George Monbiot: From coronavirus to public luxury

| 11th June 2020
The environmental campaigner and journalist argues we need to abandon capitalism as we recover from coronavirus and establish a new economy of private sufficiency and public luxury.

This horrendous pandemic has to be a tipping point. 

The environmental journalist and campaigner George Monbiot has called for a complete transformation of the global economy away from capitalism towards a new system where we enjoy "private sufficiency and public luxury."

In the latest Double Down News production he argued that the public response to the novel coronavirus crisis - respecting the lockdown - had demonstrated that radical social change was possible.

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He began by citing homelessness as an example. During the last 10 years of Conservative government the number of people living - and dying - on the streets has increased. But when the rich perceived homeless people as potential carriers of Covid-19 the resources were found to end the crisis.

Life support

"Suddenly, as soon as the pandemic hits, the money can be found. It was a question of the lack of political will," the writer and activist explained.

Monbiot pointed to the fact that the government and industry had claimed for decades that people would never give up luxuries such as international holidays and business flights. But in the last few weeks very few people in the UK have even considered flying.

He said: "People are prepared to make big changes when they know it's for the good of humanity. But yet the changes we need to make to preserve our lives and all life on earth are far smaller than we have have been asked to make to protect ourselves from the coronavirus."

The Second World War provided the perfect proof that the government too could be interventionist if there was the political will. The Conservative led national government forced factories to turn from the production for the market to production for the national war effort.

Monbiot argued the same could happen now. "Laying the foundations of a completely new economy, an economy that lives within the planet's natural limits but that actually emphasises human wellbeing and the wellbeing of our life support systems."

Exploited

Echoing popular memes such as "capitalism: do not resuscitate" and "there was no normal to return to" he argued that the coronavirus while being a global catastrophe could be an opportunity for real, global change.

"This horrendous pandemic has to be a tipping point," he said. "This has to be a point of transform where we move from one system, an exploitative political and economic  system to a completely different one: private sufficiency and public luxury."

He explained that there are only enough basic natural resources - gold, steel, and sinks for carbon emissions - for very few people to use wasteful luxuries such as yachts, sports cars and private jets. And - to put it bluntly - you are never going to be one of those few. 

And by squandering these natural resources, the super rich are denying the rest of humanity the very basics to meet human needs. "They are taking resources away from the rest of us," he pointed out.

He added: "The promise of capitalism is that can achieve that private luxury. We are all temporarily embarrassed millionaires. That is the con of it all, that it the trick. We cannot sit on that golden throne. There is not enough resources for us to do so. They sit on the golden throne because other people's labour is exploited."

Power

He imagined a new future, where everyone has some access to enormous wealth. This might be an occasional stay in a grand hotel, or a visit to a spectacular museum. Public transport and other amenities could also be grand in scale and design. He envisaged "great public everything."

Monbiot concluded by lamenting the fact that he had people asking whether we would in fact descend into a new form of hell, or barbarism, or whether we might emerge into a new way of being.

"People make it sound like it's a spectator sport." He explained. "We are the ones that determine whether we emerge from this pandemic with things worse than it was before, or better than it was before."

He called for mass participation to end the corporate control of government and replace it with real democracy, where decisions are made and influenced by the citizenry. "Break the link between the power of government and the power of money," he dared the viewer.

The video - as always - explained the need for independent journalism and asked for donations to Double Down News.

This Author

Brendan Montague is the editor of The Ecologist and a £5 a month patron of Double Down News.

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