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Participatory Economics and the Next System

It is increasingly apparent that neoliberal capitalism is not working well for most of us. Growing inequality of wealth and income is putting the famous American middle class in danger of becoming a distant memory as American children, for the first time in our history, now face economic prospects worse than what their parents enjoyed. We suffer from more frequent financial “shocks” and linger in recession far longer than in the past. Education and health care systems are being decimated. And if all this were not enough, environmental destruction continues to escalate as we stand on the verge of triggering irreversible, and perhaps cataclysmic, climate change.

However, in the midst of escalating economic dysfunction, new economic initiatives are sprouting up everywhere. What these diverse “new” or “future” economy initiatives have in common is that they reject the economics of competition and greed and aspire instead to develop an economics of equitable cooperation that is environmentally sustainable. What they also have in common is that they must survive in a hostile economic environment.[1] Helping these exciting and hopeful future economy initiatives grow and stay true to their principles will require us to think more clearly about what kind of “next system” these initiatives point toward. It is in this spirit that the model of a participatory economy was created: What kind of “next system” would support the economics of sustainable and equitable cooperation?

The vision or model of a participatory economy is intended to demonstrate that a coherent, feasible, and desirable next economic system is perfectly possible; in short, it rebuts the “disenabling” myth that “There Is No Alternative” (TINA) to capitalism and command planning.[2] The model should not be confused with a transition strategy or program to take us from the economics of competition and greed we are ensnared in today to an economics of equitable cooperation. However, clarity about what kinds of institutions and practices may best achieve our goals does have implications for strategy. So after explaining how a participatory economy might work, I comment briefly on what this implies about some priorities in the here and now.


The institutions and decision-making procedures of a participatory economy are designed to promote economic democracy, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and human solidarity—all while achieving economic efficiency.

Many economic visionaries write in support of these goals but remain vague about what they mean concretely. We believe it is crucial to be very clear about precisely what one means by these goals, because often which economic institutions and procedures are appropriate depends very much on how one defines them. For us, economic democracy means decision-making input in proportion to the degree one is affected; economic justice means compensation commensurate with one’s efforts or sacrifices; sustainability means protecting the natural environment and ensuring that future generations enjoy overall economic conditions at least as favorable as those we enjoy today; human solidarity means consideration for the well-being of others; and economic efficiency means using scarce productive resources and human capabilities wherever they yield the greatest social well-being.[3]

Major Institutions

The defining institutions of a capitalist economy are: private ownership of the means of production, limited liability corporations, and markets. In contrast, the major institutions that comprise a participatory economy are: social ownership of the productive “commons,” democratic worker councils and federations, neighborhood consumer councils and federations, and a very carefully constructed procedure we call participatory planning that these councils and federations use to coordinate, or plan, their interrelated activities themselves.

Social Ownership

In a participatory economy, everything needed to produce our way of life belongs to everyone, no more to one person than any other. While individuals own personal property, everything we need to produce goods and services is owned in common.

This includes an expanded understanding of our natural environment to include “vital sinks” as well as natural resources (the natural commons), an increasingly complex array of useful manufactured artifacts (the produced commons), productive knowledge or “know-how” (the information commons), and all of the useful talents and skills people have that allow us to deploy all this natural and produced wherewithal to productive ends. All of this “commons for modern times” is treated as a joint inheritance—what Joel Mokyr calls a “gift from Athena”—bequeathed to us all by countless generations who went before us. In our view, nobody has any more right to decide how this gift is used, or benefit from its use, than anyone else.[4]

Democratic Councils

Worker Councils: In a participatory economy, every worker in a workplace has one vote in the worker council, which is the ultimate decision-making body for the enterprise. Just as stockholder meetings, where each stockholder votes as many times as the number of shares she owns, are ultimately “sovereign” in a capitalist corporation, the worker council, where each worker-member has one vote irrespective of seniority, is “sovereign” in a participatory economy. This does not mean worker councils will not grant authority over some decisions to particular groups of workers who are more affected. Nor does it mean workers will no longer avail themselves of expertise when it is useful for making decisions.

