Before even delving into the text, the title of Streeck’s essay, How Will Capitalism End?, elicits a vision (at least for myself) of an anarchy fueled, dystopian future where capitalism has suddenly been eradicated. As if one day it will just suddenly disappears unbeknownst to anyone, and the world will be thrown into panic and discord. How will we know what to do when that day comes, since as we all know, consciously so or not, capitalism has always been the only solution?
Well fear not, because that definitely is not how it’s going to happen. In Streeck’s analysis, he makes it pretty clear that the end of capitalism as we know it is already underway. He talks extensively about the various ways in which capitalism is progressively degrading, and how the chance for improvement or rebound is highly unlikely, as virtually all of the problems that modern capitalism is facing are problems that the system has brought upon itself.
Capitalism thrives off of the exploitation of labor, land, and money, but it is not an unknown fact that all of those things are limited in quantity. As Steeck state, markets “…have an inherent tendency to expand beyond their original domain, the trading of material goods, to all other spheres of life, regardless of their suitability for commodification.” Essentially, capitalism has always been set to implode on itself, because of its inability to recognize that it has simply gotten too big, too insatiable. Capitalism has consumed everything in sight, and yet there is absolutely nothing that can keep it from wanting more.
One of Streeck’s points that I found most interesting is the notion that capitalism is most likely going to end without a backup plan already in sight. Socialism is probably the most reasonable answer, and is currently what most people today claim to support. But it makes me think, are our problems so easily solvable as to just switch to something else? As of right now, I think I agree with Streeck in saying that we cannot possibly imagine what the alternative to capitalism will be, mostly because it probably does not exist yet. Even though my personal views fall to the far left, I find it absurd to assume that any change will ever occur, and have long lasting impact, without being able to think outside of the systems we already have in place. I suppose this relates back to the essence of speculative design, in being able to imagine multiple paths or scenarios for the future, even if they do not necessarily lead to something objectively “better”.
An article from The Nation presents examples of how small organizations of people across the country are already beginning this process of re-imagination. In California there is a collective called the Food Commons Fresno project, that is bringing together landowners, farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, and workers “…to support a shared mission: high-quality, safe, locally grown food that everyone can afford.” In a time when government continually fails its people, individuals are taking it upon themselves to create new forms of cooperatives and unions that support a collective whole. While these efforts may seem small and dispersed, they provide a positive outlook on what the future may hold. While the concept of shared wealth and public services are inherently socialist values, what we might eventually see take hold is a system that is inspired by socialism, but with a completely new set of rules to better suit the crises that we now have to deal with.