Collective Life Capital: The Lost Ground of the Economy

By John McMurtry

In this analysis, the author definitively explains collective life capital as the missing base of the economy under systemic attack by life-blind market globalisation, and exactly defines the life-value standards and compass to steer out of a cumulatively eco-genocidal disorder to real economic sustainability.

Sometimes value assumptions are so deeply ingrained they govern thought automatically. For example, “Columbus discovered America” presupposes that only Europeans exist. But who notices the deep false assumption? A more systemic example is that all values are assumed as money values so that life value itself is only what people are willing to pay for. Private money gain or loss is the ruling substance, yardstick and unit of account of all worth. Life value is assumed as what money can buy – the fundamental premise of marginal utility theory.

What is not recognised is that this understanding of ‘the economy’ is life-blind in principle. There are no life coordinates at any moment of money-value exchanges. There is no life need in the economy, only market demand. They are falsely equated so that life necessity at any level – even of climate stability or green-space – is abstracted out. The accumulating life-ground crash going on underneath is thus absurdly conceived as an economic “externality”.


The Global Life Capital Crash
When acquiring money value in exchange is all that matters, it and not life value decide the life and death, health or morbidity of societies and individuals. “All must compete in the global market, or not survive”. Underneath this ever more frenetic competition to stay above water for most and to gain ever more for few, a fatal problem of the real economy and the species itself grows vast and unseen.

The air, soil and water all cumulatively degrade. The climates and oceans destabilise to greater extremes. Species become extinct at spasm rates across continents. Pollution cycles and volumes increase to endanger life systems at all levels from sea bottoms to insectivores. The sun becomes dangerous to play in and children grow ever more unfit. Public sectors and services are defunded and privatised in every domain while tax evasions of the rich multiply in forms and amounts. The global food system produces more and more disabling and contaminated junk without nutritional value as non-contagious diseases multiply to the world’s biggest killer with only symptom cures. The global financial system ceases to function for productive investment in life capital and goods. Perhaps most dismally, the vocational future of the next generation is driven to collapse.

Every one of these degenerate trends are grave forms of collective life capital loss and destruction – the real bottom line of the wealth of humanity and the world. They are the lost base of the economy – the life value stock that produces more life value stock without loss and with cumulative gain through time. This life capital base of the real economy is for the first time in history systemically run down and poisoned. Always however more money sequences, commodities, profits and wastes are produced, and bizarrely assumed as “economic activities”. Life-coherent regulation to save the real base of the economy is repudiated as “too costly” or “anti-business”.


Every one of these degenerate trends are grave forms of collective life capital loss and destruction – the real bottom line of the wealth of humanity and the world.


Even now more than half way through the liquidation, depletion, poisoning and exhaustion of natural and social life support systems of humanity and the planet, the common life capital of all of them is blocked out of economic theory, practice and accounts. Only money exchanges and results count, and only if private profits are served is action normally taken. This is the insanity of the system. What is called ‘Economics’ is like the medieval Church denying the material reality on the other side of Galileo’s telescope, but far vaster in blindness and eco-genocidal consequences.


Re-Setting to Collective Life Capital as the Economic Base of all Value
There is no real value in the economy that is not life value. This is a self-evident truth, but not recognised in the world where any value is the price it can get. But people do come to understand that junk foods or cigarettes that dispose their consumers to ill-being and disease are not real values. They come to ground in life value instead. But what is it? The objective ground, standard and measure of life-value can be stated in three basic philosophical steps. They provide us with the life-value compass we require in steering any rational economic or material course or life:

(1) all value whatever is life value,
(2) good versus bad equals the extent to which life is more coherently enabled versus disabled, by
(3) greater/lesser ranges or capacities of thought, felt being and action through time.

Collective life capital development is the rational measure of a real economy – what produces and reproduces life goods, not priced bads, through generational time.

For example, the collective life capital of the world’s water in planetary hydrological cycles or a community’s clean water supply through time is a great, essential and foundational good to the extent that it enables all people’s lives, all of which are reduced or destroyed in proportion to their deprivation of it. Life capital and the life value it bears is no more a matter of opinion than “sufficient water/nutrition/heat/waste-disposal cycle/space to move in” are opinions. The necessity of the life values and goods that life capital produces here is an objective matter.

Collective life capital refers to all universal life-value bases. Natural cycles and social constructions work together to sufficiently provide them – the ultimate substance of a real economy. We can tell thus how well or badly an economy does by how it suffices to reproduce and develop the material life goods of its members. The universal life necessities it must provide for are always that without which life capacities are diminished or destroyed in proportion to their loss – the criterion of all economic necessity and goods. Nordic economies do relatively well here, the US poorly for 40% of the population (although they are richer in average per-capita money terms). Collective life capital development is the rational measure of a real economy – what produces and reproduces life goods, not priced bads, through generational time.

These real goods include not only those necessities defined above, but more generally all the evolved social constructs that distinguish human from non-human lives – language in all forms of symbolic transmission with knowledge as the ultimate collective life capital of human evolution. Yet this ever advancing life capital base is also under threat by corporate copyright closure to transmission and silos of commercial expertise as well as mass media with no criterion of information, entertainments for sale in place of understanding, and – in general – what drives them all, transnational private money sequences multiplying to more as an end in itself. Here the truth is what sells, even if its mass production kills tens of millions of people a year.