Present economies are not just environmentally unsustainable, they are crashing vital ecosystems at breakneck speed. Absent a massive Green New Deal in the next several decades that replaces fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and dramatically increases energy efficiency in agriculture, industry, transportation, and all parts of the built environment, humans are at risk of behaving like the proverbial lemmings. The question we should ask regarding any economic system is whether or not its basic institutions and decision-making procedures afford creative ideas and proposals about how we relate to the natural environment. The profit motive ignores many environmental effects unmeasured in the commercial nexus and drives producers to grow or die.

Markets are biased in favor of economic activities that pollute and against activities that preserve and restore valuable ecosystems; promote throughput-intensive private consumption at the expense of less throughput-intensive social consumption; and promote consumerism at the expense of leisure—all to the detriment of the environment. In other words, capitalism is on a rapid road to environmental destruction and is incapable of granting ideas about how to better relate to the natural environment. The question is whether or not the basic institutions of a participatory economy create a setting and incentives that promote judicious relations with our natural environment. When ideas like organic farming, recycling, locally grown produce, smart growth, public transportation, energy conservation, solar and wind power, and more leisure are proposed in a participatory economy, will we discover they must swim against the current, as they do in capitalist economies today, or will they find the stream is at long last flowing in their direction?

Protecting the Environment in Annual Plans: As long as producers and consumers are not forced to bear the costs of pollution resulting from their decisions, we will continue to pollute too much. How does participatory planning internalize the negative external effects of pollution? In each iteration in the annual planning procedure, there is an estimate of the damage caused by every pollutant released. If a worker council proposes to emit x units of a particular pollutant into an affected region, they are charged the indicative price for releasing that pollutant in the region times x. Similarly, they are charged y times the social cost of producing a ton of steel if they propose to use y tons of steel, and z times the opportunity cost of an hour of welding labor if they propose to use z hours of welding labor. In other words, any pollutants the worker council proposes to emit are counted as part of the social cost of its proposal, just as the cost of making the steel and the opportunity cost using the welding labor are counted as part of the social cost of its proposal—all to be weighed against the social benefits of whatever outputs they propose to make.

The “community of affected parties” (CAP) living in the region affected looks at the current estimate of damages caused by a unit of the pollutant and decides how many units it wishes to allow to be emitted. A CAP can decide they do not wish to permit any emissions at all. But, if the CAP decides to allow X units of a pollutant to be emitted in the region, then the CAP is “credited” with X times the estimate of damages for the pollutant. What does it mean for a CAP to be “credited?” It means members of the CAP will be able to consume more than they would otherwise, given their effort ratings from work and allowances. In effect, tolerating some adverse effects from pollution is treated as a burden people choose to bear, worthy of compensation, just like the burdens people take on in work deserve compensation.[9]

Protecting the Environment in Long-Run Plans: The fact that annual participatory planning can treat pollution and environmental preservation in an “incentive compatible” way is a major accomplishment and significant improvement over market economies. But while annual participatory planning may “settle accounts” efficiently and equitably concerning the environment for all those taking part in the various councils and federations, what protects the interests of future generations who cannot speak for themselves? How can we avoid intergenerational inequities and inefficiencies while preserving economic democracy when much of the adverse effects of environmental deterioration will fall on the unborn, who obviously cannot be part of democratic decision-making processes today?

The interests of future generations, which include the future state of the natural environment, must always be protected by the present generation. This is true whether it is a political or economic elite in the present generation that weighs the interests of the present generation against those of future generations, or a democratic decision-making process involving all members of the present generation. In a participatory economy, intergenerational efficiency and equity regarding the environment must be achieved in the same way intergenerational efficiency and equity is achieved in all other regards: by means of restraints the present generation places on itself in its democratic deliberations during the investment and development planning processes.[10]

If the long-run plan calls for more overall investment, this decreases the amount of consumption available to the present generation in this year’s annual plan. If the long-run plan calls for reducing the automobile fleet and expanding rail service in the future, this reduces the amount of investment and productive resources this year’s annual plan is permitted to allocate to worker councils making automobiles, and it increases the amount of investment and resources to be allocated to worker councils making trains. If the long-run plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in national carbon emissions over five years, the national consumer federation must reduce the amount of carbon emissions it permits in each of the next five annual plans accordingly. Major changes in the energy, transportation, and housing sectors, as well as conversions from polluting to “green” technologies and products, are all determined by the long-run planning process that allow federations to express preferences for investments in environmental protection and restoration as easily as they can express preferences for investments that facilitate future increases in private consumption.

