Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy

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* Book: Surviving the Future. Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy. By David Fleming and Shaun Chamberlin. Chelsea Green, 2016



"The subtitle—Culture, Carnival and Capital in the Aftermath of the Market Economy—hints at Fleming’s vision. He believed that the market economy will not survive its inherent flaws beyond the early decades of this century, and that its failure will bring great challenges, but he did not dwell on this: “We know what we need to do. We need to build the sequel, to draw on inspiration which has lain dormant, like the seed beneath the snow.”

Surviving the Future lays out a compelling and powerfully different new economics for a post-growth world. One that relies not on taut competitiveness and eternally increasing productivity—“putting the grim into reality”—but on the play, humor, conversation, and reciprocal obligations of a rich culture. Building on a remarkable breadth of intellectual and cultural heritage—from Keynes to Kumar, Homer to Huxley, Mumford to MacIntyre, Scruton to Shiva, Shakespeare to Schumacher—Fleming describes a world in which, as he says, “there will be time for music.”

This is the world that many of us want to live in, yet we are told it is idealistic and unrealistic. With an evident mastery of both economic theory and historical precedent, Fleming shows that it is not only desirable, but actually the only system with a realistic claim to longevity. " (


From the introduction by David Fleming:

"A climacteric is a stage in the life of a system in which it is especially exposed to a profound change in health or fortune. One theory in early medical thinking was that climacterics occurred in the human life at intervals of seven years; a variant was that they occurred at odd multiples of seven years (7, 21, 35, 49, etc.), and this survives in the use of “climacteric” as a name for mid-life hormonal changes. Climacterics for human society could be taken to include the end of the last ice age, and the beginnings of agriculture and of industry.

The climacteric considered in Surviving the Future is the convergence of events which can be expected in the period 2010–2040. They include deep decits in energy, water and food, along with climate change, a shrinking land area as the seas rise, and heat, drought and storm aecting the land that remains. There is also the prospect of acidic oceans which neither provide food nor remove carbon; ecologies degraded by introduced plants and animals; the failure of keystone species such as bees and plankton; and the depletion of minerals, including the phosphates on which we depend for a fertile soil.This could be followed by economic and social fracture, taking law and order with it, and the breakdown of education systems able to pass on the essentials of culture and competence. And these events may be expected to lead to large movements of refugees and to steep reductions in population comparable with those associated with the climacterics of previous civilisations. The large infrastructures, such as those that transport energy, are likely to be out of commission. The constant supply of water, energy, money, security and professional skills needed to prevent stores of high-level nuclear waste from leaking and catching re may not be available. Justice—which, in an auent society, is seen as the only defensible criterion for judgment—will be open to new interpretations. This is deep, interconnected, planetary tragedy; grief reaches out to grief: one deep calleth another.

At such moments of discontinuity, with sharp changes of direction, societies—or at least the technologies they use—can slip back, not by years, but by ages: when the Romans arrived in Britain, they found a thriving, technically advanced Celtic Iron Age society; when they left, it retreated, not to the Iron Age, but another 2,000 years further, to the Bronze Age, without such simple artefacts as poers’ wheels. To sustain even a technology as basic as pottery you need a supply chain to provide clay, wheels and kilns, some assurance of stability and peace, and customers who can pay — or who can at least be expected to be around long enough to keep their side of the barter agreement or reciprocal obligation. To crawl back towards this level of material comfort in post-Roman Britain took some four centuries. Small communities made those conditions survivable.

Surviving the Future argues that community holds out at least a possibility of supporting social cohesion, engagement, shared cultural depth—and survival. In other words, the climacteric could be one of those rare historical turning points when society switches into a new mode of production—into a radically different way of using its resources; its labour, capital and land—changing its expectations and values. The shift could be partly voluntary and partly an involuntary reaction to circumstances. Potentially, this could be an opportunity, for it is at such turning points that it is practical to make deep, radical breakthroughs, before new conditions settle in which we can do little to change. We do not know, of course: the climacteric may be so severe that opportunity is the last thing on anyone’s mind; this hinge of history may turn out to be just dust and grief, but if rational judgment is to be salvaged from the depths where it has lain for so long, the coming climacteric could be the moment for it. It is unknown how fast the climacteric will develop. One view is that it will unfold as a slow deterioration — a long descent — with periods of respite allowing time for intelligent responses to be worked out and applied. Another view is that, because our civilisation is so connected, urbanised, and equipped with complex and fully-functioning energy and distribution systems—along with the property rights and financial systems that support them—the downturn will be more delayed than some expect: there is, as Adam Smith observed, a great deal of ruin in a nation. But when it comes, those tightly-connected dependencies will likely make it more abrupt. This is a typical pattern." (