Citizen Action Monitor

Don’t blame capitalism. Capitalism itself isn’t “bad”; it’s the effects that are bad. — Nate Hagens

Capitalism has allowed us to throw a two-century party – We trashed the place, drank the booze, burned the furniture — It’s time to wake up, act like adults, and behave responsibly. —

No 2804 by fw, December 7, 2021 —

Nate Hagens

“Here in America when bad shit happens, we immediately perceive it as an injustice — it’s not fair or right – and then we logically have to blame someone or something. …. If capitalism is to blame, what is capitalism? Here’s a definition from the IMF [International Monetary Fund]. ‘Capitalism. is an economic system in which private actors own and control property in accord with their interests and supply freely set prices in markets in a way that can serve the best interests of society. The essential feature of capitalism in the motive to make a profit.’…. Capitalism, on the backs of fossil armies, brought billions of people out of poverty, allowed hundreds of millions of humans to live like kings and queens, and enabled billions of people to be born and live lives on earth by turbo-charging the food supply. It is too weighty and complex of an issue to label as simply ‘bad’ or ‘good. In some ways, complaining about capitalism is a luxury enabled by capitalism. Capitalism itself isn’t bad – the effects are bad. Many of the bad effects aren’t about wealth itself, but wealth inequality, which has ebbed and flowed over thousands of years, but naturally will spike during the highest surplus or monetary surplus representations. …. Any ‘ism’ linked to a culture that extracts carbon 10 million times faster than it was sequestered by nature us going to have disastrous long-term effects. Relative to other ‘isms’, capitalism did it faster. And because it was more efficient and more effective at motivating for profits at scale will result in more long-term harm because many of the costs won’t be recognized until capitalism has long since run its course.”Nate Hagens, Myth #4

Briefly, Nate Hagens is a brilliant systems synthesist and well-known speaker on the big-picture issues facing human society. Before becoming a professor of an Honors seminar at the University of Minnesota, Nate was President of Sanctuary Asset Management and a Vice President at the investment firms Salomon Brothers and Lehman Brothers. He has appeared on PBS, BBC, ABC and NPR, and has lectured around the world. He holds a master’s degree in finance with honors from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Natural Resources from the University of Vermont.

Nate’s Myth #4, titled, “Capitalism is to Blame”, is just one of 33 myths that Nate covered in his May 21, 2021, Earth Day talk, Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality. The beauty of his 2hr, 52min long, information-rich talk is that it is more of an indexed reference tool for recurrent consultation than a lecture meant to be assimilated in one sitting.

As Nate points out in the above introductory excerpt, the growing tendency to heap blame on capitalism, “… is too weighty and complex of an issue to label as simply ‘bad’ or ‘good’.” He closes Myth #4 with this thought:

“I am agnostic – or more accurately, ‘clueless’ on what sort of operating system gets us out of this mess. But blaming everything on capitalism neglects biology, physics, and the current build-up of systemic risks. Capitalism is in service of the superorganism.*  We have to, collectively, find a way out of this.” [* The superorganism is all of humanity.]

My repost, below, includes an embedded video of Nates’ 5-minute, Myth #4 talk, along with my transcript with highlighted text, and a few images. The video segment of Myth #4 starts at the 2:03:01 time stamp. (Although segment #4 ends at 2:07:55, the video will continue to play until it is stopped manually.)

At the bottom of this post is a complete time-stamped list of the titles of all of Hagens’ 33 myths, plus his opening Introduction and closing Interventions (and Wild Ideas). The myths can be watched in any order — but, as Hagens mentions, the order decided on seems logical.

For those who would prefer to watch Nate’s address on You Tube, absent my transcript, click on the following linked title, which is also pre-set to begin at 2:03:01.

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Myth #4: Capitalism is to blame, by Nate Hagens, “Earth and Humanity: Myth and Reality” / You Tube, May 16, 2021

TRANSCRIPT: Myth #4 (Starts at 2:03:01, ends at 2:07:55)

More and more people, especially young people, are increasingly “throwing shade” * on capitalism, and on humans ourselves as the cause of our planetary problems. [* “expressing contempt”]

While there is some truth to this, perspective is also critical.

First, blame itself is a carryover from our in-group / out-group dynamic. Blaming an out-group was really good for group cohesion and rallying the troops so to speak.

My sense is that modern Americans, especially, tend to cast blame quite easily. My experience with foreign colleagues, admittedly anecdotal, is when some bad shit happens their initial reaction is to try to figure out how to fix the situation. Then, after they can’t fix it, they might get to blaming.

Here in America when bad shit happens, we immediately perceive it as an injustice — it’s not fair or right – and then we logically have to blame someone or something.

I digress. Okay. If capitalism is to blame, what is capitalism? Here’s a definition from the IMF [International Monetary Fund].

“Capitalism is an economic system in which private actors own and control property in accord with their interests and supply freely set prices in markets in a way that can serve the best interests of society. The essential feature of capitalism in the motive to make a profit.”

Okay. with this backdrop, the origins of capitalism can be found in biology, in nature via the optimal foraging theory that organisms and animals optimize their energy return versus their energy investment. This return is denominated in calories or joules.