There is no way to guarantee that members of the present generation will take the interests of future generations sufficiently to heart or choose wisely for them. Whether or not the present generation decides on a long-run plan democratically or autocratically, there is no way to guarantee it will not make mistakes. Maybe replacing cars with trains for our descendants is a mistake because solar powered cars will prove to be as environmentally friendly as trains and more convenient. Nor is there any way to make sure the present generation will not behave like Louis XV and simply decide, Après moi, le deluge (After me, the deluge). We can hope that people who practice economic justice diligently among themselves, as a participatory economy requires, will practice it on behalf of their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren as well. We can hope that people used to permitting pollution only when the benefits outweigh the costs will apply the same principle in their long-run planning and include the costs to those they know will follow them. We can hope that when people have choices posed in ways that make perfectly clear when they would be favoring themselves unfairly at the expense of their descendants, that they will be too ashamed to do so.

Long-run participatory planning is designed to make issues of intergenerational equity and efficiency as clear as possible. Annual participatory planning is designed to estimate the detrimental and beneficial effects of economic choices on the environment accurately and incorporate them into the overall costs and benefits that must be weighed. But even so, there is no guarantee that future generations and the environment might not be slighted. Some, like Dr. Seuss’s Lorax, will have to speak up in the long-run participatory planning process when they think others in their generation are neglecting future generations and the environment.

Additional Features that Protect the Environment: Besides the features of the annual and long-run planning processes discussed above, there are other aspects of a participatory economy that make it more likely that people will treat the natural environment judiciously: (1) An egalitarian distribution of wealth and income means nobody will be so poor and desperate that they cannot afford to prioritize environmental preservation over material consumption. There will be no destitute colonists cutting down and burning valuable rain forests because they have no other way to stay alive. There will be no poverty stricken local communities who acquiesce to host unsafe toxic waste dumps because they are desperate for jobs and income. An egalitarian distribution of income and wealth also means nobody will be so rich they can buy private environmental amenities while leaving the public environment to deteriorate.

(2) A system that minimizes the use of material incentives and emphasizes rewards for social serviceability greatly diminishes the environmentally destructive effects of conspicuous consumption. There is ample evidence that what Juliet Schor calls “competitive consumption” drives many to consume far beyond the point where additional consumption generates well-being in excess of the cost of lost leisure.[11] There is good reason to believe this phenomenon will die out in a participatory economy. (3) An allocative system that provides productive resources to workers as long as the social benefits of their work exceed the social costs (including the environmental costs) eliminates the competitive rat race for producers to accumulate and grow despite adverse environmental consequences. In other words, unlike capitalist economies, there is no unhealthy and environmentally destructive “growth imperative” in a participatory economy.

Other Considerations

International Trade and Investment

The model of a participatory economy is a concrete and comprehensive proposal for how any national economy might be organized to best promote economic democracy, economic justice, solidarity, and environmental sustainability while using scarce productive resources and laboring capacities efficiently. Since we are under no illusion that this would be done in every country at the same time, we assume that any country practicing participatory economics would have to coexist in a global economy where many countries are still capitalist. We propose a guiding principle for how any participatory economy should interact with other economies we call the “50 percent rule.” International trade can be advantageous if there are truly differences in opportunity costs between countries. In which case, the terms of trade distribute the efficiency gain from international specialization between trading partners. Any participatory economy should trade if there are truly efficiency gains. However, to remain true to its commitment to economic justice, a participatory economy should fight to secure terms of trade that distribute more than 50 percent of the efficiency gain to the less developed country. If the participatory economy is less developed than a trading partner, this simply means fighting for the most favorable terms it can secure. But in cases where the participatory economy is more developed than a trading partner, this means agreeing to terms that distribute more of the benefit from trade to its trading partner. The 50 percent rule allows for mutual benefit, but also reduces global inequality.

