The Tragedy of the Commons, the Pope, and the System

Actually running (Nov 30 / 9.00 MEZ): COP21 opens in Paris – arrivals and greeting of heads of states, LIVE, by Ruptly TV.

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Project’s E-Bulletin No. 1190, by Michael A. Lebowitz, Nov 27, 2015.

  • There’s an old argument that common property inevitably leads to exhaustion of resources … //

… Profit Worship:  

  • At the core of the problem, it proposes, is Mammon – in particular, the worship of profit. Thus, Pope Francis attributes the destruction of the ecosystem to the search for “quick and easy profit” (36), to the “principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations” (195), to the one-sided “pursuit of financial gain” (56) and, to finance, which “overwhelms the real economy” (109). The Encyclical accordingly calls upon us to “reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals” (190).
  • The key word here is simply. The Encyclical, after all, is not an argument against capitalism. Rather, its perspective is to modify the one-sidedness of a focus where “profits alone count.” It argues against the worship of the market (its deification) and pleads for responsible state regulations to check the destructive effects of the market through “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature” (197, 139). The Papal Encyclical is a call upon people to break with the dominant ideology, a call for a cultural revolution, a call to struggle against privatisation and against neoliberalism.
  • And, significantly, it is a plea for global justice. Although “the earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone,” the document stresses that billions of people, the majority of the planet’s population, are excluded from those benefits and furthermore suffer the most from environmental degradation (93, 49) Accordingly, our world, the Encyclical insists, has a “grave social debt toward the poor” and thus must hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (30, 49).
  • Of course it won’t be easy to pay that debt when a minority of the world believes “that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized” because of the limits of the earth (50, 109). But do we have a choice?

COP21 and Climate Struggles: … //

  • … The root of the problem, simply, is that human beings and nature are means for capital rather than ends in themselves; accordingly, capital tends to destroy both original sources of wealth in its drive to expand. Apres moi le deluge is its message. But we can prevent the deluge by sending a different message – not a message to governments but a message to ourselves by demonstrating that we are many and that we are strong enough to care for our common home.

(full text).

(Michael A. Lebowitz is Professor Emeritus of Economics at Simon Fraser University. His latest book is The Socialist Imperative (New York: Monthly Review Press 2015). This article first was first published on the Georgia Straight website).



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