I am a professional analyst of society; my training is in social research, my primary employment – my bread and butter so to speak – requires me to engage in ongoing research and analysis of social, economic, environmental and political trends. So what follows are not the observations of your ordinary citizen observer or even of a journalist (not at all sure why so many people these days accept journalists – such as Thomas Friedman – as experts on social and economic trends). I spend my days immersed in data, examining the nitty-gritty of income distribution, education attainment, crop reports, tuition costs, energy production figures, employment trends, Arctic melt patterns and extreme weather events, economic investment patterns.
What I see emerging from all this data is stark and disturbing for advanced capitalist industrial nations, but more so for the United States than countries that have made an effort to blunt the contradictions of industrial capitalism with social policy. We are simply running out of places into which to “bury” the toxic effects of industrial capitalism. Two types of contradictions exist within industrial capitalism: one has to do with the fact that every single successful capitalist enterprise must draw in more revenue than it gives out in wages/salaries and other costs; the second with the impossibility of the constant growth in production required by industrial capitalism meeting the barrier of finite resources.
For two hundred and fifty years we managed to avoid the first problem by finding sources of revenue that were outside the realm of industrial capitalist societies (undeveloped or underdeveloped nations), and avoid the second problem because we had yet to come close to the limits of key resources like petroleum and natural gas, or the limits of sinks for waste products like carbon dioxide and toxic chemicals. But today, there is no country where capitalist industrial enterprise has not taken hold and converted nations of peasants and artisans into wage earning laborers. And today the limits of resources like petroleum are all too visible, as are the limits of sinks for carbon dioxide and other wastes.
The United States is heading straight for an economic, social and ecological brick wall. To all those Tea Partiers who “want my country back,” I’m sorry, but your country is gone, irretrievably broken and disintegrated, and even if the majority of Americans actually wished to return to days of racial, ethnic and gender inequality that you hold with such great reverence it cannot be recovered. To all the liberals who have “Hope” for the future based on “Change,” sorry, the course is set, there’s not enough resources left to pull us out of the dive we began more than a generation ago. The next several generations of Americans will have less in the way of material goods, less time, less energy, less ease, less of everything. There is no changing this. Conservatives who want to reclaim the past can’t stop this from happening. Liberals who want to subsidize the future can’t stop it from happening either.
We are in the condition of “overshoot” warned against by Meadows, Randers and Meadows in their 1972 The Limits to Growth, and then again in the 1992 follow-up Beyond the Limits, and yet again in their Limits to Growth: Thirty Year Update in 2004. Industrial capitalism is the 52,000 ton Titanic. The iceberg is right in front of us. There’s no way to steer a ship of that size around the obstacle. We are going to “crash.” There’s no avoiding it.
So why not give up? Why vote? If the course is set, the disaster is unavoidable, decline is inevitable, why does it matter who wins in 2012? It does matter. Because every disaster, including the Titanic can have survivors. It matters, because the two parties have very different views on how many “lifeboats” and “life preservers” there should be and who should have access to them. I’m going to vote for the party and the candidate, that is going to do its best to make sure that both rich and poor have a chance at surviving. The party that will provide enough life boats for everyone, and won’t be excluding people because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or income. Life boats may not be a luxury liner, but they are the difference between death and survival. Not everyone will survive, but I intend to vote for the party and the candidate that’s going to do it’s best to make sure that the cards aren’t stacked against those in “steerage” and in favor of those with “first class tickets.” If you can’t figure out for whom I’m going to vote you aren’t paying attention to this election.