The same logic applies to international financial investment, which can yield global efficiency gains when investment raises productivity more in the borrowing country than it would in the lending country. As long as the interest rate distributes more than 50 percent of the benefit to the less developed country, international financial investment is consistent with reducing global inequality. Of course, it goes without saying that a participatory economy would play a leading role in an international coalition to make the 50 percent rule a cornerstone of a “new international economic order.” But even before the global economic system is reformed to be fairer, there is no reason a participatory economy could not participate in international trade and investment to its own benefit without violating its fundamental commitment to economic justice as long as it abides by the 50 percent rule itself.

Economic Decentralization: How Much?

When there are differences in the social opportunity costs of producing goods in different countries, or in different regions within a country, specialization and trade can be mutually beneficial. However, a significant part of the present division of labor, both internationally and within countries, decreases rather than increases efficiency. Commercial prices systematically fail to account for external effects leading countries and regions to specialize in producing goods in which they actually have comparative disadvantages. Commercial costs of transportation significantly underestimate the full social cost of moving goods, leading to overspecialization. So it is understandable why many economic visionaries call for a significant decentralization of economic activity and a significant increase in local self-sufficiency. They do so in response to the dysfunctional overspecialization that characterizes today’s economies.

However, supporters of participatory economics differ from many who preach the virtues of localism in that we are agnostic with regard to how self-sufficient versus how integrated different geographical areas should be. There is no doubt that often more internal diversification and self-sufficiency would move us in the right direction. But the question is how much more self-sufficient should economies become? When push comes to shove, local visionaries invariably concede that local regions would be only semi-autonomous. But that leaves two crucial questions unanswered: (1) How large is semi? And (2) how do you propose that the semi part be coordinated? We believe that our participatory planning procedures are the best way to answer both questions. How self-sufficient and how integrated economies will turn out to be under our procedures is difficult to say in advance, or in general, which is what I mean when I say we are agnostic regarding how much decentralization is best. But we are confident that our procedures provide an appropriate way for finding the right mixture of self-sufficiency and integration, and that the participatory planning process is far superior to markets as a way for regions that are only semi-autonomous to arrange whatever degree of dependency they discover is mutually advantageous.[12]

Enterprises: How Big?

Supporters of participatory economics are also agnostic with regard to how large production units should be. While some visionaries cringe at the idea of any large-scale production units, we recognize that there are sometimes significant economies of scale, in which case worker councils with thousands of members may be appropriate. It is important to distinguish between true economies of scale in production and commercial, financial, and monopoly advantages that large producers enjoy in capitalist economies.

Many large corporations today are large not because of economies of scale in production, but instead because larger firms enjoy advantages over smaller firms in advertising, financing, and pricing. Since large worker councils in a participatory economy will not enjoy any of these advantages, and since devising participatory decision-making procedures for large groups is more difficult than for small groups, no doubt there will be fewer large production units and more small and medium-sized production units in a participatory economy than there are today. But in principle we see nothing wrong with large organizations per se. And, as in the case of self-sufficiency vs. integration, we believe the participatory planning procedure is well suited to discovering when it is advantageous to have larger production units and when it is not.

Work Week: How Long?

Many visionaries emphasize how much shorter the work week will be when productivity is increased and what Herman Daly calls “uneconomic growth” is eliminated, explaining that this will give everyone more time for civic engagement and personal development. We believe a participatory economy will stimulate increases in productivity while eliminating pressures to engage in conspicuous consumption. However, we are agnostic regarding what choice people will make about their consumption leisure trade-off in a participatory economy. First of all, we expect this will depend on a country’s level of economic development. But even in the case of advanced economies, rather than try to identify some number of hours per week we deem will be appropriate, we leave the choice of a standard work week to be decided democratically by people living in any participatory economy. Moreover, we see no reason individuals should not be free to work more or fewer hours than whatever standard is set.

Growth: Good or Bad?

