The Center for a New American Dream has created an animation analysing what is wrong with capitalism and explaining how to make the world better. Familiar? There have been quite a few similar attempts recently. As with anything in our hyper-visual age, the animation method of presentation of ideas has gone viral. What is interesting about this one is not so much the engaging package of animation, but the argument: it aims to challenge the traditional economic notion of perpetual growth as a prerequisite for a successful economy. While I very much like the idea that it is time to modify our view of economic growth, I am not so sure about their suggestions. They sound like a peculiar mix of different ideas, each of which, taken separately, is commendable, but how do they fit in one economic programme? I can see unresolvable clashes between traces of individualist liberalism and the early ‘capitalist spirit’ based on a Protestant ethic (we need to take responsibility and spend less); romanticised naturalism (let’s all brew our own beer in our back garden); Durkheimian social policy (‘commitment to social connection and community’); and vulgar Marxism (when people work less, they will have more time for DIY!). The video promotes the lifestyle of a small eco-conscious fraction of today’s young middle class in the USA and Europe as the solution to everybody’s problems all over the world (or even just in the USA). I am also sceptical about some assertions, such as that people consume less when they work less (in fact, it seems to me to be the contrary!), or that benefits are ‘easily solvable’ even if all people worked 80% of their usual time (and received lower wages, and paid lower taxes, as a result).
With all these criticisms, I still watched this twice, hoping that perhaps it will offer a viable solution to the economic growth conundrum. It is so tempting to imagine a cosy world in which everybody couch-surfs, works part-time, soup-swaps and knits their own socks, but this is ultimately an illusion. Well, see for yourself and let us know what you think: