We can avoid a barbarous future. But we'll have to massively redistribute wealth first.
Sooner or later, climate change will consume our economy. If we are wise, we will let this happen sooner, and make massive preemptive investments into green energy and sustainable infrastructure; this will cost a lot up front, but it will mitigate even greater costs down the road. More likely, we’ll kick the can down the road, and then we’ll find ourselves paying for disaster relief, mass migrations, civil unrest, plague, famine, and everything else that comes with global warming. One way or the other, we’ll pay. Estimates vary, but the more plausible ones hover around a third of GDP.
In developing countries experiencing significant economic growth, this will be manageable. In developed countries that have already made big investments in infrastructure and green energy, this will be manageable. But in the United States, where growth will probably slow and where our investments are low, this is going to hit our economy hard.
Couple this with so many other trends of late capitalism — outsourcing, inequality, wage stagnation — and the prospects for your average American over the next fifty years look pretty grim. Liberalism will have no answer for this. It will offer the same useless panaceas it always has — vocational training, targeted tax cuts, business subsidies, and so on – but it will offer them to generations who’ve only seen their living standards fall and their futures disappear.
Did I mention mass migration?
A discredited ruling ideology, declining standards of living, the memory of lived prosperity and absolute despair for the future: this is as toxic a society as you can imagine. Now add to that waves of immigrants fleeing the storms and heat waves of South and Central America; an increasingly violent, militarized border, paired with an increasingly aggressive ICE; the continued decline of white Americans into a national minority; and a wealthy elite, controlling the most powerful propaganda apparatus in history, desperate to find a scapegoat for the country’s ongoing deterioration.
This is fascism’s pincer: economic pathology on one side, ethnonationalism on the other, and a middle class driven by radical resentment. You can already see the first glimmer of this in the polo shirt neoconfederates who spilled blood in Charlottesville — a frustrated, revanchist mob of white suburbanites who see in their falling monuments the end of their power and prestige. Their rage is already scary enough, but it is only going to get worse.
There is only one way out of this: redistribute to the rest of society the vast wealth hoarded by our (largely white, first-world) ruling class. Redistribute the wealth, guarantee everyone a decent standard of living with all of the necessities that entails, and you can undercut the tribal wars for survival and domination that capitalism constantly threatens to inflame. Redistribute the wealth — particularly to the developing world — and maybe you can buy some time in the fight against climate change, or even soften the blow when it eventually hits.
You are not going to solve all of society’s problems by redistributing the wealth. Racism will still be with us. The political and cultural legacy of white supremacy will still be with us. Our planet will still be poisoned and depleted from centuries of industrialized destruction. Fifty years from now, the Left will still have plenty of work to do — but if we try to fight these battles when we’re caught in fascism’s pincer, our chances for survival are slim.