Economic Contradictions and New Opportunities

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In 2008 our global economy entered a crisis. Then came a restoration, which was aborted and the crisis continued. This is not the first time that the capitalist economy has been in a crisis, but why did it happen this time? And what can we expect from the economic development in the coming years and decades?

In this post we are going to take a closer look at some perspectives on the economic crisis, and discuss what contradictions this crisis reveal  the economic system. We will try to paint a unified picture of the ongoing crisis and explore how it creates an opening  for a change of the economy and society in general.

To our help we will use David Harvey, Gar Alperovitz, Paul Mason and Jeremy Rifkin. They have all spent a great deal of time pondering on these questions, and arrived at partly overlapping but still somewhat different perspectives on the crisis and the opportunities for change.

Video: First, let us take a look on David Harvey’s explanation of what happened in 2008 and after. What led to the crisis? And why can we expect more crisis ahead?

Video: Gar Alperovitz continue to discuss the crisis in the following interview taken from Real News. When watching the interview it is worth thinking about how to  translate it to the context where you are (whether this is from Africa, Asia, South America or Europe): what are the similarities and differences between what Alperovitz is describing in USA and the situation where you live?

According to David Harvey and Gar Alperovitz capitalism is in a deep crisis. A crises that most likely is no passing phenomenon. Both of them think that the crisis is caused by contradictions in how the capitalist economy works, as well as by the balance of forces between the public and capital. Both also show a great interest in discussing economic alternatives and the opening for something new.

We are now moving on to two authors who see new opportunities not at least because of the technological developments. One of them are the consultant and frequent debater of social issues, Jeremy Rifkin, who talks about what he calls a “zero marginal cost society” and “a rising collaborative commons” as an alternative to the capitalist economic system. In brief, Rifkin observes that today’s technological development leads to an economic situation where traditional profit-maximising enterprises will be steadily worse equipped to manage the emerging opportunities. Information, energy and transportation are examples of things that are less suitable to sell with profit. These and many other products and services can only be used efficiently through cooperative forms of management. As a consequence, Rifkin envisions that non-profit associations and the social economy can take up the struggle against capitalist companies and in the long-term relegate them to a more marginal role in society.

The other author is the British journalist Paul Mason who writes along a similar vein in his book Post-Capitalism - A Guide to the Future. His thesis is that capitalism has reached the end of its development and that a new socio-economic system will emerge from its ruins. The key driver of such change is technology, which destroys existing economic relationships. New technology enables new institutions with a more cooperative orientation to take their place. This is very briefly the door that opens up to future for society beyond capitalism. 

Video: Paul Mason explain his thoughts on post-capitalism in this lecture.

All the above thinkers contribute with relevant perspectives for social ecologists, and they are similar in important ways. They all see the need for a new anti-capitalist movement which builds new economic institutions from below, which is something that always have been advocated by social ecologists. Rifkin and Mason emphasise the power of technology as a change agent and as a disruptor perhaps more than Harvey and Alperovitz.

According to the perspectives they present it is only a combination of institutional innovations and popular movements active in the economic sphere that will fully make us appreciate not only how new technologies are renewable and perhaps “smart”, but more importantly potentially decentralised and democratic . Harvey and Alperovitz on the other hand are more emphasising the importance of cities and city based struggles and movements for bringing the new post capitalist system in place.

This is the third of a series of posts that was originally written for a study group on social ecology in Sweden. Read the first two posts here:

Post 1: The Fundamentals of Social Ecology

Post 2: Future Scenarios

If you want to organize a study group on this series yourself, here are some questions you might discuss based on the material in this post.


  • What did you think was interesting in the above-mentioned authors’ perspective on today’s crises, the contradictions of capitalism and the opportunities for change?
  • What kind of questions do the presentations provoke in you?
  • Are any of these perspectives relevant for a discussion of the local challenges where you live?