SOAS University of London

Department of Politics and International Studies

Will/How Will Capitalism Collapse?

Michael Albert

Date: 25 November 2021Time: 4:00 PM

Finishes: 25 November 2021Time: 6:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: 4429 (SOAS Main Building)

Type of Event: Talk

The argument that global capitalism faces the prospect of “civilizational collapse” in the coming decades has recently ascended from fringe position to mainstream respectability among climate scientists, ecologists, and scholars of existential risk. Yet such possibilities are rarely investigated by political economists, who typically isolate “the economy” from its geophysical and climactic foundations, assume that 20th century trends of exponential economic growth will continue indefinitely, and ignore how intensifying ecological and political-economic risks could precipitate cascading global crises that make the 2007-08 and 2020-21 crises pale in comparison. At the same time, scientists and others who argue that “collapse” is an imminent threat often rely on a simplistic climactic or geophysical determinism rather than exploring the complex causal mechanisms and political-economic struggles that would determine whether (and how) ecological crises translate into global “collapse” in some form.

This talk will reflect on how critical political economists may enrich these discussions. I will suggest that understanding whether and how global capitalism may “collapse” requires deeper investigation of

  1. the intersections between climate, financial, energy, agriculture, and pandemic risks; and
  2. how political-economic responses to these systemic risks, both within and between states, will be shaped by the dynamics of technocratic crisis management, cognitive-affective expectations, geopolitics, war, class struggles, post-truth politics, rightwing populism, and other sociopolitical processes.

The goal is not to predict whether and how global collapse would materialize, nor even necessarily to inform contemporary strategies for preventing collapse, but rather to develop maps of possible futures that can help counter-hegemonic movements navigate the coming turbulence towards more socially just (or at least less catastrophic) futures.