Book Notes: Capitalism in the Web of Life

Jason Moore is an environmental historian who published Capitalism in the Web of Life in 2015.

He argues that capitalism is undergoing a massive, epochal and irreversible crisis because it can no longer exploit nature like it used to because natural resources have been too depleted to provide for a sufficiently rapid and cheap exploitation.

It’s a cute book but it suffers from the very problem the author spends hundreds of pages denouncing, namely, a narrow definition of nature. Moore starts by pointing out – very usefully and astutely – that human beings and the social relations we produce are nature. But he fails to make the leap towards understanding that human nature and the social relations among humans are the natural resource that today’s capitalism is appropriating to extract enormous surplus value.

Moore talks convincingly about capitalism’s reliance on free labor but somehow fails to notice that the digital revolution creates unparalleled resources of free labor to be exploited. He’d gain a lot from reading Surveillance Capitalism because Shoshana Zuboff is a lot more consistent in her development of Moore’s idea that human nature is nature than Moore is.

As I said, the book was published in 2015 and it’s already quite outdated. It’s a shame because it’s a good book, very well-written but it really misses the mark because the epochal crisis Moore anticipates has already been obviated. Yes, there are no more unexploited landmasses or indigenous populations. But as Zuboff brilliantly demonstrates, the colonial-era dispossession is booming again. The only difference – and the reason it’s so hard to notice – is that, like many of the features of today’s capitalism, it’s being internalized, i.e. moved inside human beings.

I do not believe that one can successfully write about the environment and it’s relationship with capitalism without talking about this process of internalization.

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