How can we make things better?

Smith, Joe and Tyszczuk, Renata (2017). How can we make things better? In: Svendsen, Zoe and Daw, Simon eds. World Factory. Metis, pp. 29–32.


This book chapter responds to the challenge of making industrial production economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. It is inspired by Karl Marx' comments on the difference between an architect and a bee. When capitalist economies produce and consume things they ‘realise a purpose of their own’. However there is a well-established tendency for current discussion of economies of production and consumption to assume that the rules of the game have long been set in stone. That is: we are participating in a global race for productivity, efficiency and innovation. In its crudest expression this is a global and ceaseless pursuit of lower wages and taxes, higher productivity, cheaper processes and the generation of new products and markets. Protectionist measures tend to change the number of competitors in, rather than the rules of, this contest. But for all the advantages of the architect over the bee, the latter doesn’t need to be told about the physical limits that surround their constructions. Human builders, propelled by their active imagination, proceed as if nothing can get in their way. In the last few decades they – we – have had to learn the hard way about constraints upon the way people make and use things. Climate change, resource depletion and the loss of species and habitats, and the
increasingly evident human costs of these, all introduce profound doubt. They appear to constrain the imagination. Can an entrepreneur – a factory owner – the architects of capitalism – afford such doubt if they are to be effective players?

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