It means that a green-left worldview, which rejects mere reformism and challenges the centrality of profit in our economy, offers humanity’s best hope of overcoming these overlapping crises.
It’s one of the central dogmas of the Left that Profit Is Evil. In fact, it used to be one of my own dogmas. If something cost some amount of work to make, shouldn’t it be sold at that price? Wasn’t selling it for a higher price a form of theft, and asking something for nothing?
That’s how I used to think, but it’s not how I think any more. My thinking about this didn’t change because of anything I’d read anywhere. It came of beginning to see that a great many goods not only cost some amount of time to make, but also in use provided some amount of time in return.
Take something as simple as food. It costs some amount of time to produce food. But that food, when consumed, provides some period of continued life (what Buckminster Fuller called “forward days”). It’s the most elementary fact of life. Food has a cost, but it also has a value, both of which can be measured in hours or days. It may cost, for example, 2 hours of effort to produce some food, and that food keeps you alive for 10 hours.
And the interesting thing about this elementary fact of life is that the amount of forward days of life that food provides must be greater than or equal to the amount of time it takes to produce that food. And in practice this means that it must always be greater. Because if it’s less, you’ll soon be dead.
And here’s an example – perhaps the prime example – of how doing some work generates more of something than was originally invested in it. It’s a way of getting something for nothing, or more for less. You work 2 hours, and you win 10 hours.
And this elementary fact of life is in turn reflected in the economy in which such goods are traded. They’ll regularly sell for more than they cost to make.
And that’s where profit comes from.
So if, like Naomi Klein, you wish to “challenge the centrality of profit in our economy”, you may as well be challenging the centrality of gravity or energy or the laws of motion in our universe.
Because it really is that fundamental. We can’t live without profit. When profit has been banished from the world, life also will have been banished. For all life, from plants to animals, relies on the natural profitability of nature – as plants scoop up enough sunlight in the daytime to last them through the night, and animals eat enough sugar-laden plants to also see them through the night.
But I’ve never seen anyone ever justify profit in the manner I just have. Bella Gerens doesn’t do so. She writes:
Let’s also address the problem of “profitability.” You know, the one where “profit” is the positive difference between outgoings and incomings. You know, the one where that difference—that profit—is what the government takes a slice of (“tax”) to get its money to build lots of lovely infrastructure?
This is a dig at the Left, who rely on taxes to fund all their various pet projects. And it’s perfectly true: no profits means no taxes. But it doesn’t amount to a justification of profit, except at one remove. It doesn’t explain how profit is a good and necessary thing.
Much the same kind of reasoning can be used to dispose of most of the rest of what Naomi Klein says:
The abundance of scientific research showing we have pushed nature beyond its limits does not just demand green products and market-based solutions; it demands a new civilizational paradigm, one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal—and acutely sensitive to natural limits, including the limits of human intelligence.
This is another characteristic of the Left, that they believe that we can change our ways at will, and create a better and fairer society if enough people want it that way.
It’s the assumption that we are free to choose how to re-order our affairs as we are free to choose how to re-order the furniture in our houses.
We are not thus free. We are only free to do what we like in the interval between when the food has been produced and its nutrient energy value has been used up, and we must repeat the process all over again. If it takes 2 hours to produce sufficient food to keep us alive for 10 hours, then we will only have 8 hours in which we are free to do what we like, and re-organise the furniture. And if it takes 10 hours to produce sufficient food to keep us alive for another 10 hours, then we will spend all our days producing food, and we will have no freedom whatsoever.
We are not free simply by virtue of being alive. We may be alive, but almost completely constrained to one single activity.
But the Naomi Kleins of the world will quite happily set out to re-order all our (unfree) lives in favour of “one grounded not in dominance over nature but in respect for natural cycles of renewal”. And one with chintz curtains in the windows, and leatherette sofas circling the floor?
We are not free to do any such thing.
I could go on, but I won’t. All I would say is that while the aversion of the Left to profit, and to growth, and to real freedom, is not tackled head on, at source, they will never stop dreaming up one mad scheme after another to re-order the world, every single one of which will result in the increased toil and suffering and death of millions of people.