Hit & Run

Destroy Capitalism to Save the Climate, Argues New York Times Op-Ed

Centrally planning the climate will work about as well as centrally planning economies did.


Andre Larsson/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/Newscom

The New York Times is running an op-ed by Benjamin Y. Fong, essentially reprising progressive simpleton Naomi Klein's 2014 screed, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate.

In "The Climate Crisis? It's Capitalism, Stupid," the solution to anything Fong dislikes, just like Klein, is the abolition of private property and the imposition of socialism.

Fong argues:

The real culprit of the climate crisis is not any particular form of consumption, production or regulation but rather the very way in which we globally produce, which is for profit rather than for sustainability. So long as this order is in place, the crisis will continue and, given its progressive nature, worsen. This is a hard fact to confront. But averting our eyes from a seemingly intractable problem does not make it any less a problem. It should be stated plainly: It's capitalism that is at fault.

In my review of Klein's book I explained:

Canonical Marxism predicted that capitalism would collapse under the weight of its class "contradictions," in which the bourgeoisie profit from the proletariat's labor until we reach a social breaking point. In Klein's progressive update, capitalism will collapse because the pollution produced by its heedless overconsumption will build to an ecological breaking point. "Only mass social movements can save us now," she declares.

Fong, faculty fellow at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University and the author of Death and Mastery: Psychoanalytic Drive Theory and the Subject of Late Capitalism, similarly observes, "As an increasing number of environmental groups are emphasizing, it's systemic change or bust. From a political standpoint, something interesting has occurred here: Climate change has made anticapitalist struggle, for the first time in history, a non-class-based issue."

Klein dismisses the possibility that advances in modern science and technology incentivized through free markets can solve whatever problems that man-made climate change may pose as the 21st Century unfolds. Klein sneers that such thinking embodies the attitude that "We will triumph in the end because triumphing is what we do."

Fong likewise asserts that as long as capitalism exists it is vain to expect intelligent people to come up with technical solutions to climate change. "The simple fact that the work of saving the planet is political, not technical," he argues. "For anyone who has really thought about the climate crisis, it is capitalism, and not its transcendence, that is in need of justification." As a guide to the glorious post-capitalist climate-stable future, Fong actually recommends, Communism for Kids by social theorist Bini Adamczak.

"Once upon a time, people yearned to be free of the misery of capitalism. How could their dreams come true?," reads the MIT Press promotional copy. "This little book proposes a different kind of communism, one that is true to its ideals and free from authoritarianism." The book is accompanied "by illustrations of lovable little revolutionaries experiencing their political awakening." You really can't make this stuff up.

It's hard to believe in the 21st century that folks like Fong seem totally unaware of the massive humanitarian, ecological, and economic disasters caused by communism. In contrast, the spread of free markets over the past two centuries causes people to live flourishing lives. In my 2012 article. "Free Markets = Sustainable Development," I point out:

There is only one proven way to improve the lot of hundreds of millions of poor people, and that is democratic capitalism. It is in rich democratic capitalist countries that the air and water are becoming cleaner, forests are expanding, food is abundant, education is universal, and women's rights respected…. By vastly increasing knowledge and pursuing technological progress, past generations met their needs and vastly increased the ability of our generation to meet our needs. We should do no less for future generations.

At Scientific American I added:

To truly address climate change, responsible policy makers should select courses of action that move humanity from slow- to high-growth trajectories, especially for the poorest developing countries. This includes honest bureaucracies, the rule of law, free markets, strong property rights and democratic governance. Whatever slows down economic growth will also slow down environmental cleanup and renewal.

To whatever extent future climate change poses a problem for humanity, Fong and Klein get it exactly backward. The solution is more capitalism, not less. They want to centrally plan the world's ecology. History suggests that would work out about as well for humanity and the natural world as centrally-planned economies did.