Visualising the Economic System – and Alternatives

Over the past six months I have been helping Occupy Design UK explore how design can be used to facilitate popular education on the structural causes of the recent economic crisis. During the London Design Festival we held an event at the V&A called ‘Exposing the 1% and De-branding the City’ where we examined information graphics and animations that illustrate the complexity of our economic system and exactly what went so wrong in the recent credit crisis. The following visualisations expose the dynamics and structural problems within the current economic system and propose what we can do to create a more resilient system for long-term prosperity, social justice and sustainability.

Crises of Capitalism. RSA Animate. Cognitive Media.

This animation features Marxist historian David Harvey’s analysis of the structural causes of the economic crisis and the role of crisis in the history of capitalism. Here animation studio Cognitive Media use the Monopoly metaphor that the Occupy Movement has also repeatedly used to describe the systemic dynamics of capitalism (another example can be found below). This video presents an overview of the contradictions of the capitalism system. While the Royal Society of Arts funded this animation, Harvey’s interpretation of the causes economic crisis remains marginal in mainstream economic discourse. The Occupy Movement has successfully created at least some discursive space in mainstream media for radical critiques such as this one.


Capitalism is a Pyramid Scheme

CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective and Packard Jennings. Pdf back of poster.


The poster included with the CrimethInc. Workers’ Collective book ‘Work’ is based on a classic illustration Continue reading

The Role of Design in an Era of Crisis at V&A


The statement below introduces a seminar at the V&A on September 19th. I will also publish two statements on apolitical design. The events is free but booking is required. 

Does design practice today work for the common good? Are our cultural institutions serving the interests of common people and the planet? While capitalism imposes harsh austerity on the public – it is also increasing profits for elites, the 1%. This dynamic is a threat to democracy and our collective futures, but these dangers are camouflaged by the design industry and our cultural institutions that fail to take the crises we face seriously enough as we head toward unprecedented and irreversible ecocide brought on by the logic of profit for profits sake.

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The Green Economy (NOT!): The Final Frontier


The UN’s Rio+20 declaration ‘The Future We Choose’ warns; ‘the scientific evidence is unequivocal…the time to act is now!’ With this document the UN calls for ‘a great transformation’ emerging from the recognition that business as usual is no longer sufficient. Humankind is now in the ‘Anthropocene’ wherein we must live within the ‘safe operating space of planetary boundaries’. Does this environmental rhetoric demonstrate that the UN is serious about addressing the biodiversity crisis? Or has the UN simply appropriated green language to sell its new project to the global public?

The so-called ‘Green Economy’ launched at Rio+20 reveals a new approach to sustainable development, based on creating new markets for nature’s processes. The basic provisions of the natural world are now ‘ecosystem services’ (water purification, plant pollination, carbon capture and maintenance of soil fertility, etc.). Presently free and commonly shared, the emerging programme will soon quantify, financialise and marketise them. The commodification of the natural world supposedly aims to protect nature by accounting for ‘externalities’ of environmental damage by industry. According to this logic, once nature’s processes are given a financial value, prices of goods and services will reflect ecological costs and it will no longer make economic sense to produce ecologically harmful products.

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Design vs. The Design Industry


Five days ago I uploaded a new paper titled ‘Design vs. The Design Industry: Conflicts in Emergent Orders‘ to the EcoLabs website that has now been downloaded over 470+ times. I should include an explanation as the paper is a bit of an oddity. This paper was not written for design audiences (although it is highly relevant for them). I was invited to write the paper by the ‘Atlas Economic Research Foundation’ and it will be published on this journal on-line hereContinue reading

American Holiday

Last week I presented an paper on structural obstacles that perpetuate ecological problems. More bluntly, this paper was a critique of capitalism in terms of the manner in which its processes destroy designers’ capacity to create sustainable ways of living. The paper was called ‘Design vs. the Design Industry’ (presently being re-written) and the conference was on spontaneous orders, otherwise known as emergent orders. My trip and the event was sponsored by The Atlas Foundation, a group associated with classical liberals, libertarians or free-market thinkers supporting the philosophies of the likes of Friederick Hayek and Ayn Rand. In contrast, my paper explained why the design industries are unable to make sustainability possible when directed by the systemic goals of the capitalism. Despite the fact that designers have emergent capacities to address larger social and ecological problems, capitalism will continue to direct energies of individual designers towards systemic priorities which are increasingly anti-social and anti-ecological. Continue reading

Tim Jackson (Prosperity Without Growth) vs. Stoneleigh (The Automatic Earth)

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend two events in one day presented by two significant economic analysts. Stoneleigh runs The Automatic Earth, now the 7th largest global website on finance, did a presentation in the afternoon at the new economics foundation. Later I attended a public debate – ‘Economic growth, prosperity and sustainability: a contradiction?’ in Westminster with Paul Ekins and Tim Jackson, hosted by the Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester.  I have a lot of respect for Tim Jackson, his analysis and the fact that he has been able to bring sensible and radical positions into government working with the now becoming defunct Sustainable Development Commission. Nevertheless, it does appear to me that the Stoneleigh has a more important story to tell at the moment.

Stoneleigh’s analysis is based the relationship between financial systems and energy systems. We are facing an economic contraction on a scale greater than that of the great depression. If those in charge of the economy had paid attention to the critiques of the economic model based on endless quantitative growth earlier, we might not be facing such a dire economic predictions. As it is, shifting policy to reflect geo-physical realities (such as the fact that the earth’s resources are finite and that climate change threatens civilization) would be smart, but it will not save us from more immediate dangers that will now be an inevitable consequence of the failure to manage financial sector responsibly combined with the failure to plan adequately for the advent of peak oil. 

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Corporate Watch, The Finance Lab and Collapsonomics

Last week I attended three events focused on the exploring problems and possible solutions within the economic system. The first was hosted by Corporate Watch (at SOAS),  the second by WWF’s ‘Finance Lab‘ (at the Institute of Chartered Accountants), and the third a meet-up at the SouthBank by the Collapsonomics gang. Three events focused on big problems, all attempting to create the public discussions we desperately need to counter a system with a dangerous lack of resilience, skirting dangerously close to creating a prolonged depression – along with the disastrous consequences for the natural world caused by an economic system blind to the needs of ecological systems.

The role of the state in this mess is to make sure the crisis made by the financial sector is paid for by all of us. Nick Hillyard from The Corner House describes how this economic crisis is characterised by an absence of public debate on the source of the crises. No-one questions the need for government cuts in a system that seems to have spiralled out of our control; so the failure of the private sector (the banks) is being shifted onto the public sector (us). Austerity measures are only now starting to be put into effect. The fall out from the economic crisis is barely visible in wealthy parts of the UK, but will start to happen in a dramatic way when the cuts are made. What is important to remember is that austerity measures are not some kind of inevitable process because we had (& have) no alternative.  They are the result of government policy that has allowed the financial sector to operate in an relatively unregulated manner,  and policies which consistently put the interests of the corporations before the interests of the public or the planet.  None of this just happened – it happened due to specific policies and a certain economic agenda which allowed it to happen.

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