The party is over

The world is geared to maximise profit for the few, not to maximise happiness and minimise harm. Obviously this creates social and environmental problems. It also deeply affects individuals. Do we need to talk about people living without homes, insufficient food, in war zones, with preventable diseases? Do we need to talk about mental health issues, health crises, and feelings of powerlessness, hopelessness and resignation? Our fears for the future, our sense of isolation, undertaking work we don’t believe is of value, the way that grinds our spirit? These are effects at an individual level. How does the world, as it currently works, affect you, your choices, your lifestyle?

Many of the problems we are facing have the same root causes. It’s called “the system” for a reason. Systems have feedback loops in them. An economy causes problems and then corporations seek profits from those problems, rather than working on solutions. Systems are re-inforcing. People with money seek to set agendas through control of the media, politics, academia and think tanks. But systems can undergo paradigm shifts - we feel one is due and coming!

Without being exhaustive, here are some analysis of the problems we are facing and why. (But don’t get bogged down in here – keep your spirits up by tripping through the rest of the site for inspiration on what we can do!).

Economies and capture of economics

Key features:

  • Economics as a subject has become dominated by one school of thought (neo-classical) which underpins neo-liberalism / market fundamentalism
  • Neo-liberalism has been demonstrated (by the financial crisis) to be deeply flawed. It generates poverty, inequality and ecological destruction.
  • Vested interests and corruption perpetuate the drive for this kind of economy and the capture of the media by billionaires means alternatives are rarely discussed in main public domains

Useful sources:

Corruption

  • Around 80 secrecy jurisdictions (tax havens) give corporations and the wealthy hidden places to go with little or no regulation. They hold between $21- $32 trillion of assets and half the world’s economic activity passes through them. They facilitate illegal arms trading, market rigging, insider trading, bribery, drugs and human trafficking, illicit political donations, terrorism, tax evasion.
  • US figures show that for every $1 spent on lobbying a company can expect $100 return, so this is a tactical investment. There are 4000 people working professionally in the UK’s £2billion lobbying industry.
  • In the UK 5 billionaires own 80% of the media. The wealthy and market fundamentalism also influence think tanks and academia.

Useful sources:

  • How Corrupt is Britain? A book edited by David Whyte is reviewed here
  • The Prostitute State- How Britain’s democracy has been bought, by Donnachadh McCarthy
  • Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine explains the history and “methodology” behind the domination of a corrupt, neo-liberal system
  • The Establishment and How They Get Away with It by Owen Jones is reviewed here
     

Debt

  • In 1970 the amount of money in circulation in the UK was £25bn and started to  increase dramatically. Now it is £2,185bn. 3% of this money is notes and coins.  97% is composed of digits in computers, which refer to debts that people and companies have (and credit registered to those they owe the money to).
  • Banks create money “out of thin air” when they issue a loan (it isn’t someone else’s money they are loaning)- then they get to charge interest on that loan- a nice little earner! Interest payments on debts have been forbidden in some religions, particularly when they are very high. 
  • Since the 1970s the level of personal debt in the UK has multiplied dramatically. UK mortgage debt in 1970 was £10bn. By 2011, mortgage and credit-card debt had risen to £1,450bn.
  • Huge rises in debt in the economy are due to privately held debts; the largest being with financial institutions, then households and in other businesses. Government debt hasn’t increased anything like to the same degree and much of this public sector debt is a result of bailing out banks (instead of letting them go bankrupt). Austerity is an ideology not a necessity.
  • Debt fuelled economies have to keep growing (hello!?- in a planet that doesn’t get any bigger?) because money is needed both to pay the loan and the compounded interest. This growth relies on cheap energy, especially oil. The neo-liberals want to overcome our debt crisis by getting back to economic growth, but the cheap energy is gone (and we need to leave the expensive stuff where it is).

Useful sources:

  • David Graeber’s book Debt the First 5000 years argues that trust-based credit held economies together throughout human history and that when debt becomes a managed and enforced process then violence and poverty result.
  • The Grip of Death by Michael Rowbotham is a compelling read on how debt based economies favour multinational companies over smaller local companies, quantity over quality, environmental destruction and the feeling of being on an insane treadmill!
  • Positive Money is a campaign to bring money creation back into the hands of government. They have good cartoons and videos to explain how poor monetary policy affects our lives.
  • Professor Steve Keen predicted the debt crisis and calls for a modern debt jubilee.
  • Christ Martenson’s crash course looks at inflation, debt and house price bubbles.

Environmental changes threatening life

  • Life on earth thrives when ecologies are in balance, meaning genetic, species and ecosystem diversity remain relatively stable.
  • Our economic system is damaging ecological balance, we are currently using 25% more natural resources than the planet can sustain. As a result species, habitats and local communities are under pressure or direct threats (for example from loss of access to fresh water).
  • Toxic pollution occurs when synthetic chemicals are discharged or natural chemicals accumulate to toxic levels in the environment, causing reductions in wildlife numbers, degrading ecosystem functions and threatening human health.
  • In 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported that scientists were more than 95% certain that most of global warming is caused by increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other human (anthropogenic) activities. Climate model projections indicated that during the 21st century the global surface temperature is likely to rise a further 0.3 to 1.7 °C for their lowest emissions scenario using stringent mitigation and 2.6 to 4.8 °C for their highest. -4.5°C was the change in temperature that triggered the last ice age.

Useful sources:

  • The Story of Stuff – how our linear economy, takes from the earth, makes stuff that doesn’t last long and then dumps waste.
  • Polly Higgins discussing her idea of a 5th international crime against Peace law – the law of Ecocide. These Rome Statue laws sit above and influence all other national laws.
  • Biologist, mother and activist Sandra Steingraber talks about the need to build awareness about toxins contaminating our air, water and food that threaten our children's health.
  • Climate change explained by James Hansen

Inequality

  • When the top 20% earns far higher than the bottom 20% in a society (income inequality) social problems get far worse. These are not just problems for the poor- problems across the whole of society increase. There is less trust and more violence, less interest in the environment, more teenage pregnancy and more obesity. There are more mental health problems and the economy is less stable. These problems all cost money to tackle. We have to address the root cause and distribute resources more fairly.
  • The richest 85 people owned more wealth than half the world in 2013. By 2015 it was down to 66.

Useful sources:

  • The Spirit Level argues that there are "pernicious effects that inequality has on societies: eroding trust, increasing anxiety and illness, (and) encouraging excessive consumption".
  • The Rules highlight the astonishing growth in income inequality

Making the links between issues and paradigm shift

Activists, commentators and campaigners often keep their focus on single issues. It is also useful to step back and view the bigger picture sometimes, looking at ways that issues link together and root causes. An economic system that concentrates wealth into the hands of a few, enables that elite class to use their wealth and status to shore up their position through vested interest and corruption. Choices are made on the ability to create profit, regardless of environmental and social effects. Indebtedness (with interest paid to those already wealthy) is offered as a way to survive, ensuring the cascade upwards of wealth. Deep inequality and related social problems are therefore inevitable. Fewer and fewer people really believe in this system anymore.

Others are doing really interesting work in defining the journey of humanity and how we might shift to a new course, what a paradigm shift might look like and how to participate from a new place, letting go of the “old story”.

Useful Sources:

And sources for inspiration on paradigm shift: