6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism

The continuous reproduction of capitalism as a system requires the sustenance and replenishment of an employable workforce. This presently includes a non-market economy consisting of households and communities in which goods and services are exchanged without a corresponding exchange of money. As a reminder, examples include goods and services produced and exchanged within the household without pay, unpaid assistance to colleagues and friends and voluntary work within the community and in a variety of non-profit organizations. Of course not all of this non-market activity contributes to the reproduction of the system.

The current drive towards austerity is the ruling elite's attempt to reduce the non-market economy and social welfare programs to the minimum level necessary for the reproduction of the system. To the extent that this drive is successful, results also include a reduction in the time available to people for other purposes, including time for rest and relaxation, self and community development and political action to protect past gains and advance opportunities for further self and community development that go beyond the needs of capitalist reproduction.

The ruling elite justifies its push towards austerity by claiming poverty, including pointing to the indebtedness of governments charged with providing education and other services, a problem largely if not entirely created by cutbacks in the taxes paid by the wealthy and increases in the subsidies to already wealthy, but politically influential, corporations. The elites also claim a lack of competitiveness of those capitalist enterprises obliged to contribute towards the costs of employee health care and retirement pensions, an argument buttressed by a race to the bottom engineered in collaboration with their international counterparts through so-called "free" trade agreements. Similar arguments are offered for the failure to pass on more of the benefits of productivity gains to employees, instead even arguing for the necessity of pay cuts.

In this context it is useful to step back and take a measure of the distribution of resources between the ruling political and economic elites and the rest of humankind. Exploitative systems are by definition those that produce a surplus beyond the more immediate needs of working people, surpluses which end up instead enriching the political and economic elites. To get some idea about the reality of the country you live in, take its gross domestic product and divide by the population. In Canada and the United States, for example, the result for 2017 is in excess of $50,000 per capita in their respective currencies. Multiply this by the number of members in the average size household and you get some idea of the amount of surplus that finds its way up the capitalist food chain, even before taxes are paid.

The relevant question in countries like Canada or the United States, then, is how the surplus is used, not whether such wealthy countries have enough resources to support the educational, welfare and sustenance needs of their populations, including first the elimination of poverty. In Canada and the United States, only part of the surplus is used to improve labor productivity and maintain the production of goods and services at the level needed by the people. Like most capitalist countries, the surplus produced in Canada or the United States is largely wasted, including that part of production that literally goes to waste, such as unconsumed food and other waste products, that part of the incomes of those whose work consists primarily of marketing products and services above and beyond the part needed to provide the necessary services of information and distribution, that part of labor that is engaged principally in the defense of private profit against all who might detract from maximizing those profits, including that part of the time of the military, legal profession, politicians, teachers, researchers, journalists, production and service workers primarily directed to providing the legal, moral, and punitive force needed to provide and conserve in the hands of the capitalists the surplus created by the workers they employ and that part of labor that is spent on providing luxury goods and services to the wealthiest.

In The Spirit Level: Why greater equality makes societies stronger (2009, 2010, Bloomsbury Press) researchers Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett conclude their study of the consequences of income inequality with the following advice to Americans, who after four decades of growing inequality now live in the most unequal of the major developed countries: "The relationships between inequality and the prevalence of health and social problems shown in earlier chapters suggest that if the United States was to reduce its income inequality to something like the average of the four most equal of the rich countries (Japan, Norway, Sweden and Finland), the proportion of the population feeling they could trust others might rise by 75 per cent – presumably with matching improvements in the quality of community life, rates of mental illness and obesity might similarly each be cut by almost two-thirds, teenage birth rates could be more than halved, prison populations might be reduced by 75 per cent, and people could live longer while working the equivalent of two months less per year." (p. 268). For their research findings, graphs and continuing commentary see www.equalitytrust.org.uk .

While we have used Canada and the United States as examples, the argument applies to all countries in varying degrees. But, of course, waste is not all that is produced under capitalism. In all countries a large part of the time people spend working in the market economy produces goods and services required to meet the basic needs of people, that is, to positive social purposes.

There have also been changes in the nature of work in the market economy, changes that have brought additional wealth and income to the wealthiest, but which nonetheless – or perhaps in part for that reason - undermine capitalism and prepare the way for moving beyond it. In particular, as the role of knowledge continues to grow as a source of productivity gains in the market economy, it becomes increasingly difficult for a pro-capitalist ruling elite to confine education to the immediate service of profit and/or their own control over decision-making. Much of the knowledge and many of the skills needed by private-for-profit enterprises can also be used outside the market economy in the development of non-market activity. This makes a more just, socially democratic and environmentally sustainable society more readily achievable through non-market activity, including political engagement and non-market production of the goods and services we need. In this sense, the development of a capitalist market economy creates the potential for a society beyond capitalism. This potential can only be realized, however, if we use some of our knowledge and skills within and on behalf of the expansion of the non-market economy, in particular if we make this expansion a conscious aim.

The destructiveness of the presently dominant capitalist motive for production, including growing income and wealth inequality, the privatization of the economy and the destruction of nature, forces into existence and action a counter drive for a more just, sustainable society. Achievement in this latter direction is enabled by an expansion of the time available for voluntary provision of goods and services, including nourishing the development of a counter culture and experiments in the direction of a counter economic and social system.

We should envision a spiral development, one that is propelled by employee demand that greater productivity in the market economy be translated into more free time for voluntary participation in self, family and community development. Reduced hours per week of work, increased vacation time and early retirement along with increased, progressive taxation of the wealthy should be our expectation and our counter demand to the ruling elite's claims of poverty and their drive towards austerity.

Any success in these short-term battles with capital open up opportunities for our participation in non-market activities, including political action for a just, sustainable society, participation in learning from and teaching each other, and greater self-reliance in the production and distribution of food and other goods needed within our households and communities. Indeed every success in forcing concessions by the ruling political-economic elite is a step on the road to replacing the dominance of capital with the dominance of democracy, science, education and imagination. In that manner, every victory in opening up opportunities for our neighbors opens up opportunities for all. By following such a path of social solidarity, locally, nationally and internationally, we ensure that capitalism is ultimately its own grave-digger. We emphasize the links between ourselves as producers of goods and services for each other, members of local, national and international communities and guardians of our home in nature. The only persons excluded from this human solidarity are those who exclude themselves by exploiting others and abusing nature. Solidarity with each other and nature, resting on our successes in defending and expanding our non-market economy, is the path to circumventing the careerism and authoritarianism fostered by an otherwise self-perpetuating, exploitative system.

Anticipating such consequences of working class victories, a now transnationalized capitalist class has more recently and so far successfully pitted the working class of each country into a global race to the bottom, as another layer added onto the already existing and expanding income and wealth inequality within each nation-state. A successful outcome of even the initial stages of a ramped up struggle by working people will evidently necessitate a campaign for global working class solidarity. Difficult? Yes. But the stakes (environmental and economic security) could not be higher. There is no alternative to global working class solidarity for a future for humanity on planet Earth. That must be our response to the neoliberal program now being administered by the WTO, World Bank, IMF and other transnational state institutions of transnational capitalism.


This website was launched September 1, 2010 in support of a green social democratic alternative to neoliberal capitalist policy and practice. The primary result is a work by Charles and Karen McFadden of seven chapters, grouped under the title, Towards a Green Social Democratic Alternative to Capitalism available here in pdf and html formats.

Below under the heading What’s New can be found the most recent materials posted on this website, including opinion pieces, book reviews, articles and selections from the 2017 edition of the main work.  For the interest of new and returning visitors, new materials will be included quarterly.

What's New


Authors' Preface

1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

6.0 The socialism we need against the "socialism" of the 20th century

6.8 Additional concerns about 20th century variants of "socialism"

6.9 The people united!

7.1 Policy alternatives and political movements to advance them


Charles and Karen McFadden, Is revolutionary transformation on the agenda

Charles and Karen McFaddenHumanity on the Brink

Charles and Karen McFaddenMovements of Resistance to Movements for System Change

Charles McFaddenTranslating Green Principles into Education Policy and Practice

Charles and Karen McFadden, The Role of Revolutionaries in the Labor Movement


Charles and Karen McFadden, “The Shape of Water” as an Antidote to the Age of Trump 

Charles McFadden, Decolonizing the U.S. & Canada: The People United for a More Just Sustainable Future

Karen and Charles McFaddenCan emergent early 21st century neo-fascism be defeated without coming to grips with late 20th century restructuring of capitalism into a global system

Karen and Charles McFaddenA Dominant Capitalism or a Sustainable Environment? Why we can't have both.


William I. RobinsonThe Crisis of Global Capitalism and Trump's March to War

William I. RobinsonTrumpism, 21st Century Fascism, and the Dictatorship of the Transnational Capitalist Class


George HewisonWINNIPEG 1919 & THE COLD WAR

George HewisonArt Manuel - "Unsettling Canada

George HewisonThe NDP and LEAP


Albert Einstein, David Swanson, Jill Stein, Chris Hedges, William I. Robinson, and others Selected articles for Winter 2018



1.7 The dynamics of capitalism as a system and the limits of single issue reforms

2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

3.1 The challenge of a moribund economic system

3.7 Public banking: A cornerstone of a green social democracy

4.7 Economics and culture

6.5 Using the non-market economy as an opportunity to begin moving beyond capitalism


1.6 The epochal nature of the period we are entering

2.0 Theoretical Perspective: Defining Green Social Democracy

2.5. Socialism and green social democracy in historical materialist theory

4.3 Culture in historical perspective

5.1 Contrasting a green social democratic world with the currently prevailing, but challenged neo-liberal one

6.2 Socialism and capitalism as coexisting social systems


2.11 The economy in transition towards a new deal for labor and the community

5.7 Defeating neo-liberal capitalism: The role of social movements

7.3 Justice: Creating a just society, based on the right of all to a dignified, secure existence

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) applies to all work posted on this website except that which appears with authors whose last name is other than McFadden, in which case standard copyright should be assumed to apply.