David Harvey and the Big Questions

From Amy Goodman’s interview with David Harvey,  Democracy Now March 2009

Capitalism historically has grown at a 2.5 percent compound rate of growth since 1750. OK. And in good years, it’s growing at three percent.

Obama, the other day, said, “Well, in a couple of years, we’ll be back to three percent growth.” Gordon Brown says, “Well, actually, the economy will double in the next few years.”

Now, when capitalism was constituted by everything going on around Manchester and a few other hot spots in 1750, three percent compound growth rate was no problem. You’re now looking at a situation where you’re going to say three percent compound rate of growth on everything that’s going on in East and Southeast Asia, Europe, North America and everywhere in the world. We’re looking at a different kind of world.

The total economy back in, say, 1750 was about $135 billion. It was $4 trillion by the time you get to 1950. It’s $40 trillion by the time you get to 2000. It’s now $56 trillion. If it doubles (again) we’re talking about $100trillion. And by 2030, you’re going to have to find three trillion .. profitable opportunities for capital to operate at that point.

Now, there are limits .. and I think we’re hitting those limits environmentally, socially, politically. And I think it’s time we started really thinking about an alternative. In other words, we have to think about a zero-growth economy.

This is a very useful way of putting the current crisis in perspective and he goes on to say that these stark statistics and trends mean that …

DAVID HARVEY: … In effect, you’re going to have to have a nonprofit economy. And how you do that, of course, is a big, big question. I’m not—I don’t have the blueprint for it. But I think that this is one of the key questions we should be thinking about right now.

And what disturbs me is we’re going through this crisis right now, and we’re not asking those kinds of big questions that we should be asking.

Gaian Democracies was written to ask  those big questions – and many more – within the context of co-creating democracies that could live in symbiosis with the Gaian systems  on which all life depends.

Moreover, it tried to offer ways in which our societies could think, act and learn to be ever-more completely democratic by adopting a soft-systems approach to tackling  those big and complex questions.

Critics  of neo-liberalism and capitalism  like David Harvey, and many of the quasi-anarchists in the anti-globalisation movement,  ignored or rejected all the questions we asked, the new vocabulary we used and the new ideas we offered.

And, as far as I know, they  still do.  Yet, as Harvey says,

In effect, you’re going to have to have a nonprofit economy. And how you do that, of course, is a big, big question. I’m not—I don’t have the blueprint for it.

Note:  The wholly wrong-headed idea that somewhere there could be  “the Blueprint” for tackling ‘the big questions ‘.  This is a typically Command and Control way of thinking: “Here’s my plan. Now you go and implement it.”

It also  illustrates the distance that those who say they want our societies to tackle the big questions have to go before they can begin to work out how to think, act and learn systemically so as to re-configure today’s lethally obsolete  political, economic, governmental and security systems.

Note:  Tackling the big questions will require us to “RE-CONFIGURE today’s …  SYSTEMS’

Together those systems and their many components  form “The Global Monetocracy”.

We coined this term to enable readers of “Gaian Democracies’ to see  all those big  questions as ‘emergent properties’ of a profoundly anti-gaian and anti-human system.

Thinking in terms of blueprints, or policy proposals or grass-roots protests and projects will do nothing to change the fundamental purposes and values of  The Global Monetocracy. Still less will they take the reins of global government from its greedy grasp.

What kind of global system of democratic governance is needed for the human family to come through the next couple of centuries in good shape?  That is the really big question and one that all  the  progressive, anti-capitalist, anti-globalisation movements need to start to work on today rather than just talk about  in terms of their obsolete ways of thinking.

If they put their minds to it, they might just do the bulk of the work in time to make a real  impact ‘After Obama’.



  1. 1
    philip Says:

    “What kind of global system of democratic governance is needed for the human family to come through the next couple of centuries in good shape?”

    The answer has been with us for some time, but it’s not going to perch on our shoulder and offer its services. We’re going to have to work for it. A good start might be a website that offers a facility for interactive planning for a viable movement of the discontented. A place where we can discuss strategies for implementing the necessary changes.

    The global system of democratic governance? Democratic Socialism – in incremental steps, primary focus the USA.

    • 2
      wilfwilliamson Says:

      Many thanks for your comment, Philip.
      I like your way of thinking but – that awful little word – there are so many ways to misinterpret and arouse unnecessary hostility, that “Socialist” is a word i avoid.

      Moreover, the basics of every variety of “Socialism” are essentially ideological, and derived from interpretations of 19th Century society. Consequently today’s Socialists use critical concepts and methodologies that fail to match the huge range of differences between 19th and 21st century societies, as David Harvey demonstrates.

      We share many of the same values and visions, but I base my work on the 20th century advances in systems-thinking that sees all societies as complex, adaptive, cybernetic systems and predicates their health upon achieving symbiotic relationships with each other and “Gaia”.

      re: “A good start might be a website that offers a facility for interactive planning for a viable movement of the discontented.”

