Taking a critical look at the “truths” we’re told about how awesome capitalism is, we’ll break down what we can do to reimagine the economy we live in.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
How did our human-made economic systems get us into the mess we’re in? How did we get to a place where we’re told that all our needs will be met if we simply buy more stuff? Taking a critical look at the “truths” we’re told about how awesome capitalism is, we’ll break down what we can do to reimagine the economy we live in.
Here’s what we’ll cover step-by-step:
The greatest news of this topic: If we made this mess ourselves, we can clean it up and build something SO MUCH BETTER in its place. It won’t be easy, but it’s worth it.
🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.
We’re ANGRY that powerful people and corporations are really doing the most to ruin our lives. Our wish is that we can work towards a reclamation of the things that matter to us; not the things that advertising tells us we want. Here are some insights from the article, "A Brief History of Consumer Culture."
1. Your role as a consumer is only 100 years old.
The notion of humans as consumers started popping up pre-World War I and the idea that our primary role in society is to consume became commonplace in the 1920s. The damage we’re doing doesn’t have roots THAT old!
2. The need for exponential growth is a myth.
After WWI, production in the United States increased at a rate far greater than the population growth. Each person could have access to more wealth AND 19th century labor struggles meant working less hours. Everyone’s needs could be met with steady-state economic growth. YAY!
But alas. Here’s a blood-boiling quote from the article: ”It would be feasible to reduce hours of work further and release workers for the spiritual and pleasurable activities of free time with families and communities, and creative or educational pursuits. But business did not support such a trajectory.”
3. Humans have always prioritized community over material goods, so demand had to be engineered for consumerism.
In 1930, Kellogg adopted a six-hour shift. Workers voted for it by three-to-one both in 1945 and 1946, “suggesting that they still found life in their communities more attractive than consumer goods.”
Kellogg changed its mind though and economists pushed for workers to be “educated in the new ‘skills of consumption.’ Turning humans into consumers takes a LOT of investment because it goes against our nature. We need a hug, not exponential growth.
4. Consumerism through extractive capitalism was not an accident. It was carefully created.
Advertisers have always known what they were doing. A guy named John observed in 1958: “Goods are plentiful. Demand for them must be elaborately contrived. Those who create wants rank amongst our most talented and highly paid citizens. Want creation — advertising — is a ten billion dollar industry.”
5. We couldn’t have done this without fossil fuels!
Society couldn’t have met the level of manufacturing businesses wanted to meet without fossil fuels. Also, fossil fuels, like most things in life, aren’t inherently evil. It’s GREAT that we’re able to power our lives, invent new technologies, transport ourselves around the world, and more. But, things have gotten so out of hand—not by accident, but through a series of contrived manipulations by powerful people.
And now, WE are the powerful people the world needs. A better, fairer, healthier economic system is well within our reach. Unlike any time in the past, we are finally at an educational playing field with those who wield the most power. In the 1900s, commoners like us didn’t have information like this at their fingertips on the insidious, long-term harm being done to our planet, our people, and our psyches. BUT NOW WE DO.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.
🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.
You may have heard of Doughnut Economics. If you haven’t, we’re so excited for you. Why not name an economic theory after a delicious treat?
There are many videos of Kate Raworth explaining Doughnut Economics, but w picked this video specifically because it shows how cities are currently implementing the framework.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
1. The doughnut model asks us to honor our needs and the limitations of planetary boundaries.
Going beyond the outer ring of the doughnut represents 9 consequences of exceeding the limits of Planet Earth that scientists have laid out. These limits include ocean acidification, air pollution, and biodiversity loss. Economist Kate Raworth introduces an inner ring that we can’t encroach on: housing, education, social equity, and more. It’s important to stay between the rings of the doughnut.
