Grace Blakeley

Next up in our series of Pearly Queen interviews, we spoke with acclaimed author and economic commentator, Grace Blakeley.

Grace summarises the takeaways from her latest work, Vulture Capitalism: Corporate Crimes, Backdoor Bailouts & the Death of Freedom, what sustainability means to her, and the one thing we could all do tomorrow to make a big difference to people and planet.

Your latest book, Vulture Capitalism: Corporate Crimes, Backdoor Bailouts & the Death of Freedom, is a Sunday Times Bestseller and has been longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Non-Fiction - congratulations! It’s a galvanising read, and is clearly resonating with audiences - what do you hope people will take away from reading it? What was your goal in writing it?

Thank you so much! The central message of the book is that capitalism isn’t really a ‘free market’ system, it’s a system of centralized power through which one group of people is able to dominate everyone else. But it’s also a hopeful book, because I talk about all the many ways in which people can resist this domination, and go through loads of examples of groups of people doing just that. I’m so pleased to see how much this message has resonated with people – so many people have contacted me to say that the book has opened their eyes, and given them hope. And that’s all I really ever wanted to achieve when writing it!

In Vulture Capitalism, you reveal how the world’s most powerful corporations have used planned capitalism to advance their own interests at the expense of people and planet. The fashion industry has some hugely powerful players, and within the industry’s global supply chains there are clear winners dominating the market. How can individualistic ideals be applied to the business of fashion? How important are independent brands in levelling the field?"

One of the central themes of my book is that systemic change isn’t going to happen through individual choices alone. This is the big lie of corporate greenwashing: that you can buy a particular product, branded as ‘ethical’, to reduce your ‘carbon footprint’, or ‘offset’ your emissions. Actually, the whole idea of the carbon footprint was invested by big fossil fuel companies hoping to shift the blame for climate breakdown onto ordinary people and avoid proper taxation and regulation. I think the same things apply to the fashion industry – big brands market themselves as ‘green’ to help consumers feel better about their purchases, allowing them to sell more product, and emitting more greenhouse gasses.

And it’s worked! Most people now think of climate breakdown as this individualised thing that is somehow their personal fault. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. As I show in the book, there are massive corporations working alongside some of the most powerful governments in the world to increase – rather than diminish – our dependence on fossil fuels. But they hide behind these individualistic narratives to avoid scrutiny.


Can you briefly explain the relationship between capitalism, politics and the climate crises for our audience?

150 years ago, Karl Marx talked about how capitalists treat the natural world as a ‘free gift’. The wealthy and powerful think it is their right to exploit the natural environment – and the people who continue to live closely alongside it – to augment their own profits. Just look at what’s been happening in the Amazon, where illegal logging has decimated the forest and indigenous communities, while generating huge profits for big companies. Or the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a horrendous conflict is being sustained through the exploitation of minerals used to make most of our common electronics.

Capitalists believe that they can exploit these resources – and these people – ad infinitum. But nature is not a boundless and endless free resource – there are limits to the amount that can be extracted from the world around us without consequence. And we are coming up against those limits today, but the wealthy and powerful just want to keep exploiting.


    What does sustainability mean to you?

    For me, sustainability means an economy that is oriented around producing things that we actually need, and allowing individuals and communities to survive and thrive, rather than the model we have at the moment, which is just production for endless growth, endless consumption. That's not only kind of undermining our capacity to live on the planet, it's also undermining our communities, undermining our democracy, creating inequality and constricting human potential, rather than allowing us to support and uplift one another.

    What’s your pearl of wisdom?

    My pearl of wisdom is that we live in societies that are highly individualistic. Most of what we see, most of the media that we consume, the way that we interact with the world is organised according to this worldview of we're all these isolated, atomized individuals competing against one another, to try to get to the top. And that means that there's always going to be winners. And those winners are generally the same kinds of people. And there's always going to be losers. And we don't really understand that the systems within which we're competing are rigged, that the competition isn't fair. And that actually, by stepping out of that competitive mindset, and learning how we can work with one another, rather than constantly competing, we're actually going to make ourselves more happy, as well as the planet more healthy.


    "At the end of the book, you write ‘It’s easy to look at the state of the world around us and feel hopeless.’ What is one thing we could all do tomorrow to make a big difference to people and planet?"

    The one thing that everyone can do to make a difference is GET ORGANIZED! Join a union, or a tenants union, or a local climate movement, or a political organization working in your community – there are so many ways you can get politically active. But, and this is the key message of the book, you can’t do anything on your own. We have to learn to organize alongside other people to demand change, rather than falling for this individualistic narrative that tells us just to change the way we shop. We need to start thinking about political change in terms of collective action, rather than just individual action.


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