Capitalist Production and the Earth’s Imperative

By Bonnie Weinstein

A common myth is that the average working person in the U.S. is selfish and refuses to give up dependence on oil and the material things that are produced from it or fueled by it. Some are calling for everyone to “reduce their dependency on oil.” To, “reduce his or her carbon footprint,” as if this were a personal choice each individual could make. Of course, to a certain extent, all of us could be more “fuel conscious.” We can recycle our paper and plastics; compost our food scraps; properly dispose of hazardous waste; start a garden. But we can’t all ride bicycles or grow our own produce.

Vastly overriding and dwarfing the ecological benefits of these “personal choices” is the massive pollution output of capitalist industry. From the procurement of natural resources of every kind necessary for product production to the actual manufacturing of the products themselves, capitalist industry is not only heedless of the safety of workers or the environment, but is intentionally and criminally wasteful of both labor and material resources.

In the past three months, I have had to throw away a year-old, electric coffee maker, a three-month-old electric coffee grinder and now, my screw-on water filter attached to my kitchen sink is literally coming apart at the seams—water squirts from every seam in the unit—and it holds only its third filter change. These breakdowns aren’t flukes or anomalies. The products sold to workers are planned and engineered not to last so that they have to constantly be replaced.

We recently replaced our refrigerator—a “harvest gold” model from the ’60s already over 35 years old before it finally broke down. When we purchased a new one, the salesman told us that it would last no more than eight years. Then he recommended we buy an insurance policy for the new fridge in case it breaks down sooner. We had to pay a couple of hundred dollars extra to warranty the thing for three more years.

Of course, what we’re talking about is built-in obsolescence—the design and manufacture of products so that they break down and need replacement often. That’s why the salesman knew the fridge would only last eight years—they built it to last only eight years.

If it weren’t a common experience in the daily life of masses of people it would sound like a fantastic conspiracy theory. But we have grown to expect products to break down and to have to be replaced—even the big-ticket items like new homes and cars. New homes built in the price range most workers can afford today are “disposable housing” designed to start falling apart in about ten years—the foundations crack, the pipes leak, the tile pops off the bathroom walls, the electricity rots out, the appliances burn out. It’s the same with cars.

The truth is, working people do NOT get what they pay for. Products that cost more are generally better made and last longer and/or run more efficiently. But these products are out of price-range for most working people. So, working people buy what they can afford, not the best quality.

Workers have no choice in the matter

This mundane and wasteful system of production has profound ramifications and exposes a fundamental flaw of capitalism—a flaw that will plunge humanity into the dark ages—if we cannot replace it with a society that produces for need and want and not for profit.

Workers do not have the choice on the production line to produce things that last any more than the Deepwater Horizon or any worker’s safety warnings will be heeded. These things are out of the realm of concern for the bosses because adherence to quality or safety standards stands in the way of the pursuit of profit. That’s why the Deepwater Horizon workers’ safety warnings were ignored and why products are manufactured to break down within a pre-determined length of time no matter what the human or environmental cost may be. Anything that increases profits is on the table; anything that decreases profits is out, even if life—human or otherwise—is at stake.

Huge amounts of resources are wasted in the production of inferior goods. Still more waste is produced in packaging these inferior products for sale. Our garbage dumps are filled with “bubble plastic” containers that are frequently six-times the size of the object they contain in an effort to prevent theft—even if the packaging cost more than the product enclosed.

Instead of making sure our drinking water is safe and clean in the first place, they use huge amounts of fossil fuels to package drinking water into plastic bottles—bottles themselves that end up in landfills or in giant clusters in our oceans. Bottles that often contain toxic chemicals and poisons that contaminate the very water they hold!

In what realm is it rational to design corn or soy so that its offspring produces infertile seeds so the farmer can’t just save some seed for next season but must buy new seed each year from the company that copyrights its impotent product?

Even in the light of this most horrendous disaster in the Gulf, that has already done irreparable damage, the oil rigs under temporary drilling moratorium are planning to move to other parts of the world where they have no such prohibitions. Whether it’s safe or not is not in their realm of concerns. They are free to cross any and all borders in the pursuit of more profit. They make the laws that govern their own operations.

Good guys verses bad guys

Capitalism is out of control not because of the personalities of the individuals that are in its commanding heights, but because of its fundamental driving force—the pursuit of private profit. Personality has nothing to do with it.

A rational society—a democratically organized socialist society—would have as its fundamental concern what is in the best interests of the most. All industry would be re-tooled for efficiency, safety, and quality. The goal would be to produce the best, the highest quality and most durable, using the least amount of resources, instead of figuring out how to make a product break down so they can sell more.

We have all the technology available to us to figure out what is needed to feed, house, educate ourselves and nurture our environment if only we could concentrate on those things instead of how to turn a greater profit for a tiny minority of profit holders; and to fuel the never-ending wars waged to protect their right to horde those profits.

We know how to build buildings and bridges that last centuries because such structures are still standing today. We know how to rationally produce and distribute the most nutritious foods to stem starvation. We know how to keep our water clean and our air breathable and our oceans bountiful. It takes more care; more planning; more communication and cooperation—it takes indifference to private profits and attention to safety, human needs and wants.

Capitalism’s insatiable dependency on the plunder of natural resources located across the globe are directly linked to its wasteful production for profit and indifference to these basic human needs, which includes the need for an environment conducive to life.

No doubt, tremendous damage to our environment; to the world’s infrastructure; to diverse species necessary for the survival of the entire planet, has already been done. Certainly, a massive effort must be undertaken to reign in the chaos and devastation capitalism has wrought over the centuries if we are to save our planet and make it safe for life again.

In order to accomplish this ultimate goal we must take matters into our own hands and make these decisions together and for the good of all. That’s what socialism is, plain and simple. Socialism is Earth’s imperative.