2. A good climate solution necessitates a holistic paradigm shift, and Amsterdam is recognizing this shift.
Amsterdam is working on a City Doughnut. Using the Doughnut Economics framework, policymakers have come to realize that “they don’t need different solutions to [issues such as] a financial crisis, the climate crisis, and health emergencies. They need a paradigm that no longer pushes for endless growth, but instead, focuses on thriving on resilience and on well-being within the community.” We love how happy Doughnut Economics makes us feel about the world!
3. Transformation doesn’t have to take decades.
We’re told change doesn’t happen overnight, but we’ve seen how the world has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. Change is only slow because we’re lacking political will and buy-in. So now, it’s time to think about what each of us can do to speed up the rate of change…because we want our damn doughnut!
We hope this video planted seeds of possibility in your mind and your heart. Thinking of Doughnut-ing our lives, our households, and our cities is filling us with joy and excitement. These are usually not the words we think of when learning economic theory. LET’S GO GET OUR TREAT!
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.
🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!
Do you feel like our socioeconomic system is a literal succubus that's seducing your soul and luring you to the great depths of hellish evil? (Because, same.) We’re feeling just a LITTLE dramatic, but we honestly think this is a fair reaction to everything going on in the world.
However, we do believe there are alternate timelines in which we as a society discovered capitalism and used it for good, but this is not one of them. The way we've applied capitalism is a soul-eating demon. Here we’re laying out four actions and our hope is that you’ll do all of them.
1. Participate in a non-consumerist economy.
Join your local Buy Nothing and Freecycle group. You can even join a similar group or just meet your neighbors! Experience the feeling of asking for something you need without paying for it. Gift something to your neighbors without expecting anything in return. It’s life-giving. It’s also a super fun way to get “new” things. There’s nothing else like it.
2. Propose the Doughnut Model to a group you’re involved in.
Previously, we learned about Doughnut Economics. The Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), has a library of tools, stories, and themes for YOU to turn Doughnut Economics’ ideas into action. It has resources for sustainability educators, business school students, academics, and more. You can use the Doughnut model to improve whichever group you’re a part of—whether it’s a nonprofit you volunteer with, your actual workplace, the city that you live in, your faith-based community, or more! ! We also really encourage you to do this interactive Doughnut activity.
3. Join a creative climate solutions community.
Of course, we’d love to have you join our Climate Solutions cohort, but ANY climate community that encourages you to feel your feelings, exposes you to new ways of thinking, and helps you process the wack stuff that’s going on in the world is worth exploring. 350.org has local chapters you can join and there’s SO many groups doing great work in this space. Our best recommendation for you is to work locally. Soapbox founder, Nivi, says her favorite is her local greenways group—maybe you have something like this near you too!
4. An actual one-off solution: make sure your money is divested from fossil fuels.
You can see what your bank does with your money through Mighty Deposits and take further action when you join Carbon Collective. Your money, under capitalism, likely contributes to the climate crisis. You’re probably investing in fossil fuel expansion without knowing about it. Carbon Collective helps you move your retirement $$$ to invest in the green solutions we DO need. Also, oil and gas are probably dragging down your portfolio anyway, so investing in fossil fuels is a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose-lose.
Be sure to write these actions down somewhere visible because the actions that challenge capitalism and the climate crisis take work.
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.
Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!
🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?
Jane McGonigal’s Urgent Futures Questionnaire is a great way for YOU to audit the following factors:
All you need is a writing utensil, a writing surface, and 3ish minutes of time to fill out the Urgent Futures Questionnaire.
Here’s an excerpt from the post that explains why we chose dive into capitalism and climate change:
Just the very act of asking these questions can help nudge someone toward more optimistic engagement with the future. As one respondent to the Urgent Futures Questionnaire put it: “It was actually kind of empowering just to ask myself these questions. Just reading these questions I felt, well yeah, there are more possibilities open to me than what I normally consider in my day. I could be someone who really thinks about and helps solve these kinds of challenges. Why not me?”
If we want a better future, we have to first imagine it. So let’s get started!
🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.
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