Whither Utopia

The Currency Paradox is an essay that attempts to conceptualize a system that could viably replace Capitalism. Many people think Capitalism is the final step in the evolution of economics. However, I think it’s only the current step on the way to something even better.

Many believe Capitalism is the greatest economic system possible. Despite its apparent flaws and contradictions, they believe it is merely a matter of perfecting it. The irony escapes them that such rationalizations were once used for communism as well. A system is only as good as its imperfections. As debt accumulates and boom and bust cycles become more frequent and severe, it becomes more apparent that Capitalism’s flaws are not superficial but systemic. Indeed, those flaws are also likely terminal.

German economist Karl Marx speculated that, ultimately, Capitalism is a harmful system that holds the seeds to its own destruction. Others, like economic historian Deidre McCloskey, think it’s one of the greatest forces for good in history. However, the reality is that Capitalism is, by nature, amoral; it doesn’t care what harm is committed for the purpose of accumulating profit. Consider the historical tragedies of colonialism and slavery, which claimed tens of millions of victims. Consider the injustices of exploitative working conditions (particularly forced labor), the degradation of the human spirit related to the sex trades (especially sexual slavery), and the death and despair created by the illicit drug trade. Consider the people who have died from various contaminations from supposedly legal enterprises. Consider the millions who die every year from the “structural violence” of Capitalism, people who succumb to starvation, disease and other preventable causes.

Capitalism both enriches and kills. This ambiguity, this capriciousness is ultimately why people need a better system. I hope my essay is the first step on the road to that new reality.

There are some who oppose taking that step. They are invested in the current system and do not want to see it displaced. That is a natural reaction, particularly for those whom Capitalism has most benefited. However, there are some who oppose the notion of an economic system beyond Capitalism simply because they consider such a thing “utopian.” The idea of an economy in which there is no want seems naive and unrealistic. They can’t envision a world in which there is far less struggle, far less sorrow, pain, and suffering. For some, an economic system that at least provides the baseline for a dignified existence deprecates the life experience itself. Some would simply prefer to live in a world that is grossly imperfect rather than one that, in their minds, is too perfect.

While I think the innovation introduced in The Currency Paradox would elevate billions to a standard of living much, much higher than what they currently have, I seriously doubt it will make the world “perfect.” To be honest, I don’t think such a thing is possible. It is highly unlikely that there will ever be complete happiness for our species. There will likely always be politics, cliques, adversaries, prejudices, as well as a host of other negative situations and conditions to color our experiences. People simply are too egotistical and complicated to let something like a dignified, relatively stress-free existence interfere with their uncanny ability to make themselves and others unhappy. You could say it’s in our DNA. However, the intention of my essay was not to envision a perfect world. My intention was to conceive of a system in which humans, as a species, actually beat the odds of extinction.

The unfortunate truth is that, if Earth’s history is any indication, the odds of humans surviving as a species are pretty close to zero. Being locked in an economic system that forces us to focus almost exclusively on fulfilling our most basic needs is no way to beat those odds. If we are going to ensure the survival of our species over the long term, it’s going to take the dramatic unlocking of our vast potential. Chasing profit or a paycheck is keeping us collectively from looking at the big picture … that our survival is not only about ourselves, but our children and their children and so on. Capitalism has the human race stuck like hamsters on a wheel. If we’re going to get down to the business of creating a society that enables our long term survival, it is now time to “put away childish things.”

Should the world ever come to resemble the one in my essay, I expect there to still be many challenges. I still expect there to be pettiness, jealousy, envy, sadness, and even cynicism. But, what I also expect to see is the people who were once marginalized under Capitalism fulfilling their vast potential to create a world far more advanced both technologically and culturally than the one in which we live today. I expect to see a world in which billions of pairs of hands reshape the planet into one in which our ecological resources are responsibly harnessed and cherished. I expect to see green grass, foliage, and trees growing where there are now dying cities and thriving, healthy communities where there are now landfills and wastelands. Is it utopian to want clean air and fresh water for everyone? Is it utopian to want beautiful, clean neighborhoods without crime, poverty, or disease wherever people reside? I don’t think so.

I don’t want a perfect world, I just want a better world. I want a world that gives all children a fair chance to reach their potential. I’m tired of living in the world of the artificial excuses created by Capitalism, the artificial scarcity and the stark apathy. If the world of my essay is one of “utopia” then my answer is this … why don’t we try that for a change? Is Capitalism really so great that we aren’t even willing to consider something else? I don’t know about you, but I’m ready. I’d rather face the terrifying threat of a world that is “too perfect” than one in which the suffering of others is callously tolerated. It’s time to make a change.

Are you ready?

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