Life Beyond Capital


John O'Neill

eople’s relations with each other and with the environments in which they live have been increasingly articulated in the language of capital. Social relations are described as various forms of social capital. Relations to the environments that matter to people are described in terms of natural capital. This essay challenges this growing dominance of the language of capital. The appeal to natural capital is premised on a misunderstanding of prosperity that fails to properly grasp the place that relationships to people, places and living beings have within a good life. It is in life beyond capital that we are able to fully prosper.

My central purpose in this paper has been to articulate and defend a particular line of argument against the increasing use of ‘natural capital’ as a way of understanding our relations to the environmental goods that matter to people. My central argument has been that it fails to recognise the sources of non-substitutability of different goods and places. In particular it fails to recognise the importance of relations to particulars in the lives of people and communities.

People’s everyday lives are lived among the particular people and places that matter to them. They still live lives outside the ever expanding domains of capital. Our environmental and social crises require not the expansion of the worlds of capital, but resistance to that expansion and the growth of spheres of life beyond capital.

What this ‘prosperity ecology’, like prosperity theology, gets wrong is an understanding of what it is to live a good human life. Both fail to grasp the nature of prosperity properly understood and the place of relationships to people, places and living beings within those lives. It is in a life beyond capital that we are able to fully prosper.


For a full read of this brief, click here or on the picture to download the pdf file.


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