Capitalist Development Still a Spreading Disease


Capitalist Development Still a Spreading Disease
reprinted from
The People
November 1996



It may be true that we cannot go home again. How do you feel when you visit your home town? Is it prettier? Safer? Cleaner? Does it still have charm or character? Do you recognize the places where you played as a child?

So many communities, once idyllic and surrounded by green space, are now blighted by creeping sprawl: neon lights, fast-food outlets, shopping malls, parking lots, apartment and housing complexes, and lines of traffic. The green space that once provided beauty, silence, a sense of geographic place, wildlife habitat, relief from the artificiality of towns and cities, and a reminder of our intimate ties with nature, has been devoured by commercialization. The effect is aesthetically depressing and spiritually deadening.

The culprit is development. The Great Lakes Regional Office of the National Audubon Society has determined, for example, that "only one-half of one percent of Ohio's natural landscape has escaped development in the past 200 years." Still, the developers' war on nature continues. An Ohio Audubon Society representative added that, "There are 568 plant and animal species in Ohio that are endangered or threatened or of special interest."

Development is the symptom. Capitalism is the disease. Desire for profit and pathological allegiance to private property make restraint just about impossible. Green space is usually viewed as simply an opportunity for a development scheme. The impact of construction and commercial or residential sprawl on wildlife migratory patterns, biological diversity and habitat is not permitted to interfere with capitalism's constant and unsustainable need for expansion and growth. One estimate is that "perhaps 300 species have become extinct in America since 1980."

Animals and plants are not the only ones to suffer from landscapes of concrete and neon. Psychotherapist Abraham Masiow said that "exposure to beauty tends to make us happier and even physically healthier," while constant exposure to ugliness "can make us physically as well as emotionally unwell."

Rhetoric about the possibility of balancing the profit motive with ecology is plentiful. A 1993 article in NATURE CONSERVANCY magazine, for example, described biodiversity as "our most valuable but least appreciated resource," and urged business to study species closely because "to learn them well is to exploit their characteristics in novel ways." The author, Edward O. Wilson, called for a "New Environmentalism" that encourages capital to recognize the money to be made by preserving species since "useful products cannot be harvested from extinct species." This new environmentalism clearly perpetuates the view of nature as potential commodities. In other words, natural beauty and wildlife only stand a chance to survive if they can be made to turn a dollar. Wilson hopes to "give the invisible hand of free-market economics a green thumb." But believing that capital can be friendly to the environment is as naive as believing that capital can be friendly to labor.

Capitalist development -- tasteless, shabby and vulgar -- contributes to human depression and alienation by depriving us of green space and beauty. Destruction and pollution of our environment occur under capitalism because such practices provide quick profit. Capitalism simply does not allow human beings the freedom to adopt sane, rational policies that affirm human life and the environment. Only socialism will provide an economy that meets human needs without destruction of the earth.