Barnes has authored several books and started an organization called Mesa Refuge, which serves as a retreat for writers. The talk was sponsored by the Walter H. Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion and Public Life at UCSB, and was free to the public. Barnes has written various books on the economy, including Who Owns the Sky, Capitalism 3.0 and With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough.
Barnes said he believes in fixing capitalism rather than destroying it and that solutions to reforming capitalism boil involve addressing capitalism’s two “tragic” flaws.
“The relentless destruction of nature and the equally relentless widening of inequality,” Barnes said. “These flaws are coded into the system. If we want to change them we have to change the system itself, and it’s not enough to fiddle at the edges.”
According to Barnes, reforming capitalism is an urgent affair that must be addressed on a systematic level.
“We don’t really have any time left to fiddle at the edges,” Barnes said. “We have to get to the fundamental systematic roots of these flaws and fix them.”
Barnes also said capitalism’s flaws can be addressed by arguing against the idea that “the commons,” or community owned resources, are inherently self-destructive. This idea was originally proposed by late UCSB human ecology professor Garrett Hardin, according to Barnes.
“The commons is not the perpetrator of tragedy but rather the victim and capitalism’s tragic flaws are the actual perpetrators, and that the commons, or what I now prefer to call common wealth, is actually a key part of the solution to the flaws of capitalism,” Barnes said.
According to Barnes, in order to fix the “deepest flaws of capitalism,” individuals need to “reclaim the commons,” or common wealth, by organizing and managing the commons on the basis of common ownership, common trustee ship and common benefit. Barnes also said he encouraged audience members to prepare for “the next crisis” by sharing his ideas regarding the commonwealth in writing and online.
“Start saying things like, ‘The air belongs to all of us,’ or ‘Our money belongs to all of us. Our monetary system belongs to all of us. And they are taking it from us and we have a right to take it back.’” Barnes said. “Start naming common wealth and claiming it. If we do that I do believe that after the next crisis, we can fix the tragic flaws of capitalism.”
Event organizer and philosophy professor Gregory Jarrett said Barnes’ talk relates to one of his classes on environmental ethics.
“This is relevant to my class on environmental ethics, but also as you will hear it is part of our mission to bring in other classes,” Jarrett said. “They are also very excited, they are also talking about the same kind of things in different compartments, and this is our opportunity to get things together.”
Students in Jarrett’s Environmental Ethics class, professor Robert Wilkinson’s Sustainable Communities, professor Philip McCarty’s Global Economic Development and his Global Studies 1 class were attendance at the lecture.
Jarrett said the event aims to bring together students with different majors to listen and talk with Barnes.
“The goal is to get the students from different disciplines together in the same room not only hear him talk,” Jarrett said. “But there will be a 30 minute Q and A so they get an opportunity to interact with a speaker like this.”
Fourth-year religious studies and physical geography double major Harlowe Wang said she enjoyed listening to Barnes’ ideas, but also does not see how they could be applied to the real world.
“I think he was extending human stakeholders that are alive now too far to future generations and to non-human stakeholders,” Wang said. “I thought his idea was amazing and I think it was very interesting and thought provoking [but] I wished he had spoken more to the actual feasibility and politics of it, because what I’ve taken away from is that its a really great idea … but I still don’t see how it would been implemented.”
Following the lecture and question and answer segment, there was a book signing of Barnes’ With Liberty and Dividends for All: How to Save Our Middle Class When Jobs Don’t Pay Enough, which was available for purchase at the talk.