to stand up to the multinational corporations, which embody the currently dominant form of capitalism. Because China and India together have an immense number of potential customers and workers, and can threaten to provide neither to the multinationals, thus giving China and India leverage against them. Because China is merging a kind of capitalism with a kind of socialism, from which may arise the successor to capitalism. At one time one might have thought that a successful marriage of capitalism and socialism would have emerged from Europe, and that is still possible, but, as we all know, Europe took a strange turn. However, if the BRICS show how to tame the multinationals, Europe may follow their lead.

    As against that, war or environmental catastrophe could usher in another Dark Ages.

    I think that capitalism as we know it will be around for at least another century.

  2. V. Arnold

    Under our present circumstances, there is no “fixing” this broken world we live within. This is more true for the U.S. than many other of the world’s countries; the U.S. is broken beyond redemption.
    It seems to me the first order of business is “fixing” ourselves; one by one.
    Until that happens, everything touted as a solution will be no such thing…
    A very bright ex-student of mine recently asked me if there was a way to fix this countries (not U.S.) broken educational system: I told her no; fix yourself…

  3. Jib Halyard

    It’s far more likely to be replaced with something far far worse…

  4. If you are a teacher and cannot spell the possessive form of country (“if there was a way to fix this countries (not U.S.) broken educational system”) then I would say that she does need to fix herself becauuse there is probably not any way to fix your country’s educational system

  5. Dave M

    @Bill H
    You provide a good example of the dangers of blog comment pedantry over spelling or punctuation issues.

  6. Cloud shadow

    The idea of the death wager is nothing new. 2,700 years ago, recorded in the book of Isaiah chapter 39, the king was told that his nation would be destroyed and his heirs would be taken captive. His response has been used ever since “At least there will be peace and truth in my days.”
    It is my belief that there needs to be people that have figured out possible scenarios that are more just and merciful to be implemented when everything goes south, for the default is that the guys with gun take everything for themselves. This happened in Cuba with the fall of the Soviet Union they lost most of their oil and were starving, but there were already people that had figured out how to go back to animal traction in agriculture so they survived, North Korea did not.
    Even though it was known how to do it the implementing of that policy would have been hard and slow if not impossible if it had not for the absolute control of Castro for he approved the plan and it was implemented.
    I don’t hold out much hope for the U.S. unless the people with the ideas can convince the ones with the guns to go along for the good of everyone and the future.
    This is my first time posting, but am a long time reader. I don’t agree with everything that you write but if two people think exactly alike, one of them is not thinking. And if anyone should feel compelled to write in and correct my grammar to feel superior, don’t for I do not care. And unless you are one of those guys with guns you might think about being a nicer person.

  7. realitychecker

    WTF is wrong with all us Americans, that everything has to be “either or”?

    It’s been obvious to me for decades that the correct response is socialism for some things that affect all citizens (e.g. health care, education), and capitalism for business and other worklife matters, thereby preserving the benefits of individual initiative, discipline, creativity, and individual achievement.

    OR, has it become inviolate conventional wisdom that supposed “principles” and hobgoblin “consistency” should take precedence over workable pragmatism? If this latter, then we deserve to have our hidebound selves consigned to the trashbins of history, IMHO.

  8. Tom

    Was relatively quiet for 12 years and now Azerbaijan is pressing hard. It had 12 years to get itself organized and get actual combat units instead of the Combat Service Support troops they had at the start of the war while Armenia had real Combat Troops.

    Combined with the growing FSA offensive in Syria that has now expanded to Lataika, Homs, and Hama, as well as renewed offensives in E. Ghouta, the SDF terrorist publicly cancelling the Manbij Operation after Erdogan bluntly told Obama he would blow them up if they tried to seize it when the FSA is marching on it currently.

    I say Erdogan is sending a strong message to Putin and Obama that he, not they, has the whip hand.

    Just today a large force of FSA fighters recruited from the refugee camps in Turkey entered the fight with heavy Turkish Artillery support and ex-Ukranian T-72s to assist the Azaz Pocket in clearing the Regime Baby Killers, IS Goons, and SDF goons from Aleppo.

