Is Capitalism Really the Best We Can Do? Actually, No.

We can do so much better than this.
By Tim Hjersted /
Apr 26, 2017
Is Capitalism Really the Best We Can Do? Actually, No.

20th-century economists often say that there is no better alternative to the capitalist economic system we have now. If that's true, apparently "the best we can do" just happens to be a system that's going to eventually kill the planet, crash the global economic system and destroy human civilization. Really? Call me an optimist but I'm pretty sure humans can design an economic system that doesn't meet its inevitable conclusion by crashing the planetary life-support systems on which humans depend. 

But before I get to those alternatives, just to make sure we're all on the same page, here are 9 films that make it painfully clear that our economic system (global capitalism) is fundamentally unsustainable, and on top of that, making a lot of people miserable or unhappy anyway. 


The Impossible Hamster
1 min · What the impossible hamster has to teach us about economic growth. A new animation from nef (the new economics foundation), scripted by Andrew Simms, numbers crunched by Viki Johnson and pictures realised by Leo Murray. We wanted to...
There's No Tomorrow
34 min · A 34 minute animated documentary about resource depletion and the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet.
The High Price of Materialism
5 min · Psychologist Tim Kasser discusses how America's culture of consumerism undermines our well-being. When people buy into the ever-present marketing messages that "the good life" is "the goods life," they not only use up Earth's limited...
Enough Is Enough
18 min · Enough Is Enough lays out a visionary but realistic alternative to the perpetual pursuit of economic growth-an economy where the goal is enough, not more.
The Story of Stuff
21 min · From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the...
93 min · We are living in exceptional times. Scientists tell us that we have 10 years to change the way we live, avert the depletion of natural resources and the catastrophic evolution of the Earth's climate. The stakes are high for us and our...
Watch a Giant Suction Tube Gobble Up The Earth In This Brilliant Video about Our Economy
7 min · Modern production is based on extraction from the planet, and modern finance is based on extraction from the many for the benefit of the very few. What would a new economy look like and how can we rethink our relationship to resources...
Forget Everything You Learned In Economics. You Were Totally Lied To.
4 min · Economists think they have it all figured out, with their pretty equations where everything balances perfectly. But what about the factors that are simply left out of the equation? Turns out, those may be the most important of all.
Who Killed Economic Growth?
6 min · Economists insist that recovery is at hand, yet unemployment remains high, real estate values continue to sink, and governments stagger under record deficits. Richard Heinberg proposes a startling diagnosis: humanity has reached a...


The good news is, global capitalism predicated on infinite growth on a finite planet is not "the best we can do." There are many beautiful alternatives that would not only be infinitely sustainable (meaning they are grounded in ecological law). They also deliver on the promise that capitalism could never provide. Namely, these alternatives are designed to benefit everyone while respecting the planet, rather than benefiting a few while the global majority remains in poverty and the planet is exploited beyond regenerative levels. 

These alternatives go beyond the failed state-capitalist and state-communist models of the past - twin failures that had their critical flaws rooted in an unsustainable paradigm of thinking.

To be a true alternative, it must transcend the way of thinking which created the problem in the first place. It must not simply try to "win" the economic game via the old rules of the past - but must rethink and redesign the game itself. 

Economic Democracy, PROUT, CommunalismResourced-Based Economics, and the Economics of Happiness are just 5 similar but different alternatives worth learning more about. 

Perhaps you will be involved in thinking of a better alternative yourself. Humans are incredibly inventive creatures. When we believe that we can do better than what we have done in the past, we are capable of amazing innovation and creativity. 

Just think, no one says "this is the best computer and will never be surpassed." No one thinks "this is the best automobile and will never be surpassed." So why is it that economists stubbornly hold on to the (very outdated and dangerous) belief that "the economic system we have now is the best and will never be surpassed"? 

One thing is clear to me: the days of "one economic system" ruling the entire planet will be over in another 100 years. The answer to a single unsustainable economic system is not a single sustainable, bright and shiny alternative. Searching for the "one true" solution has not got us very far, and always ends with some folks disagreeing and claiming some other system as the one true solution. If humans are still around in 100 years, and ecological feed-back loops didn't crash the biosphere, it will be because humanity deployed and experimented with multiple ecologically harmonious alternatives all across the planet.

Perhaps PROUT will take off in India while Economic Democracy will take off in the US and UK. These alternatives are not super different in their essence but they may have differences in the details. The point is, we need to stop looking for a solution that works for the entire planet and start looking for solutions that are tailored to the cultures and politics of our own countries, which we can start implementing in our own cities, right here and now. 

Economic Democracy, Economic Decentralization, and Economic Localization are the 3 big ideas that I believe will guide the transition to a sustainable future. The economic system of the future - one that benefits everyone and respects the planet - is unlikely to be found under any single name or theory. What I expect to see in the future is a patchwork network of alternatives that grow by the merit of their success and the passion with which they are implemented by people like you. 

The key is for us all to start thinking like designers and start experimenting and advancing these alternatives in our own cities one project at a time. 

And on that note, here are 11 films to inspire the creative systems thinker in us all:

The Economics of Happiness (Abridged Version)
19 min · This is a shortened version of the award-winning feature-length documentary film, The Economics of Happiness. Cut down from 68 minutes to less than 20, it provides an introduction to the concept of localization - a systemic alternative...
Money & Life
86 min · Money & Life is a passionate and inspirational essay-style documentary that asks a provocative question: can we see the economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous opportunity?  
Prout: Economic Democracy in Practice
30 min · Economics of Prout covers the basic economic principles of Prout, which offers a viable alternative to the materialistic, anti human philosophies of Capitalism and Communism.
Own The Change: Building Economic Democracy One Worker Co-op at a Time
20 min · Own the Change: Building Economic Democracy One Worker Co-op at a Time is a short documentary meant to give an overview of what a worker co-op is, how it can transform lives and communities, and the realities of starting one. Watch as...
What Is Economic Democracy?
4 min · An animated look at David Schweickart's proposal for a next system, grounded in democratic worker cooperatives and built around public control of financial capital.
PROUT's Concept of Economic Democracy
10 min · 10 minutes of plain-spoken awesome. Economic Democracy is the BIG IDEA of our time. Make sure you don't miss the awesome moment starting at 2:30 that goes until 3:25! 
The Choice Is Ours
59 min · This film series explores many aspects of our society. To rethink what is possible in our world, we need to consider what kind of world we want to live in. Although we refer to it as civilization, it is anything but civilized. Visions...
Can We Do It Ourselves?
59 min · Within modern life exists a paradox: we celebrate democracy as a political system, but not as an economic system, even though our workplaces have a far greater impact on our day to day lives. It's fair to say that most workplaces under...
Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Funny Intro to Participatory Economics
7 min · This is a short animated introduction to Participatory Economics. It's made about 10 times more hilarious and enjoyable to watch thanks to the laugh track and frequent jokes.
What Does It Take to Start a Worker Co-Op? A Practical Video Guide to Democratizing Our Economy
22 min · Would it be easier to practice workplace democracy if our media gave us as many visions of collaboration as they do of competition?
Peter Joseph: Introducing a Resource Based Economy (Multi-Part Series)
300 min · Part 1: Where are we now? Part 2: Where are we going? Part 3: Social Pathology? Part 4: A 20 minute Intro to a Resource/Earth-Based Economy Part 5: A 10 minute Intro to a Resource/Earth-Based Economy

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