After all this time, and even with the benefit of history, the causes of World War One (WWI) are still a matter of discussion amongst scholars. For scholars living then to have understood what the causes were, they would have needed to have known an awful lot about all that was going on at the time; which would have been difficult. They would also have needed to cross the philosophical Rubicon and not have allowed long-held beliefs and norms to influence their thinking. For example; could scholars of the time look past what had for so long been the norm and see that monarchies were in their death throes? That Colonialism was unraveling? Could they see the role that the demands of the Industrial Age and the Capitalism-Market economic model were playing in world politics?
How many of today’s scholars know what is going on now? In these fast-changing times, how much of the opining we hear, see, and read from them is based on the way things happened in times past? What will historians thirty, fifty, or one hundred years from now say about what was going on in 2022? How close will today’s scholars and thinkers come to getting it right?
In a time when the greatest existential threat to mankind is Global Warming/Climate Change, we hear, see, and read that our economy is one that is based on Capitalism and Free Markets. Something that if ever true; couldn’t possibly be so going forward. We hear, see, and read scholars of fortune saying that the economy can not afford to drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. What would Joseph Heller say to such babble?
Today, when we are experiencing huge economic disparity and the existential threat of Climate Change, when we are undergoing an economic transformation at least as big as that of the Industrial Age; first and foremost, we need to clearly and properly assess what is going on now and devise a suitable economic model for our now. The past is not prologue to the future. In these times of great and rapid change, what happened in the past is mostly irrelevant. We study the past in order to better understand what is going on now. Most of history’s great mistakes were made because the people of the time failed to understand, to act on, what was going on then, their now.
In 1914: Monarchies were in the throes of dying; something the monarchs of Europe didn’t care to understand, want to accept. Colonialism was in its last days; something colonizers and would-be colonizers were strongly opposed to. The economics of the Industrial Age demanded ever more raw materials, ever more markets for its products.
The period leading up to WWI was a time of great change. Then, Europe was in the process of transforming from an agrarian/colonial economic model into one premised on the new Industrial Age. Today, we live in a time of even greater change; of even faster change. In our time, while we are still in the process of transforming from the Industrial Age to the Age of Technology; technology itself continues its rapid advance as if without limits. It is hard to keep up with the changes; it is as if there is no now. Then, they had mostly muddled their way along for more than one hundred years (this muddling came at a dear price). Time is a luxury we don’t have. Now, as then, many would like to enjoy the benefits of change without changing. Now, as then, some want to stop the train and get off. Now, as then, this resistance to change will come at a high price.
It is not up to history; never was. It is up to us. First, we must ascertain what are those things in the throes of change that are shaping now. Next, using this, the best information we can obtain, and applying best thinking, decide what is going on now; what the future may hold. Then, we must act on these three. Give us no more Russian Generals, please.
Our long dance with economic models designed by and for the wealthy must end. The wealthy wanted us to believe that Capitalism and Markets came down from above. Turns out, god doesn’t do economics. If we don’t come up with something better, and soon; all of us will suffer greatly, billions of us will die. The question is, always was, “What should an economy do?” Just now, it must first and foremost stop destroying and start saving the planet. Do so while producing and equitably distributing the requisite goods and services. No small order, this. It is time to cross that philosophical Rubicon; to rid economics of dogma. It is time to go with best thinking, using all we have learned, and construct a better model. One suited to the issues we face today.