It is important to be very clear about what we are talking about “growing.” As long as we are talking about growth of economic well-being, we see no reason this cannot continue to grow indefinitely. In fact, we believe a participatory economy will not only distribute well-being far more equally, but should increase the rate of growth of well-being per capita as well. What cannot continue to grow “without limit” is what ecological economists call environmental throughput—natural “resources” used as inputs in production processes and material outputs of production stored in natural “sinks.” But material inputs taken from nature and material outputs deposited back in “nature” are not the same as economic well-being. Assuming a constant population and no change in hours worked, a sufficient condition for throughput to remain constant is that throughput efficiency increase as fast as labor productivity.[13]

This is not to say that taking more of our increases in labor productivity as leisure rather than consumption, and substituting less throughput-intensive consumption for more throughput-intensive consumption are not crucial to avoid further environmental degradation. But, as outlined above, a participatory economy promotes exactly these changes. In sum, we see no reason to believe that throughput in general cannot be prevented from increasing, and some kinds of throughput such as carbon emissions cannot be dramatically reduced, while labor productivity and economic well-being per capita continue to rise.

Time Frame and Theory of Social Change

A participatory economy requires replacing private corporations and markets with social ownership and participatory planning. And, a majority of the population must support making these changes for an intensely democratic economy to work. Therefore, we cannot expect to establish participatory economies in most countries in the near future. In most countries, a transition strategy spanning decades will be necessary. However, this is not true everywhere.

For example, in Venezuela the conditions for implementing major features of a participatory economy have been present for some time. A government pledged to build “twenty-first century socialism” enjoyed majority support from the electorate for more than a decade. Moreover, what Venezuelans call their “social economy” already contains many of the institutions necessary to build a participatory economy. What is lacking is a campaign to replace market relations with participatory planning among the cooperatives, assemblies, communal councils, community clinics, misiones, and people’s food stores, all which comprise the social economy sector. Then, once the social economy has been consolidated and integrated by participatory planning among its parts, and once it has proved its superiority, there is no reason a popular government in Venezuela could not soon extend the social economy to replace the dysfunctional private and state sectors. Likewise, the Cuban government could replace its system of authoritarian planning with participatory planning at any time, transforming existing Committees for Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) into neighborhood consumption councils—unleashing at long last the creative self-managing capabilities of Cuban workers and consumers. There is also no reason that progressive governments in other Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Uruguay could not immediately take steps toward implementing various parts of a participatory economy.

Elsewhere, had the Syriza-led Greek government not submitted to the draconian neoliberal austerity plan, but instead had the courage to launch its own economic recovery plan, its economic program could have built worker and neighborhood councils and the beginnings of participatory planning. The same would be true for a Podemos-led government coming to power in Spain or a Left Bloc government coming to power in Portugal. However, in the US and most countries, popular support for replacing not only neoliberal capitalism, but capitalism itself, will take many decades to build.

Only when a majority are sufficiently disgusted by capitalism and confident that workers and consumers can manage and coordinate their own economic affairs will it be possible to leave capitalism in the dustbin of history where it belongs, moving on to launch an economic system supportive of sustainable, equitable cooperation. In most of the world, this will only happen when economic reform movements such as the labor movement, the anti-corporate movement, the environmental movement, the consumer movement, the poor people’s movement, and the global justice movement have all become much more powerful by earning the support of many more people than they have today. This will only be possible when there are many more successful experiments in equitable cooperation such as worker owned cooperatives, consumer owned cooperatives, community supported agriculture initiatives, egalitarian and sustainable intentional living communities, community land trusts, community development corporations, cities practicing participatory budgeting, B-corps, socially responsible investment funds, and enterprising municipalities that capture the new wealth created by city planning for the citizenry instead of allowing landlords and developers to seize it.

Without the example of successful experiments in equitable cooperation like these, people will never move beyond reform, which never fully solves problems and is always vulnerable to “roll back.” On the other hand, without much larger reform movements, experiments in equitable cooperation will remain isolated and never reach enough people. Broadly speaking, the answer is more powerful reform movements and campaigns, combined with more and larger experiments in equitable cooperation. Neither alone will prove successful, but fortunately each helps mitigate predictable pitfalls in the other.[14]

We needn’t fear for lack of crises in the future. Financialized capitalism, capitalism running on fossil fuels, plutocratic capitalism—in short, modern day neoliberal capitalism—can be counted on to consistently run roughshod over the interests of the vast majority and produce major economic and environmental crises in the process. But these crises will only help move us forward if they lead to larger reform movements and more experiments in equitable cooperation. Crises undermine confidence in ruling elites, but only if new progressive political leadership is ready will this lead forward rather than simply increase popular cynicism.

