Reading Response #4 / Rachel Adkins

Guidelines for Envisioning Real Utopias, by Erik Olin Wright, actually presents us with quite a bit of hope for the future in the currently too-often bleak world of socioeconomics. As we see it today, capitalism is entirely past its peak. Some might even suggest that capitalism is so far past the peak that it is now violently hurling itself down the side of the mountain. Unfortunately, we don’t exactly know what we might find when we reach the end of that downfall, or if we will even find anything at all. As suggested by Wolfgang Streek in How Will Capitalism End? it is entirely possible, and more than likely, that we will not have an alternative set up and ready to instantaneously replace capitalism once it has reached full termination. Wright provides us with a pretty solid way of thinking in order to be at least nominally prepared for that time.

Socioeconomic alternatives should be evaluated by three criteria: desirability, viability, and achievability (in that order). Often times, genuine discussion and exploration of alternatives fall short, never reaching a point in which provide any insight for future projects, because those involved get caught on the implications of the “achievability” step, before they even get started. I think at this point, political pessimism, and the urgency with which we reject alternatives, is a troubling symptom of capitalism itself. So many people have been demotivated and crippled by the deep-seeded crises caused by capitalism, that they simply cannot find the value in trying to alter a system into something else that might be as just as equally damaging. The fear of the unknown will always triumph.

But on smaller scales around the globe, projects are in fact under way that may point to promising signs of change. The concept of Universal Basic Income has taken hold in many communities across the globe, most notably the campaign that began at the beginning of 2017 in Finland. The Finnish Social Security Institution, known as Kela, is supporting a project that provides a monthly allowance of non-taxable money, to 2,000 beneficiaries, who can use the money however they choose. However, of the 2,000 people supposedly chosen at random, they were only pulled from a selection of individuals who are currently unemployed and already receiving government assistance. While general reception of the program seems to be positive, I think it is unfortunately quite easy for the results to be significantly biased or lack true, useful potential, because of the narrow demographic Kela has chosen as beneficiaries. As Wright mentions, it is important to treat these small stepping-stones as if they were scalable, and could be applied to increasingly larger test groups. “Skimping” in a sense, creates unrealistic and misleading portrayals of the larger system at work, and in that case, it is much easier for experiments and small-scale projects to be quickly written off, simply as one-offs.