Other evolved collective life capital formations are similarly at risk – life -protective laws and their enforcement, for example. They are widely dismantled by radical de-regulation of borderless money sequences multiplying through organic, social and ecological life hosts with no life standards to govern their “freedom from government intervention”.


The Underlying Equations of the Money-Sequence Growth System
The organising principles of this system can be laid bare in five steps. The first is already implicit in every textbook and corporate charter as primary axiom. Yet the implications that follow from it are not faced or discussed. They are avoided by myriad layers of rationalisation:

Rationality = Self-Maximising Choice
= Always More Money-Value for Self is Good
= Self-Multiplying Sequences of Ever More Money to the Top
= the Ruling Growth System with No Committed Life Functions
= All Else is Disposable Means to this Multiplying Money-Sequence Growth

Sustaining this unexamined but ruling inner code is a master superstition: that purely self-maximising atomic selves in the market necessitate the best of possible worlds by an invisible hand of competition. This is the essence of the global market ethic and religion. But since life costs do not compute, this system’s operations are consistent with destroying life support systems by their multiplying demand growth. The “optimum” is at best true for private money costs of investors and consumers. This is why it appears true. But this selective case ignores all else, including all collective life capital bases and evolved planetary life itself. Their cumulative collapse is proof of the ultimate fatal error built into the reigning doctrine.

While people still blame population growth for such cumulative destruction of the life bases of the evolved human and ecological world, they ignore the facts and actual causal pattern. Population rates have declined by over half to negative growth in the most developed societies, while global money demand multiplies far faster and exponentially to propel every degenerate trend of collective life capital reported above. The catastrophic trends are not connected or seen within this thought system because they demonstrate its eco-
genocidal failure.

Revealingly, everything that makes a society liveable is excluded from the ruling value calculus – life-protective laws including sufficient minimum wages and environmental regulations, common water and sewage systems for all, free movement pathways and life spaces without price, non-profit healthcare and disease-prevention by public institution, public income security from disemployment, old age and disability, primary to higher education without unpayable debts, family housing, food and life means assistance for children lacking parental money, public libraries and arts facilities with accessible books, films and works of art; and all ecological life support systems except as they can maximise profit at least cost to investors.


As the Invisible Hand is Life-Blind, So is the Market God
What is least of all seen is that all this collective life capital devastation is in perfect fulfillment of the invisible hand of the market. Priced commodity supply by private enterprises meeting private demand of those with money to spend is the ultimate law of the system. Even eco-genocide is not a problem for it. This is why the oceans, rivers, aquifers, coral reefs, and fisheries can be run down and polluted without government regulation to protect them, why the forests and arable soil are exhausted by transnational factory-industrial farming without controls, why hydrological cycles can be destabilised without emission regulation, why the sun’s rays turn toxic and the very food cycles of the planet and humanity are poisoned, and why ever larger majorities are without life security in the world.

Still societies are everywhere ‘restructured’ by ‘austerely programmes’ to hasten this transformation of humanity and the world into commodities, profits, wastes and desperation – a condition in which the equivalent of the price of a cup of coffee to is proclaimed to “lift millions out of poverty”. Leading the hollowing-out dispossession and ruin of social and ecological life hosts is a private bank system creating tidal notes of bets, credit and debt without legal tender, and partnering with transnational corporations in predation of local economies across the world.

As on the organic level where the cell community does not recognise the uncontrolled multiplication of ever grosser cancer cells devouring the life-host, so too here. An invasively multiplying system of de-regulated transnational money demand crosses borders at will in tidal flows borne by untouchable corporate investment vehicles with no committed life function and unlimited rights to exploit and move on with the lifeblood of economies controlled in nano-seconds by private banknotes of highly leveraged demand.


Re-Grounding in Collective Life Capital: the Missing Link and Base across Divisions
Every human life suffers and degenerates towards disease and death without the universal life necessities no economic theory recognises: breathable and unpolluted air, clean water and waste cycles, nourishing food and drink, protective living space, supportive love, healthcare when needed, a life-coherent environment, symbolic interaction, and meaningful work to perform. All life goods are found here. All are measurable in sufficiency across cases. All are now degraded, polluted or perverted by a private transnational money-sequence system. Where there is exception, there is life value and ground.

Collective life capital is the long-missing principle of the common interest beneath the devastation. It goes deeper than class, race, gender, culture or individual differences, and includes past as well as future generations by definition. It supersedes ruinous man-nature and economy-environment splits, and cannot in principle go wrong. Obviously a real economy would regulate for life capital conservation and advance, with money demand as the means not the driver. In this evolutionary re-set, the rules are as simple as they are self-evident once seen. There are always: (1) life value regulators from start to finish, (2) production of more life value capacity through generational time, (3) life-value measure to tell greater from lesser in any domain by margins of life capacity loss or gain, (4) cumulative life gain always the organising goal, and (5) the meta principle that the more coherently inclusive any decision or action is in enabling life capacities, the better it always is for collective life capital and the world.

What misleads all is the opposite direction of the global corporate commodity and money-sequence system which captive states increasingly subsidise, de-regulate, privatise and militarily enforce in public-relations masks. But the moving lines of the global war between the life-blind and the life-serving economy form the fateful emergent choice space of the species.

About the Author
john-mcmurtryProfessor John McMurtry is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada whose work is translated from Latin America to Japan. He is the author of the three-volume Philosophy and World Problems published by UNESCO’s Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), and his last book is The Cancer Stage of Capitalism/ from Crisis to Cure.