    The Regime was never going to win this war. It can’t recruit enough soldiers and the refugees it created in Jordan and Turkey are now coming of age to fight and joining FSA to take back their country. The Lebanese Syrian Refugees are in turn joining in the fight and causing Lebanon’s fragile balance to tilt around Arsal.

  9. reslez

    Don’t look to the BRICs to save humanity. They are part of the same tapestry of corruption and greed that infects the whole of the world. If what Ian is talking about is to take place we need to break from capitalism. Break from hoarding, break from self-appointed and self-interested elites, break from the pattern of status-seeking and greed that has afflicted humanity since the first surplus grain was stolen by the first warlord. We need a new system based on equal recognition of ourselves, our children’s children, and our neighbors next door or an ocean away. A holistic comprehension.

    Sometimes hardship and suffering leads people to fight each other and steal. Sometimes it brings them together. Unfortunately, it seems true that humans are inherently tribal. We innately divide each other into Us and Them. Our brains are prone to self-serving fallacies and blindness. As long as this holds true human survival will probably be suboptimal for all other life on the planet.

  10. VietnamVet

    Being old, remembering the past, I want a restoration. The return of the rule of law for all and regulated competitive capitalism.

  11. Hugh

    My standard response is we have three immediate problems of kleptocracy, wealth inequality, and class war which we must eliminate before we can take on the three existential threats that confront us of overpopulation, resource exhaustion (think water and energy for two), and environmental destruction (including climate disruption, pollution, and ecological collapse). I figure we have to be on a solid path dealing with this second group by 2030 or it is game over for 90% of humanity by the end of the century. The kicker is that we have not yet even begun to seriously address the first group of problems, and 2030 is only 14 years away.

    Never bet against the math. You may be able to ignore it for a while, but it will always get you in the end.

  12. Tom


    Watch Lord of War for why it exists. We’re all too busy killing each other or arming up to do so. Gunrunners will inherit the coming world.

    When you look at it, 9/11 was the start of the World’s decline and the beginning of global instability.

    The correct response to 9/11 was not to invade Afghanistan, but take up the Taliban offer to turn him over to the Hague for trial.

    15 years on, every place is lighting up in conflict and will only intensify.

  13. Tom W Harri


    Damn straight. We need the Old Deal back.

  14. markfromireland

    Will Capitalism Be Replaced By Something Better?

    Almost certainly not. Nor do I see the remnants of what was once liberal democracy surviving much further. Europe might get something akin to Russian managed democracy what the US will get I shudder to think.


  15. V. Arnold

    April 3, 2016

    I gotta go with MFI on this.
    The across the board insanity shown, leaves little doubt the ship is ruddered by fools and sycophants, heading for the rocks of destruction.
    Sorry for the apparent hyperbole; but hyperbole it isn’t; it’s the reality awaiting us.
    Capitalism replaced by something “better”; not one chance in hell that will happen!!!
    A very dark reality is coming soon to U.S. citizens; and you are not ready…

  16. Ché Pasa

    Something better? Something better for whom?

    We can be certain of one thing: that Our Betters have made ample provision for their ownselves no matter what the looming disasters may have in store for the rest of us.

    The current iteration of Reform Capitalism is a means for those Betters to store up treasure beyond the wildest imaginings of previous eras; for them, there’s no need for something “better” — at least not in the short term. For the rest of us, of course, there is no coherent concept of what would be better than what we have, but if one arises, as it will, it will almost by default be better for those on top first and foremost. If by some convergence of miracles, it is somehow better for the undeserving Others, adjustments will of course have to be made.

    It’s often quite apparent that those in charge of things would be far happier if the bulk of the rest of us would simply disappear — as the comfort and convenience of the Overclass does not require so many gaping mouths of groundlings. Some efforts at engineering those disappearances have been made (chaos, death and destruction throughout the Middle East being an obvious example) but Nature is no slacker in these things, what with earthquake and tsunami losses punctuating the continuous march of climate change.

    Notice that those on top do not suffer appreciably no matter what happens.

    So something better than capitalism for whom exactly?

  17. Mike

    There isn\’t one type of \’Capitalism\’ but many different iterations of it, depending on how the rules and variables are set.