The goal is clear enough: We must convince a majority of people that ordinary people are perfectly capable of managing our own economic affairs without capitalist employers or commissars to tell us what to do. We must convince a majority of people that groups of self-managing workers and consumers are capable of coordinating their own division of labor through participatory, democratic planning, rather than abdicating this task to the market system or central planners. But how this goal will be achieved, and how people will be prepared to defend necessary changes from powerful, entrenched, minority interests who will predictably attempt to thwart the will of the majority, will vary greatly from place to place. All that can be said about it with any certainty is that in most places it will require a great deal of educational and organizing work of various kinds, given where we are today.

The Next System Project

15 Comments on "Participatory Economics and the Next System"

  1. makati1 on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 5:11 pm 

    Interesting “project” designed to fail. I stopped reading about half way thru and skipped to the last paragraph which describes why it will fail. We will go from predatory capitalism to tribal barter and trade. There will be no “in-between”.

    When the current system fails, it will wind down globalism and even nationalism to smaller and smaller groups trying to sustain themselves with necessities. Nothing else will be possible. At least that is how I see the future based on what I see of the present and the path we are on. Another Rah-rah group that are dreaming of their preferred future. BAU with a twist. Not reality.

  2. Plantagenet on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 5:11 pm 

    Workers are quite capable of managing a local bakery or a recycling co-op or a communal coffee shop on the corner.

    However, large industrial manufacturing operations operating on a multinational basis require trained professional management who understand supply chains, marketing, manufacturing and other complex processes.


  3. dave thompson on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 6:21 pm 

    Lest we forget, we collectively have a legacy of nukes that will need to be minded and physically tended to forever and no feel good collectivism of future human expectations will ever be able to manage this world wide poison without an industrial FF driven base.

  4. Davy on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 6:38 pm 

    You can’t have your cake and eat it. Lunches are not free. Cooperation is limited and usually is best administered by dividing spoils. You can’t take morals, values, and emotions of the family unit and tribe and apply it to a world at limits of growth with diminishing returns and in a state of an order of magnitude into overshoot. It just can’t be done in real life. We can do it in Hollywood and academic musing like the article.

    We are stuck with what we have. The trend is not our friend. We are looking at less with a future of more of (less). Cooperation will be less welcome and effective although we need it more than ever for our common safety.

    The economic system we need to be talking about is one that deals with a paradigm of destructive change both with our physical world and our abstract social connections. Our networks and value we derive from a civilization are facing compression. This type of economics would be one of crisis management. There would be little to no optimism. A harsh and tough love acceptance would be the social narrative. If we could find cooperation it would be because we can’t decouple from each other at least initially so we best avoid wars and self-destructive tendencies in our commons. We best try to secure vital support resources and systems necessary to maintain a system that maintains us all.

    This might happen because we are heading into crisis by forces of nature. We are going to be have to face reality without the luxury of procrastination. Our debts are coming due and there is not walking away from them and no extending and pretending. In crisis there is change and in change there is hope.

    In any case we will live to die another day so enjoy each and every day you get that is reasonably normal and nice. They will increasingly be rare. We are close to a big event. This might last months and it might not happen for months. It is an unknown lurking in our future like beast ready to pounce on us. If that sounds depressing well it is and get used to it.

  5. GregT on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 7:07 pm 

    “Workers are quite capable of managing a local bakery or a recycling co-op or a communal coffee shop on the corner.”

    The local bakery, recycling co-op, and coffee shop, are all reliant on supply chains, marketing, manufacturing, and other complex processes. Workers are quite capable of growing food, and those that can will fair far better than those who cannot.


  6. Apneaman on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 7:46 pm 

    The biggest trick of capitalism was to cherry pick one part of ape behaviour taking concepts from real science, evolutionary biologly, and shoe horning them into their bogus theories to legitimize the living arrangements that best suit their/our masters. Economics is not a science. It’s an ideology and part of the secular religion of modernity. It has not predicted even one of the many economic crashes of capitalism, but has been very effective at explaining them away as anomalies. Anything but the system itself. The fact is that cooperation is what we do better than any other species on the planet. With many animals, if the males encounter another male not of their kin, they are going to throw down and often to the death.

