The crisis of capital: economy, ecology and empire


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John Bellamy Foster is the editor of Monthly Review and Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon.  His latest book is The Ecological Revolution: Making Peace With the Planet.  This talk was delivered at “Econvergence: Northwest Regional Gathering on the Economic and Ecological Crises” on 2 October 2009.

John Bellamy Foster: The crisis of capital—economy, ecology & empire

How is it that we could be facing a crisis of empire, of imperialism, of war, of conflict internationally, we could be facing an environmental crisis on a scale that threatens the whole planet as we know it, and we could be facing at the same time being in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression?  And how do we deal with all these problems simultaneously?  Is it simply coincidental that all these problems arise at the same time?  I think that we have to consider the possibility—in fact for me it’s more than a possibility—that what we are facing is the crisis of capital, the crisis of capitalism.  I don’t mean in the sense that we talk about capitalism as being crisis-laden; there are always business cycles, downturns in the economy are normal in capitalism, and they have been for several hundred years.  We know that.  And we are being told that this is simply another economic crisis and we’re now in the midst of recovery, that kind of crisis, and we’ll be out of it and everything will be fine.  What I’m trying to suggest here is that we’re facing something else.  It isn’t simply a crisis in capitalism; it’s a crisis of capitalism.  We’re in the midst of a structural crisis of our entire civilization, which bega in, I would say, in the mid-1970s.  We are in the middle of it; we are not at the end by any means.  But the whole set of problems is getting worse and worse.  I think that this is crucial to understand.  The problems of empire, the problems of ecology, and the problems of economy are all related to this crisis of capitalism, the crisis of our civilization as it exists.  The system that we know of as capitalism—and we are forced back to the term capitalism, nobody really talks about “the free market” anymore, that metaphor is gone, and we’re forced back to the reality of the society in which we live—is facing both internal and external limits at this point, and we have to try to understand what these are.

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