Energy is the currency of life for all species and for us.

In this sense, our current predicament pre-dates colonialism because it started with agriculture. For 290,000 years our energy surplus was minimal. But all that changed when we started to care about and optimize surplus beyond what we could consume or carry with us.

Humanity as Superorganism

Hunter-gatherers became agriculturists, and tribes became villages, and then nation-states — And on the backs of fossil armies, became a global superorganism.

The ancestral wiring of a social species, combined with a fully charged earth battery, formed the hardware. Capitalism was the software.

Capitalism, on the backs of fossil armies, brought billions of people out of poverty, allowed hundreds of millions of humans to live like kings and queens, and enabled billions of people to be born and live lives on earth by turbo-charging the food supply.

It is too weighty and complex of an issue to label as simply “bad” or “good”. In some ways, complaining about capitalism is a luxury enabled by capitalism. Capitalism itself isn’t “bad” – the effects are bad.

Many of the bad effects aren’t about wealth itself, but wealth inequality, which has ebbed and flowed over thousands of years, but naturally will spike during the highest surplus or monetary surplus representations.

The longest-term negative effects are, of course, on the environment and natural world – though there will be human intergenerational effects as well given that future people won’t have as much energy or stuff or riches, but they will face harsher environmental conditions.

Any “ism” linked to a culture that extracts carbon 10 million times faster than it was sequestered by nature us going to have disastrous long-term effects.

Relative to other “isms”, capitalism did it faster. And because it was more efficient and more effective at motivating for profits at scale will result in more long-term harm because many of the costs won’t be recognized until capitalism has long since run its course.

Even the founder of economics, Adam Smith, said there would be a two-century limit to the dynamic of specialization and growth, in [his book] The Theory of Moral Sentiments. With this operating system we have effectively thrown a two-century party – The place is trashed, the booze is mostly gone, we burned a lot of the furniture, and we – some of us – are going to have to wake up and act like adults and do responsible things given this new physical situation.

I am agnostic – or more accurately, “clueless” on what sort of operating system gets us out of this mess. But blaming everything on capitalism neglects biology, physics, and the current build-up of systemic risks.

Capitalism is in service of the superorganism. We have to, collectively, find a way out of this.

***** Myth #4 Ends at 2:07:55 *****

LIST OF THE 33 MYTHS (plus opening introduction, Interventions (and Wild Ideas and Closing thoughts)

To go directly to the beginning of any numbered myth or to the opening Introduction and closing Interventions and Wild Ideas, just click on the hyperlinked time stamp in front of the term “Myth” .

Time stamps: //   0:04 Introduction //   2:20 Myth #33: The Experts Have ALL the Answers //   4:16 Myth #32: Humans Are Separate From Nature //   6:45 Myth #31: Humans Are Mostly Selfish //   12:17 — Myth #30: More Is Better  //  18:12 Myth #29: “Someday I’ll Have enough” //   21:18 Myth #28: We Care About the Future //   23:38 Myth #27: Everyone Has Their Own Truth //   26:37 Myth #26: Truth Matters //   29:31 Myth #25: Energy Is Merely a Commodity //   34:28 Myth #24: The American Dream is Based on Hard Work and Cleverness //   36:05 Myth #23: Oil: The USA Will Be the Next Saudi Arabia //    41:46 Myth #22: We Can Always Get More Resources if We Have More Money //   44:42 Myth #21: Renewables Can Power THIS Civilization //   50:55 Myth #20: In the future we won’t need oil due to Peak Demand!! //   55:01 Myth #19: We Can Achieve Net Zero!! (by 2050 or any date) //   59:54 Myth #18: As Earth runs out of resources, We’ll Colonize Outer Space!! //   1:02:26 Myth #17: Growth Is Forever //   1:05:04 Myth #16: GDP Is the Right Goal for Society //   1:10:56 Myth #15: Overpopulation Is the Main Driver //   1:15:21 Myth #14: Technology Will Solve It //    1:21:16 Myth #13: The Environment Is Part of the Economy //   1:24:04 Myth #12: The Natural World Is Ours //   1:27:03 Myth #11: Climate Change Is the Core Problem //   1:32:44 Myth #10: Billionaires and Politicians Are in Charge //   1:38:56 Myth #9: Financial Markets Give Us the Right Signals for the Future //   1:43:22 Myth #8: Stimulus Is Permanent //   1:48:37 Myth #7: We Need to Crash the System to Get a Fresh Start //   1:52:43 Myth #6: The Use of Nuclear Weapons Is Unthinkable //    1:57:03 Myth #5: Fossil Fuel Companies Are at Fault //    2:03:01 Myth #4: Capitalism Is to Blame //    2:07:54 Myth #3: Humans Are Bad //   2:11:37 Myth #2: We Face a Shortage of Energy //    2:14:17 Myth #1: We Are Doomed //    2:19:56 Interventions (and Wild Ideas)

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One comment on “Don’t blame capitalism. Capitalism itself isn’t “bad”; it’s the effects that are bad. — Nate Hagens

  1. Pingback: Don’t blame capitalism. Capitalism itself isn’t “bad”; it’s the effects that are bad. — Nate Hagens – Olduvai.ca

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