The Paradox of Wealth: Capitalism and Ecological Destruction
Published in Monthly Review Volume 61, Number 6- November 2009

Foster, John Bellamy; Clark, Brett

Publisher:  Monthly Review
Date Written:  01/11/2009
Year Published:  2009  
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX12519

A growing army of self-styled “sustainable developers” argues that there is no contradiction between the unlimited accumulation of capital and the preservation of the earth. The system can continue to expand by creating a new “sustainable capitalism,” bringing the efficiency of the market to bear on nature and its reproduction. In reality, these visions amount to little more than a renewed strategy for profiting on planetary destruction.


For Marx, with his emphasis on the need to protect the earth for future generations, the capitalist expropriation of the environment as a free object simply pointed to the contradiction between natural wealth and a system of accumulation of capital that systematically "robbed" it.

What is truly extraordinary in such views, however, is that the blinders of these leading neoclassical economists effectively prevent even a ray of common sense from getting through. GDP measurements become everything, despite the fact that such measurements are concerned only with economic value added, and not with the entire realm of material existence. There is no understanding here of production as a system, involving nature (and humanity), outside of national income accounting. Even then, the views stated are astonishingly naïve - failing to realize that a decrease by half of agricultural production would necessarily have an extraordinary impact on the price of food! Today, with a "tsunami of hunger sweeping the world," and at least one billion people worldwide lacking secure access to food

A peculiarity of capitalism, brought out by the Lauderdale Paradox, is that it feeds on scarcity. Hence, nothing is more dangerous to capitalism as a system than abundance. Waste and destruction are therefore rational for the system. Although it is often supposed that increasing environmental costs will restrict economic growth, the fact is that such costs continue to be externalized under capitalism on nature (and society) as a whole. This perversely provides new prospects for private profits through the selective commodification of parts of nature (public wealth).
All of this points to the fact that there is no real feedback mechanism, as commonly supposed, from rising ecological costs to economic crisis, that can be counted on to check capitalism's destruction of the biospheric conditions of civilization and life itself. By the perverse logic of the system, whole new industries and markets aimed at profiting on planetary destruction, such as the waste management industry and carbon trading, are being opened up.

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