    Historian, Yuval Harari describes our cooperative abilities like this:

    “Sapiens rule the world, because we are the only animal that can cooperate flexibly in large numbers. We can create mass cooperation networks, in which thousands and millions of complete strangers work together towards common goals. One-on-one, even ten-on-ten, we humans are embarrassingly similar to chimpanzees. Any attempt to understand our unique role in the world by studying our brains, our bodies, or our family relations, is doomed to failure. The real difference between us and chimpanzees is the mysterious glue that enables millions of humans to cooperate effectively.

    This mysterious glue is made of stories, not genes. We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. There are no gods in the universe, no nations, no money and no human rights—except in the common imagination of human beings. You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens can believe such stories. This is why we rule the world, and chimpanzees are locked up in zoos and research laboratories.”

    Never hear the high priests talk about that part of ape behaviour do ya? No. They would not want the people getting any ideas – like maybe since we are the ones cooperating and doing all the work we don’t need the 1% who own 99% of the wealth now. Do we all really believe that there is simply no other way? There was never another choice than this and only this arrangement? Would human brain power and ingenuity not exist without the Rothschild and Koch Bros, Warren Buffett, ect? If the 1% vanished in the middle of the night would we wake up and just start wandering around the forest, shitting our pants and drooling on ourselves. Face it, capitalism has to be right up there with religion as the all time biggest scams in history. That’s because it is just another religion. It it even has a mysterious and omni potent invisible hand and market forces. Wooooo. Don’t cha feel small and powerless in the face of that? Awe inspired too eh?. Just another story we made up. If we were to last for thousands of years more we would come up with dozens maybe hundreds of new ideologies. It’s what we do. And no matter what point in history we are in the adherents to the dominate belief system are 100% certain that they are the final word. Judaism, claimed that over paganism in that region, then it was the Christians taking over the Roman empires gods. Next the Muslims claimed they were the latest chosen ones. All the while back in Europe after a 1000 years of Catholic corruption and pagan massacring they had a bloody falling out and that spawned the reformation. Slaughtering each other for centuries. And the protestants are so certain that now there are like 30,000 denominations ffs. And so were the commies and Nazi’s and…… But capitalism? yes it’s the ONE All of history was leading up to the one true faith. And Milton Friedman is our profit. The final profit.

  7. makati1 on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 8:55 pm 

    GregT, right on. No thought of TOTAL SYSTEMS and how much of our world depends on millions of people’s input to make it possible.

  8. makati1 on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 9:00 pm 

    “… capitalism has to be right up there with religion as the all time biggest scams in history. That’s because it is just another religion.”

    Yep! And some on here cannot understand that fact.

    I liked the statement: “You can never convince a chimpanzee to give you a banana by promising him that after he dies, he will get limitless bananas in chimpanzee Heaven. Only Sapiens can believe such stories.”

    So true. So true.

  9. sidzepp on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 9:16 pm 

    If the one percent vanished they would be replaced by another group of one percenters. Such is our nature. We clamor for fame and power and recognition and there will be those who will do anything, up to and including murder, genocide and other actions to get to the top.

  10. Apneaman on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 9:57 pm 

    mak, I like that line too.

    Excellent interview with climate change activist Tim DeChristopher. The man is very candid about the flawed and sometimes disingenuous strategy coming from the heavy hitters in the movement. Already knew what they were not telling their followers and the press, but this is the first time I have heard it from an insider. There is also a discussion about cooperation and the fallacy of survival of the fittest.

    Days of Revolt: Coping with Reality

  11. GregT on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 10:03 pm 

    Thanks for taking the time to put together such a well thought out post Apnea. Couldn’t agree more.

  12. Apneaman on Tue, 26th Apr 2016 11:25 pm 

    Thanks Greg.

    Yuval Harari has a great mind IMO. I highly recommend his book – “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.”

    He actually did a very interesting project and gave a free course that follows the book.

    Course – Brief History of Humankind – 2015 Harari

  13. joe on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 1:54 am 

    The answer to ending modern predatory crapitalism is not very complex. Just end the legal protection given to bosses and 1%ers who make the money. ‘Incorporation’ and ‘limited liability’ are the two legal concepts which if ended would change the system radically. The outcome though would be that justice would rely on everyone not doing harm to anyone, and that unfortunately goes against human nature.

