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How Western Civilization Could Collapse

By ITS Education Asia

I recently read this article “How Western Civilization could collapse” http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170418-how-western-civilisation-could-collapse and was not only quite frightened by the possibilities put forward but also saw how this is an extension of many of the points I raised years earlier in this article  “Globalisation – Wealth, poverty and sustainability” (2007) https://www.itseducation.asia/globalisation.htm . The main point I wish to discuss is the ‘blowback’ against globalisation that is being raised in both and what is really needed to solve the problems facing the world’s economic and political systems.

As human beings we all tend to think that tomorrow will be more or less the same as today.  That we will get up in the morning, go to school or work, come home in the evening, watch telly, go to bed…..  This is why people are caught so much by surprise when major changes happen. As highlighted in the BBC article we are now living in a time of change that most people in the developed world alive today have never experienced.  Globalisation has been the driving force behind the changes in the world since the end of the Second World War.  These changes were accelerated in the late 20th Century with major advancements in transportation and communication technology.  The end result has seen the steady increase in living standards that those of us who live in developed countries have come to take for granted and have expected to see continue.

However… We have now reached a point in history where this steady increase in living standards is becoming unviable.  Without constant economic growth the market capitalist system that we have been living in starts to come unraveled.  Market capitalism may be well illustrated by this 1954 Looney Tunes cartoon  “By Word of Mouse” https://fee.org/articles/by-word-of-mouse-1954/.  The whole system is based on increasing consumption leading to increased production which leads to increased consumption and so on  (I highly recommend people watch this cartoon).  The problem becomes what happens when the model starts to fail?  The answer is growth stops and therefore contraction tends to start. It is not possible to continue to increase living standards for everyone indefinitely.  Resources are finite and begin to run out.  This is to some extent the problem that the world is now facing.

Governments have not yet adapted to the problem of how to govern a society that wishes continued increases in living standards when it becomes increasingly difficult to deliver those continued increases.  The result being that people start to fight over what is still available.  Rather than globailsation we are seeing an increased emphasis on nationalism.  This is well illustrated with populist candidates doing well in elections. D Trump’s “America first” and the success of the Brexit referendum are just some of the indications of this trend.  People are less and less convinced that reducing country borders and allowing freer migration is a good idea.

The challenge really is to come up with a viable alternative or modification of capitalism.  My own view is that it is theorists that change the world not politicians, Smith, Marx, Rousseau, Machiavelli, Keynes etc are the real people behind fundamental changes to our economic and political system changes, not politicians.  What the world needs is new theoretical underpinnings that answer the challenges that we face.

My own view is that our system needs to change to teaching that greed is not good and conservation is desirable.  The mass production/consumption model is no longer viable in the longer term.  The only other solution that I can foresee in the short term is technological breakthrough that allows for the free/cheap generation of energy not based on burning fossil fuels.  It is my hope that the crisis facing the world will bring forward some great minds that can give the world a new theoretical underpinning of a different economic and political system.  I believe the breakthroughs in technology could be achieved much quicker with a change in patent laws that force companies/governments to share technology.  The world must come together to solve the renewable energy problem to give us sufficient time to develop a modified economic and political system.  If not, the world will become a very fragmented and violent place over the next century.

Dulwich College Singapore

Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

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