In a preposterous piece in today’s New York Times, Aaron Bastani suggests that the world is in “crisis”; that the cause of this crisis is capitalism; and that to fix this crisis we should abandon free markets and switch to Communism instead. Perhaps aware that he is making an argument that has been made for more than a century now — that capitalism is preventing us from achieving a techno-utopia in which nobody needs to work — he tacks on the words “fully automated luxury” before the word “Communism” in an attempt to make his ancient fantasy look like a new one.
Quite who Bastani thinks he’s fooling is unclear to me. Historically, Communism has been unable to produce satisfactory supplies of bread, let alone wish the world of Star Trek into reality. If the products and approaches he covets are to come to fruition, it will be by the hand of the market, not as a result of his five — nay, five hundred — year-plan. Worse still, he seems to regard the fact that people have noticed this by now as some sort of chronic failure on their part. He writes:
But the most pressing crisis of all, arguably, is an absence of collective imagination. It is as if humanity has been afflicted by a psychological complex, in which we believe the present world is stronger than our capacity to remake it — as if it were not our ancestors who created what stands before us now. As if the very essence of humanity, if there is such a thing, is not to constantly build new worlds.
This was worth a try in 1900. But in 2019, it is entirely rational for “humanity” to look at the work of our forebears and choose Madison over Marx and Burke over Brezhnev. It is, indeed, true that “our ancestors created what stands before us now.” It is also true that some of them did a good job “building new worlds,” and that some of them inspired starvation, repression, and industrial-scale murder. Whether he means to or not, Bastani is channeling the latter group, with the attendant promise that this time it’ll be different because the factories will have shinier buttons. Rejecting his silliness instinctively is not indicative of a “psychological complex”; it’s prudent in the extreme.