    As an analogy, consider baseball. Over the years rules and variables have been changed to favor one side or another. The mound was raised and pitchers got an advantage. The mound was lowered and hitting increased. Outfield walls are moved in, outfield walls are moved out. The deadball era often used the same ball throughout the game, greatly favoring pitching as the ball grew misshapen and soft. To help favor offense, they began regularly replacing balls.

    The same thing happens with Capitalism. While the basic structures of supply and demand, private enterprise and profit form the essential essence of the game, the rules and variables are constantly changed over time.

    We are in a \’deadball\’ era, when one side is heavily favored. From taxes to unbalanced immigration to regulation to to trade deals to education the Oligarchy greatly benefits by the rules set by the government.

    That doesn\’t make Capitalism itself bad, only our current iteration of it.

    Can our rules be changed? Sure. Breaking up the trusts 100 years ago hugely benefited the rest of society. Many policies in the late 40\’s and 50\’s favored the egalitarian growth that occurred.

    The rules for high growth, equally distributed throughout society aren\’t complicated. The people making the rules know what they are.

    Want something better than the form of Capitalism we have now? We\’ve got to figure out how to get better people setting the rules.

  18. Proletarian

    It is always disappointing to me when there’s a discussion of what will follow capitalism that doesn’t feature any mention of Marx. I’m not saying that the 20th-century version of communism is the answer, but I don’t know how we can communicate the problems inherent in capitalism and describe what we want in an alternative without borrowing at least some Marxist analysis. I would honestly like to know — what other theoretical frameworks exist for talking about alternatives to capitalism? So many people who write about postcapitalism either borrow from Marxism without acknowledging it or are incoherent because they have no coherent underlying theory as a foundation.

  19. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    @Prole: Fuhgeddabowdit.

    Whether or not Marx deserves the blame for the crimes and follies of 20th-Century Communism, it has been heaped on him, and it will be heaped on him as long as both he and those regimes are remembered.

    Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, et cetera, ad nauseam, killed Marxism.

    Human nature itself rejects Marxism. No talking ape wants equality unless and until s/he has abandoned all hope of ever acquiring supremacy.

  20. realitychecker

    Just gotta say, IBP, that THIS talking ape has no desire to exercise supremacy over anybody. Equality and reciprocity are plenty good enough for me.

    Poof goes your theory?

    Maybe revise to “no psychopath wants equality unless and until . . .” ????

    On another note, the “Marx” brand has indeed acquired too much negative baggage, but there’s no reason why “socialism” has to be seen as an unfriendly concept. It’s the all or nothing binary thinking we mindlessly indulge that fucks everything up. All and only socialism would be fucked up. All and only capitalism (especially our current flavor of thoroughly unregulated and corrupted capitalism!!!) would be, and is, totally fucked up. But there’s nothing wrong with a pragmatic and humane rational blending of sound socialist and sound capitalistic principles to govern the respective areas where each work best for the overall good of an inclusive society.

    We need to free up our minds and get out of the old boxes that clearly have failed for regular people the world over.

  21. Proletarian

    @Ivory Bill, that is the primary response of pro-capitalist forces whether critics invoke Marxism or not, so I would like to see people on the left grapple with it directly rather than ignoring the elephant in the room. There’s a lot to be gained by doing so, as we’re starting to see in the success of Bernie Sanders, who is not afraid of the socialist label and has a long track record of promoting the legacy of Eugene Debs.

  22. Jib Halyard

    Capitalism and all the institutions that accompany it in modern industrialized democracies today are the product of centuries of painful evolution. It is an ecosystem that needs to be tweaked, not a system that can be somehow “replaced” wholesale, as it was never imposed in the first place. The latter is the central conceit of Marxist thought, which reduces the whole tangled web of social and economic development to a conspiracy of monied interests. Also why the Marxist perspective has never been able offer up an alternative that is anything other than a crude conspiracy itself.
    A more meaningful question would be “Will capitalism be improved?”

  23. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Well, perhaps my view of human nature as basically somewhat sociopathic is too pessimistic…

    *takes quick looks at the present and at history*

    but probably not. 🙁


    In our defense, we sometimes needed the capacity for vicious behavior to survive in the amoral and callous natural environment in which we had the misfortune to evolve. (Marx, Freud, Nietzsche–pikers, all. The Industrial Age intellectual who came closest to explaining it all was Darwin.)