      All in good time: first, as Confucius said, and W. Edwards Deming stressed, we need to agree upon the definitions of the words we use and that is, in part, why i am writing the blog.

  2. 3
    philip Says:

    Wilf old chap, that is precisely the problem: too many people avoid the word because of the mud and manure that has unjustly been thrown at it by the mainstream media for the past half century.

    We have, in the US Senate, for the first time in history, a socialist – Bernie Sanders. And he is leading the charge to make socialism an accepted participant in American politics. He runs as an Independent for some of the same reasons you are not disposed to use the ‘S’word, but he delights in telling the world he is a 21st century Democratic Socialist and shows the world what a socialist really is by his speeches and voting record in the congress. He is making a conscious effort to restore to the dreaded ‘S’ word the respect it deserves. And Americans are beginning to wake up and listen. We also have the examples of Chavez, Morales and Correa in South America to show us what exactly 21st Century Democratic Socialism can do.

    The brazen and poisonous neocons in the US (both Republicans and Democrats) have raised hostilities all along the political spectrum, and the people are looking for an alternative. They are probably more receptive to new ideas now than at any time since the ’30s. Why not call a spade a spade and tell them the alternative is socialism, and then explain a few of the basics and the fact that they have been misled, all their lives, by the capitalist media damning socialism. Since many now realize the swinishness of the neocons, they will be more willing to consider the true alternative – socialism.

    I hope we don’t get too tied down in definitions. For a definition of 21st Century Socialism I’d suggest a brief review of Venezuelan history since 1998.

    I’ve been unable to detect any fundamental differences in principles between Gaian Democracy and 21st Century Socialism, except perhaps your stronger focus on the environment (a good thing I’d say, but that’s not a fundamental difference) and maybe your views on leadership. Please advise if I’ve missed something here.

    I’ve been told of a t-shirt that’s being seen around town here. It’s a ripoff of the little Intel plates seen on computers. It says in red, front and back ‘Socialist Inside’. That’s the spirit.

  3. 4
    wilfwilliamson Says:

    Vive la petite difference, Philip.

    This is clearly an important issue and – as you say – i hope we don’t get bogged down in it. The ‘minor differences’ you discern go to the heart of the matter – or rather its DNA.
    The questions of the environment (or rather the Gaian systems) and LIBERATING leadership are crucial. As are all the other components of the Gaian democracy model: Participative Change processes, Paulo Freire’s learning principles, Network Governance, Shared Purposes and Principles, Soft-systems concepts.

    These are not trivial matters. They are systemic DNA.

    Interesting and important as are Chavez, Morales, Correa, Sanders and other ‘modern’ socialists, they are still stuck in ways of thinking – a systemic DNA – that severely limits their capacity to deal successfully with the complexities of the systems they are attempting to address.

    We will no doubt have to return to these questions in later posts. Meantime, on the systemic importance of “small’ differences in the initial conditions of complex systems there is always the famous example of the flapping of the butterfly’s wings, and, the fact that 98.3% of human DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees. See what i mean about thinking systemically?

    Before it is too late, ‘progressives’ have to start to think of the challenges we face in terms of the complexities of the systems from which they stem, and then see whether the tools we have are appropriate for tackling them. Few of the tools adopted by people who call themselves democratic socialists have that capacity as far as I can see.

  4. 5

    I wrote to Roy at his e-mail address. Now I’m writing to others reading his blog. I have come to many of the same conclusions about political systems and monetary systems as Roy.

    A key to attaining a better world is Dynamic Governance? DG, also called sociocracy, is the “gaian” system we need to spread. It was developed by a gifted engineer in the ’60s, ’70s, & ’80s using his knowledge of technical disciplines and trial and error. It’s most significant quality is that it prevents power concentration/centralization, but it has many other beneficial and surprising qualities.

    Please check out my website at http://www.beyonddemocracythefilm.com and ask me any questions you might have. There is also the first North American conference on Sociocracy/Dynamic Governance: http://www.riverflowsbothways.com/

    BTW, the film won’t be done for a few years.

  5. 6
    wilfwilliamson Says:

    I will respond at length and in detail to your comments in a piece to be called “AND THE ALTERNATIVE TO CAPITALISM IS…?”

    Meantime at


    Stein Ringen gives an excellent account of the effects of New Labour’s passion for control and centralisation. From a a systems perspective, a similar account could also be given of almost every other ruling elite whether of the left or the right.
    Notionally more left-wing governments under Chavez, Morales, Lula et al are equally unable to understand the effects of their highly-centralised systems of government on the would-be radical social programmes they introduce.

    This will be part of the case I’ll be making in my response.

    Thank you for pushing me to think through issues that I’d previously avoided.

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