Bright Future

Book Review: Bright Future: Abundance and Progress in the 21st century – From Outside the Box, a Positive Vision for the Planet

REVIEW Canberra Times (Saturday 3 February 2007, Panorama supplement, p. 17)

Author: David McMullen
Publisher: brightfuture publications  240 pp $20

Reviewer: Barry York

As a young long-haired student radical in the late 1960s, I used to gain inspiration from a cartoon that appeared in my university newspaper. The multi-panelled strip commenced with two characters crouched tightly in a sparse door-less little room. One of the characters stretches out his arms, accidentally damaging a wall. He becomes curious and starts making a hole in the wall but his companion is distressed and urges him to desist, lest he damage the room. The final panel shows an aerial view of the scene: both figures are actually confined in a tiny box but outside the box is a beautiful big sunny world. The message was and is clear: creativity requires destruction, a better world only comes from overturning the familiar safe one.

David McMullen’s book is refreshing in that it revives that spirit in consideration of the future. His analysis will jar anyone who uncritically accepts the prevailing ethos of ‘doom and gloom’. He reclaims rational optimism and rebelliousness, rejecting the inherent conservatism of opposition to globalisation and modern industrial society – which he characterises as pseudo-left.

Bright Future is no mere polemic. McMullen’s training in economics informs his view as much as his decades of involvement in left-wing movements. His analysis is essentially a Marxist one, though this is not stated in the book. The text is meticulously researched and there are nearly 700 endnotes to lead the critical reader into sources of substantiation for claims made. The book will either be ignored or, hopefully, will have an influence in promoting debate about the issues canvassed, including, controversially, the author’s support for ‘collective ownership’ as an alternative to capitalism.

The content is wide-ranging but focuses strongly on the question of food production and world hunger, affluence and resource exploitation. Specific issues discussed include GM foods, soil degradation, water, fisheries, non-renewable resources, fossil fuels, global warming, alternative energies, nuclear power, pollution, deforestation and species extinction. He shows how food production can be increased through technological and scientific advance and better management practices.

It is possible he argues, to eliminate hunger by the end of the century ‘The planet’s capacity to comfortably accommodate us’, he says, ‘is limited only by the application of human ingenuity, something we are never going to run out of’.

While not downplaying environmental problems, McMullen’s take is that Nature is remarkably resilient and human impact is minor compared to the planet’s ‘battering on a regular basis from super volcanoes, meteors and ice ages’. Moreover, the affluence of modern industrial societies is what allows for environmental awareness and protection. For example, the best way to save the tropical forests is to integrate the children of subsistence farmers into the modern economy rather than to idealize their way of life.

The author sees capitalism as playing a continuing progressive role in those places still emerging from pre-industrial feudalistic systems and a section of the text dealing with the problem of kleptocracy in Africa is particularly informative and cogently argued. What makes McMullen’s book unusual and important however is that it does not reach the conclusion of those who argue from the Right that material progress under capitalism is our benefactor and that this system is therefore the ‘end of history’.

McMullen points out that affluence under capitalism continues to mask gross inequality and is only achieved through the alienation of wage slavery which chokes personal development and human initiative.

He argues that the continuing industrial revolution creates the conditions necessary for capitalism’s demise. As technological change progressively does away with the old back-breaking, dangerous and boring jobs, making work more complex, interesting and challenging, the need for a capitalist ruling class becomes less and less. More than half the workforce in the most advanced industrial societies now requires post-secondary education. With the automation of the most unpleasant jobs, who needs the profit motive? And who needs what McMullen calls “the master class”?

Collective ownership, he argues, will be ‘the obvious way to go’ and would unleash the creative energies of the individual, ‘freeing the economy from the distorting effects of sectional interest’. This, he says, is ‘real free enterprise’.

The obvious challenge to McMullen’s thesis is that socialism, when attempted under Communist governments, has failed. To this he responds that the experience of such socialism has been limited to places that had barely emerged from feudalism and had not yet developed advanced forms of industrial capitalism. ‘Bright Future’ is a scintillatingly dangerous book; a threat to the stability of walls and boxed thinking everywhere.

1 Response to “Bright Future”

  1. 1 Steve Owens

    Just save a copy of this here if that’s OK

    Bill your comment about people buying a house using a mortgage from a bank is wrong. Banks do not give home buyers a bad deal. The correct comparison with a home buyer is a home renter. People who rent a home are significantly worse off in the vast majority of cases over people who buy. Everybody has to live somewhere and there are only 2 choices.

    As to a proper analysis of 2008 here’s a proper analysis.

    The crisis of 2008 started with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty condemned Germany to pay crushing reparations to France and England. These reparations were so crushing that if Germany was to pay in gold it would have to find more gold than had ever been mined up to that time. Germany overcame this problem by borrowing money from the USA. It worked well because the 1920’s were boom times and there was plenty of money to borrow. Germany paid France and England who in turn paid the USA back the money they had borrowed to finance WW1. It was a glorious house of cards the US gave money to Germany who gave money to France and England who gave money to the US who gave money to Germany. So just hold that thought for a moment and we will return.

    So the roaring twenties are on us, massive borrowing massive expansion of agriculture on the great plains as the plain grasses hardy deep rooted plants were replaced with wheat. Banks were booming people borrowed to buy land and buy shares with borrowed money. America has thousands of unregulated banks.

    Then the music stops Wall street crashes, in 1930 there’s a drought in America that lasts 5 years, wheat farmers and the banks that lent them money go to the wall. Then the German banks crash, no more reparations no more repayment of loans. Thousands of American banks go bust and we have the Oklahoma dust bowl that was so well described by Steinbeck. If you want reading the first chapter of Grapes of Wrath is brilliant. (As is the first chapter in Log in the sea of Cortez but I digress.)

    Now out of all this mess the US congress comes out with the Glass Steagal Act. A banking regulation act part of the new deal where banks had to choose between being Wall Street commercial banks or Main Street mortgage banks. No longer could the wizards of Wall street get their hands on home loan money banking on main street became boring and predictable.

    70 years go by and then Congress pass a bill to repeal Glass Steagal and President Clinton signs that bill November 12 1999.
    So now we have Wall street financiers giving out home loans giving them to people with a poor credit history the housing market goes wild prices go up people are falling over in the rush to get people into houses.

    But these Wall Street guys realise that these loans are sub prime but if you bundle them together call them a derivative then you have a brand new product. Strong arm S and P or Moodys to rate them as AAA the highest rating there is you can then sell them to pension funds because they only buy AAA rated products. Sure some loans might fail but what’s the chance they all will fail?

    So there’s a property boom in the US and Spain and Ireland funded in Europe by money in the European north seeking the higher interest rates in the European South. As councils in England send their savings to Iceland where their huge banks are offering way better interest than they can get locally, all being funneled into the massive housing boom in Spain and Ireland.

    Then just like the lending boom of the 1920’s ended so does the lending boom of the 2000’s.

    Just like the 1930,s the President is reassuring and optimistic until he realises that he’s looking at the possible death of Capitalism. Then its panic stations.

    One of the measures taken was to resurrect Glass Steagal this time under the name Dodd Frank but Dodd Frank was only ever a pale imitation and has since been significantly watered down and the current President wants it gone completely because he stands for deregulation.

    Now bill I expect you to diminish my story about 2008 because “And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.”

Leave a Reply