    But since the Universe had no maker, no one is to blame for its amorality and callousness. (I do believe in God, but heretically. I think S/He comes from some absolute Elsewhere, and found us and adopted us.)

  24. Ivory Bill Woodpecker

    Also, Jib makes a lot of sense to me.

  25. Peter*


    Bernie Sanders is no Socialist while Eugene Debs certainly was as well as having Anarchist tendencies and background. At best Sanders is a Social Democrat bent on reforming the Capitalism he supports and will continue to promote.

  26. markfromireland

    Proletarian April 3, 2016

    what other theoretical frameworks exist for talking about alternatives to capitalism?

    Weber, Parsons, to name but two.

  27. If you’re talking about social inequality and welfare that’s a problem for democracy and the taxpayer, not capitalism. Businesses are not charities, nor do they have a vote, so business taxation is taxation without representation. Further any tax imposed on business, particularly small business, is money that cannot be used to provide employment. I take a different view on international business however and look forward to the day they are taxed on their global profits apportioned to local turnover so that cannot just ferret away their profits in tax havens.

  28. Billikin

    Businesses do not have the vote? Taxation without representation?

    Ever heard the phrase, “The best legislature money can buy?” Ever look at what legislative policies get enacted when the opinions of business and the general populace differ?

  29. Hugh

    Focussing on capitalism or Marxism gives either too much importance. An economy’s only purpose is to help create and maintain the society you and I want to live in. So you (and I) really should be looking at what society we want. Any and all economic activity should be judged and measured against the sole criterion of that society.

    For me, capitalism is just a reworking of feudalism where serfs become workers, nobles capitalists, and the definition of property is expanded. As for Marxism, it is a weird messianic, millennialist religion cast in decrepit 19th century Hegelian terms. I don’t see either as a good model for any kind of a society I would want to live in.

  30. wendy davis

    @reslez: I agree. my hope is that the continued deprivation of the Rabble class will continue to form alliances and alternatives outside of the capitalist economy.
    We finally saw some degree of ‘social unionism’ at work last week on CTU and allies Strike Day, meaning discovering that a more whole-family, whole community wellness and justice is key.

    There is a newish anti-austerity movement in France, similar to the Indignados in Spain: #NuitDebout and related alliances. In Europe, ordinary people are finding ways to aid the refugees from Syria and Turkey. Greece’s ‘Solidarity for All’ movement is inspirational. Many different local models, which is good, but:

    “These include solidarity healthcare clinics, food solidarity structures and solidarity kitchens, “without middlemen” networks, immigrant solidarity networks and cooperatives. With the crisis bringing the capitalist mode of production into question, these democratic organizational forms are being sought out and created.” Ooops, there’s that Marxist talk (smile).

    @John Poynton: But that’s just it: there has been zero recovery for anyone save the 1% since the meltdown. The only ‘new jobs’ for USians were in the crap-pay service sector, and by now there are far more jobs in the service sector than in the industrial sector, meaning far less worker cohesion, strike solidarity, etc. Michael Hudson says capitalism’s parasititic nature has all but killed the host already, and few revenue streams are left to plunder, even globally (see IMF, the Troika). (See Julian Assange’s new revelations at Counterpunch: ‘Destroy Greece: ΙΜF and Europe Disagree on the Method!) The drying up of the plunder possibilities has caused the burgeoning privatization of schools, or ‘reform’, in the vernacular. And it’s seldom government doing it, but just obeying the wishes of the NGO Lords of Capital, at least in the US. It’s of course the main reason that the ‘trade deals’ are so manically pushed by the same people, and they come with ‘no regulations’ built right into them.

    In the end, capitalism has so far outstripped any notion of ‘Democracy’ by now, I’d say socialism might sound like ‘populist democracy, or shared power and influence in determining our own futures….as we consider what the world we want to live in might best look like. I’d add that I’d hope learning to value living with less ‘stuff’ would be part of it. Has any mover and shaker in the Big Green movement (or candidate for that matter) said ‘Stop buying all that stuff, it’s killing the planet!’ They sure didn’t during the recent climate talks.

    Roar Magazine’s newest issue has some essays on post-capitalism, although several of them are a bit beyond my comprehension.

    (sorry, I don’t know how to get paragraph breaks to…break.

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