Capitalism and Comfort: a segregation of state and economy is needed.

I have to admit, capitalism has worked, allowing us, at least in our part of the world, to live in luxury. Even the poorer part of society here with us don’t have it as bad as in large parts of the rest of the world. However, the whole system has nevertheless gotten out of hand in two ways:

Firstly, the interests of corporations have taken precedence over those of the people, the citizens. They have become legal entities with rights that should only belong to humans*. ‘Companies’ can now have rights and exert them. Moreover, they can evade national regulations through various international structures. This has various unpleasant effects that are only growing, including money accumulation (resulting in an eccentric individual, controlling space communication…), but also by constantly tempting us to purchase more, consume more, even become addicted through psychological games, and demanding their rights and compensation if anyone tries to stand in their way. Think of social media, the oil industry, the agro sector, etc. Trying to put that genie back in the bottle is a daunting task.

But we’re not done yet: on the other hand, everything has gone at the expense of the viability of life on Earth: almost free depletion of resources, the creation of dead agricultural land, alarming loss of biodiversity, and consequently, the resilience of nature. This has also been at the expense of people themselves, especially in other parts of the world, initially through slave labor and now by robbing their resources. It’s increasingly becoming a struggle, even in the ‘rich’ part of the world.

The notion that capitalism will solve this on its own is a myth because capitalism measures only in monetary flows that must grow enormously. The monetary system has been adjusted in a way that growth is possible only by depleting more resources for free, be it raw materials, land, or (at starvation wages) labor. Moreover, this money primarily ends up in the already wealthy top layer, as seen in Oxfam reports [1]. Even if you were to distribute all stocks fairly among the world population, you would still be left with the free depletion of resources and the destruction of living nature.

So, with the knowledge and achievements we have now, despite everything, we need to redesign the entire system to prevent disasters and distribute resources more fairly. This is not easy; firstly, we need to move away from fossil fuels, which will be a huge sacrifice. Essentially, it means we must make do with what we already have. If we globally distribute resources more fairly, we may have less here, but many others will have a bit more, all while the Earth potentially survives and recovers. Then, from there we can gradually improve things based on an annual surplus of sun and biomass.

But how? That’s one of the biggest stumbling blocks again, thrown up by the same capitalism that has ensnared us in all this luxury at the expense of the Earth. Not that we’ve all become immensely rich, but capitalism has brought us a lot of ‘comfort,’ and we are now trapped in a modern comfort straitjacket. They have the money; we have the comfort… And it’s precisely the fear of losing that comfort that often stands in our way. Many solutions falter or are even cut off, invoking the cliché ’that’s not possible. How should I then…’ etc.? And it’s primarily comfort that obstructs us, our comfort needs, comfort desires, and comfort habits. Or, in other words, our laziness acquired through ‘hard work’…

The simple example I often use is drying laundry on the clothesline. “But how do I get the laundry dry on a few damp days in winter?” Well, then it takes a bit longer, or you postpone the laundry for a while. It’s living with the seasons and the weather. But that’s exactly what we’re trying to exclude: ’the variations in nature and climate, we’ve had enough of that, that can be solved… Right?’

I had the same experience with a study on toilets. What was the best system in terms of the least impact? Besides the regular toilet, there are various sophisticated options in development, such as: no-mix toilets (double drainage-more material), vacuum toilets, like in airplanes (more complex systems-more energy). But by far the best solution was (is) the compost toilet: no energy, no water, no plumbing systems and sewer infrastructure, and no waste but compost every month. How many people reject such a proposal is unbelievable. But it’s better than the outdoor privy we had in the past. And considering that the most effective way of toileting is, of course, at a higher scale: a communal facility for toileting and bathing, like a bathhouse for a neighborhood. ‘That’s impossible’: I’m declared insane. Oh no? Can’t it be done? And what do you do when camping…? When you’re in your most relaxed and cheerful mood? Exactly. Anyway, these are more extreme examples, but there are countless others to think of.

Our problem is not that there are no solutions, but that we think in a pattern of endless comfort, which shouldn’t have existed in the first place, solely owing to fossil fuels that are causing the climate crises. Unconsciously, we consider our luxuries as necessities, and what we did well has become almost unmentionable.

Even politics, both right and left, conservative or progressive, is trying, albeit in different ways, to maintain what we have. With the developments coming our way, there is little to choose from, let alone grow. It’s either adapt or drown.

In politics and society, we essentially see two streams, not left or right but categorizable as ‘backward-lookers’ and ‘forward-lookers’. Backward-looking people want to return to the past, the cozy Netherlands, and certainly not change anything. Forward-looking individuals want to accelerate what we’re already doing, but with new technology and ’renewables’, thinking it will solve everything. Neither of them will solve the problem; they’re all trying to maintain what we have. One by burying their head in the sand and escaping into nostalgia, the other by fleeing forward into technology. But if the backward-looking individuals don’t want to change anything, they will end up with what they already had, with huge climate problems on top. If the forward-looking individuals want to change everything, they will get more of the same mess, only a bit faster.

We’re trapped in this comfort straitjacket, with a capitalist system that keeps us addicted to it. It’s time for a new narrative, one that evaluates humanity and especially politicians on what we need, and that is ‘system thinkers.’ Those who call a spade a spade, highlighting the fact that our comfort has been acquired ‘unlawfully’ and showing what is maximally achievable and sustainable for everyone.

About the latter, I do have suggestions, and also how that could take institutional form. Among other things, by introducing a fourth power, a limiting or boundary-setting power [3] (more in my new book (in dutch), available from next week). But how all this should have a chance to be introduced and accepted is an entirely different question. Perhaps system crashes are needed first to set things in motion. But I would like to make an initial proposal: First and foremost, we need to move away from capitalism as the carrier and organizer of society, as the all-determining underlying fabric for societal decisions. Otherwise, it will never work. Inspiration for a first step in that direction can possibly be found in what we did about 100 years ago: introduce a separation of church and state. What is now at least necessary to enable some movement in the right direction is to realize a separation of state and (financial) economy, a separation of state and capitalism. This means that the state is exclusively focused on the basic needs of citizens and helps fulfill and secure them, with the rest of society organized accordingly. Without a ‘profit motives’, except for profit in the sense of nature conservation, in ‘existence security,’ profit in care, in energy and food security, profit in collective responsibility. And leave dreaming and establishing in whatever way of an (individual) paradise to the people, not to ’the market.’

Also with an eye on the future, where basic provisions for inhabitants must be guaranteed, in a period when major environmental crises are approaching. Anyway, how exactly that should be done is not my primary expertise, but I will give it some thoughts…


*Or perhaps living organisms, as voices are currently rising for granting nature rights to plants and animals.

[1] Oxfam, oa.:


[2] Arrhenius :

[3] 4e power:

Author: ronald rovers