  14. Davy on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 5:36 am 

    We have much complaining and blaming for the rich and capitalism and rightly. Yet, if you dig deeper into our predicament that is an existential catch 22 there are no answers. Our current arrangement cannot be managed by a degrowth or alternative ism’s without a required die off. This die off is coming anyway so choose your poison. Just don’t talk like you have answers and there are other ways. This is eating your cake and wanting to keep it because it is so cute. We have a debt to be repaid first.

    At this point in time our system is into a break area of overextension with consumption and population. We continue to push the envelope but it is holding. Any major change in any vital component of this system will crash the system. This includes the ecosystem and climate part of it. This includes redoing capitalism, the food system, and inequality. We have foundational pillars that drop the house if changed.

    These thoughtful changes are all lofty ideas that should be goals except we pissed our opportunities to make these changes away 30 years ago. We had a chance but instead we drove further into a consumption and population overshoot. All the efforts we made to become more complex and sophisticated could have been devoted to resilience and sustainability. Our choices were poor and we have no choice but to pay the price for our period of growth and expansion.

    We can blame these poor choices squarely on capitalism and competing ism’s. Let’s face it cooperation may be what made humans what they are but so did the competition of cooperative groups. We now have a strange situation of a required cooperative arrangement called globalism yet, one that must have competition to stimulate growth, innovation, and development. Competition creates inequality and cooperation creates stagnation when they become bad. This is an example of colliding forces of civilization. Competition and cooperation butting heads with both good and bad. Both forces are pillaging our commons both forces are pushing population higher. We need both forces to adapt.

    We do not belong at the population levels we are at nor the consumption levels we are at. We belong at a semi-nomadic hunter gather size population in an earth ecosystem that does not allow for what happened to humans with the advent of cooperative and competitive civilization 10,000 years ago or so. We need a climate that forces are populations to remain low and our destructive tencdencies found in civilization never to surface. That said we are here so it was meant to be per some law of fate. We will likely descend back to where we came like a reptiles that goes on land for a time then slithers back into his swamp.

    We have destroyed the type of climate that allows civilization. We destroyed a rich ecosystem that supports large amounts of humans without modern civilization. We will likely fall back to a very small band of humans in a seminomadic arrangement. In the meantime we will see our complex civilization come apart. It will do this in a process. This process has the potential to be long or short.

    I have seen nothing saying civilization must end quickly but I do feel it will not come apart in a nice gentle flowing graph like the growth phase. Expect a period of salvage and cannibalization. Expect abandonment and irrational dysfunction but also expect a period of cooperation and adaptation. Humans are good at this and surely will find a common will in smaller groups to survive. Note I said smaller. Globalism and modern civilization is done for it just does not know it yet. We will also have fire and destruction because this brings purity and rebirth. We will destroy ourselves at some levels because we must.

  15. kanon on Wed, 27th Apr 2016 7:28 am 

    Apneaman: “The biggest trick of capitalism was to cherry pick one part of ape behaviour taking concepts from real science, evolutionary biologly, and shoe horning them into their bogus theories to legitimize the living arrangements that best suit their/our masters. . . We cooperate effectively with strangers because we believe in things like gods, nations, money and human rights. Yet none of these things exists outside the stories that people invent and tell one another. ”

    Davy: “We can blame these poor choices squarely on capitalism and competing ism’s. Let’s face it cooperation may be what made humans what they are but so did the competition of cooperative groups.”

    We need to understand the amorphous nature of cooperation. We are capable of very large effects with cooperation, but the group can be lead, or manipulated if you will. Cooperation can be like herd behavior or it can be coordinated teamwork of specialists. There is always a social hierarchy as well and maintaining it often becomes the only purpose of cooperative activity. Maintaining the hierarchy is always the main priority of the aristocrats, so the cooperative group has to have a different source of direction, which will produce a new hierarchy due to social dynamics. We believe in myths, but we now need new and better myths and we also need to learn how to design a social hierarchy that will believe in and sustain the correct mythology. IMHO.

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