Excellent #Chomsky interview on “Real Existing Capitalist Democracies”


excerpt –

JS:You have described humanity as being imperiled by the destructive trends on hand in capitalist society — or what you have termed “really existing capitalist democracies” (RECD). Particularly of late, you have emphasized the brutally anti-ecological trends being implemented by the dominant powers of settler-colonial societies, as reflected in the tar sands of Canada, Australia’s massive exploitation and export of coal resources, and, of course, the immense energy profligacy of this country. You certainly have a point, and I share your concerns, as I detail in “Imperiled Life: Revolution against Climate Catastrophe,” a book that frames the climate crisis as the outgrowth of capitalism and the domination of nature generally understood. Please explain how you see RECD as profoundly at odds with ecological balance.

NC: RECD — not accidentally, pronounced “wrecked” — is really existing capitalist democracy, really a kind of state capitalism, with a powerful state component in the economy, but with some reliance on market forces. The market forces that exist are shaped and distorted in the interests of the powerful — by state power, which is heavily under the control of concentrations of private power — so there’s close interaction. Well, if you take a look at markets, they are a recipe for suicide. Period. In market systems, you don’t take account of what economists call externalities. So say you sell me a car. In a market system, we’re supposed to look after our own interests, so I make the best deal I can for me; you make the best deal you can for you. We do not take into account the effect on him. That’s not part of a market transaction. Well, there is an effect on him: there’s another car on the road; there’s a greater possibility of accidents; there’s more pollution; there’s more traffic jams. For him individually, it might be a slight increase, but this is extended over the whole population. Now, when you get to other kinds of transactions, the externalities get much larger. So take the financial crisis. One of the reasons for it is that — there are several, but one is — say if Goldman Sachs makes a risky transaction, they — if they’re paying attention — cover their own potential losses. They do not take into account what’s called systemic risk, that is, the possibility that the whole system will crash if one of their risky transactions goes bad. That just about happened with AIG, the huge insurance company. They were involved in risky transactions which they couldn’t cover. The whole system was really going to collapse, but of course state power intervened to rescue them. The task of the state is to rescue the rich and the powerful and to protect them, and if that violates market principles, okay, we don’t care about market principles. The market principles are essentially for the poor. But systemic risk is an externality that’s not considered, which would take down the system repeatedly, if you didn’t have state power intervening. Well there’s another one, that’s even bigger — that’s destruction of the environment. Destruction of the environment is an externality: in market interactions, you don’t pay attention to it. So take tar sands. If you’re a major energy corporation and you can make profit out of exploiting tar sands, you simply do not take into account the fact that your grandchildren may not have a possibility of survival — that’s an externality. And in the moral calculus of capitalism, greater profits in the next quarter outweigh the fate of your grandchildren — and of course it’s not your grandchildren, but everyone’s.

and excerpt 2 –

“Back in 1977, US Steel, a major corporation, decided to close its operations in Youngstown, Ohio, which was a steel town that had been built by steelworkers, by the union; it was a major steel town. That was going to destroy everyone’s occupation, the community, the society, everything — and it’s a decision made by bankers somewhere, who weren’t making enough profit. The steelworkers union offered to buy the plants and have them run by the workforce. This was an effort that the corporation didn’t want. Actually it’s kind of interesting — it would have been more profitable for them, but I think a class interest militated against it. This happens frequently. A multinational frequently will refuse an offer by the workers to buy out something they want to close and prefer to take the loss of just destroying it to having the precedent of worker-owned enterprises. That’s what it looks like to me; I can’t prove it. Corporations are totalitarian institutions — we don’t get access to their internal decisions — but that’s what it looks like.”

FWIW, I share Chomsky’s suspicions, and am also not able to prove it…


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One Response to Excellent #Chomsky interview on “Real Existing Capitalist Democracies”

  1. Sam Gunsch says:

    re: “the precedent of worker-owned enterprises”

    Chomsky comments below on Gar Alperovitz’ book re an the analysis and agenda, in which worker-owned, community-owned entreprises play a large role.

    “Concrete and feasible ways to reverse the ominous course of the past several decades and to open the way to a vibrant democracy with a sustainable economy… A marvelous book…I recommend it all the time”
    —Noam Chomsky

    Other links to org’s Alperovitz is affiliated with that have useful resources:


    I find Alperovitz’ work is very helpful historical analysis and discussion of a what-to-do political-economic program built around worker-owned enterprises, IMO.

    Any of his podcasts are worth a listen. Reality and yet some optimism.

    From what I’ve read and listened to, Alpervotiz makes a very persuasive, well-researched case for investing our efforts in worker-owned enterprises, or there’s little chance of recovering popular control over the government or state from corporate capital. USA-based analysis and perspective but I expect his prescription is generally relevant anywhere in the West.

    I like his pragmatism: Alperovitz often says something like this early in his talks: If you don’t like corporate capitalism, and you don’t like state socialism, what do you want?

    Sam Gunsch

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