From the Commercial Revolution to the present, global economic integration has exacerbated geographic and social polarization. The rich-poor chasm would have been greater if it were not for revolutions of the bourgeois revolutions in the 18th and 19th centuries, and worker/peasant revolutions in the 20th century. Despite the recent rise of the small middle class in China, India, and former East Bloc countries, World Bank and UN studies confirm that in the past forty years poverty has been rising.
Similarly, there has been a widening gap between rich and poor nations. Nor is the solution the dissemination of the consumerism doctrine in underdeveloped regions and among lower social classes in the advanced capitalist countries. As Maxime Laguerre correctly emphasizes in Innovation & Growth, “Only through the acceptance of the dogma that growth in consumption equals a growth in happiness does every capitalist system legitimize itself.” Therefore, it is the multifarious and ceaseless ubiquitous marketing of the illusion imbedded in the “consumption equals growth dogma” that is far more significant than the reality of material progress and human happiness.
Despite economic growth figures based on GDP, uneven social and geographic development and rising poverty are among the reasons that the legitimacy of capitalism and the illusion that it engenders happiness comes to question. Besides the planet’s rapid environmental degradation, the decline in the idyllic bourgeois lifestyle, now characterized by consumption and abuse of legal and illegal substances, entails that the broader middle classes are governed more by fear and anxiety than comfort that capitalism promises in the marketing of the “growth and happiness dogma”.
Alhough there are many complex variables, among them objective conditions of the evolving capitalist system, for asymmetrical geographic development and unequal socioeconomic conditions, progressives throughout the world have an undeniable responsibility either for surrendering to the status quo or surrendering to fatalism. While co-optation of leftists is hardly a new phenomenon, it has accelerated since China’s economic integration into the global market system, and since the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc. Co-optation of progressives, their causes, factions, and political parties is not inevitable, despite the fact that we live in an unhistorical epoch.