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Alternatives to capitalism

Well, many of us are against capitalism. Some are not entirely completely against it, but rather want to reform it, limit it, whatever. But it's often asked of those who are against capitalism whether there is a viable alternative. After all, the Soviet Union collapsed, right?

Of course, those who consider themselves socialists can attempt to set the record straight as to what socialism is about. But that's not what this post is going to be about.

Now don't get me wrong, I have a strong socialist inclination. I think a socialist model would be infinitely preferable to attempting to reform capitalism. But this is terrain that has been well-covered by others. Socialism may be considered a fringe view in the US, but it still has enough of a presence that we've all heard of it and anyone interested in it can find plenty of resources.

Now, capitalism and socialism are the big two. In fact, many view them as the only two alternatives. If you have to think of the next one, maybe you'd think of anarchism. Of course, anarchism is more often associated with breaking windows than with an alternative to capitalism. Still, it is there. And I sometimes also have anarchist thoughts, usually with a Daoist tinge of some sort. But let me set anarchism aside, as well. Though it is less talked about than socialism, it is not that rare to see it discussed (e.g. Dmitri Orlov recently had a thee-part blog post about it). And, with it, let me discard the spectrum of socialist-anarchist hybrids.

So what's left? Confucianism, perhaps, and many others. It would be great if people were willing to present neglected alternatives in comment here or (better yet) in their own blog posts. I will merely mention one, which is to be found in the writings of the Victorian thinker, John Ruskin.

There are several reasons I want to highlight Ruskin. First, because I think he was damn good. Second, because he has been entirely neglected. But another important reason is the following: Ruskin presented a novel conservative alternative to capitalism. What he proposed was light-years away from socialism. But it was also light-years away from capitalism and classical liberalism. And it most certainly was not in the middle between them.

Now, Ruskin was a terrific writer. So I'm actually not going to try to explain his views. I can't do them justice, anyway. I'll just give the references. He has several works on political economy. I will focus on two types:

1. Critiques of classical political economy:

Unto This Last
Munera Pulveris
The Crown of Wild Olive
And others. Ruskin was a brilliant critic of classical economics and of his time's society.

2. A sketch of how he thinks society should be organized:

Time and Tide

All of these are in the public domain, so you should be able to find them in the format of your choice (txt, pdf, html). And, of course, he also has writings on topics other than political economy (he was one of the top art critics of the time). What I recommend is just to take a peek at several of the above and see if anything there tickles your fancy. It's been tickling mine for a few years now.

And, for the hell of it, a picture of Ruksin:

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Submitted by dirac on

I hate to pigeonhole myself but I like communalism a la Murray Bookchin. There's quite a bit of work to do to tease the practicalities involved in that type of economy. But it's not just about an economy--it's about our relationship with each other and the environment--and he's clearly not a primitivist.

Submitted by lambert on

.... don't be such a tease!

I don't have time to go learn about Ruskin from the ground up. You know the guy's work, so could you give us a taste?

Submitted by YesMaybe on

I can throw you some crumbs, but they would give only a fragmented--and rather bland--picture.

He often argued for a single point using two arguments: a religious one and a secular one. The reason was that he was religious and so were most people around him, but his points also had non-religious support.

He was a firm advocate of government by the best, as opposed to government by all or government by the worst.

He was opposed to competition, and instead proposes prices being fixed.

He believed in private property, but his conception of it was quite different than the capitalists'. For example, he thought that owning something doesn't necessarily give you the right to sell it.

He placed the utmost importance on the effect of different types and quantities of work on the people doing them.

He was a naturalist, and was shocked by the ravages of the industrial revolution.

Anyway, I really don't think this is doing even slight justice to him. Perhaps folks like you who don't have the time to read him can put him in the queue for when they have more time. To whet your appetite even, further, here's a bit from wikipedia: "Ruskin’s political ideas, and Unto This Last in particular, later proved highly influential, praised and paraphrased in Gujarati by Gandhi, a wide range of autodidacts, the economist John A. Hobson and many of the founders of the British Labour party."