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Voice From The Back

Capitalism in action
Capitalism is a very wasteful society. When fruit growers have a more than bumper crop it is common to let some of it rot unpicked. When charities ask for the surplus they are told that to give it away would lower the price. These charities at present pay for the crop that is picked. Here is a recent example of this madness in the retail clothing trade. "High Street retailer Primark has been criticised by charities for its policy of shredding damaged and unwanted clothes. Aid organisations have described the practice as "worrying" and "a shame" - saying items could be used to raise vital funds. Primark said the practice was common and was to protect consumers." (BBC News, 13 September) Overlooking the hypocrisy of Primark's "to protect consumers" remark, the purpose of all production inside capitalism is to sell goods in order to realise a profit. Capitalism isn't interested in protecting consumers or aiding charities. Fruit can rot while people go hungry and clothing can be destroyed while people go about ill-clad. That is how the capitalist system operates.

Modernity, but at an awful cost
The advance of capitalism has led to many improvements in technology. None of us would like to imagine a world without mobile phones, computers or digital cameras, but this being capitalism such advances have led to social disaster for some. A major source of the essential ingredients for such technology is the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is from here that gold, tin, tungsten and tantalum originate. It is also from here that we have had the deadliest conflict since the Second World War with an estimated death rate of 5.4 million people. "International agencies have described how paramilitary groups in the region control many of the mine producing gold and the "3Ts" where locals including children are forced to work for as little as $1 a day. The same groups then help to smuggle the minerals out of the country, where they eventually end up in laptops, mobile phones and video game consoles." (Times,18 August) When The Times investigators queried the supply of such materials with industrial giants such as Apple, Sony, Noika, Dell, HP and Nintendo they were very evasive, best summed up by Microsoft's reply "It's very hard to reliably trace metals to mine of origin." It is of course even harder for them to let their rivals have exclusive access to these cheap sources.

Business is booming
It is common nowadays to read of growing unemployment, businesses folding and widespread bankruptcy ,but there is one trade that is booming . "Pawnbrokers will soon be as common on the high street as coffee shops and banks, according to the chief executive of Britain's biggest operator. John Nichols, of H&T, said eventually there would be pawnbrokers in every town centre." (Times, 25 August) His forecast was made as his firm announced a 71 per cent leap in its profits over the last six months. It is worthwhile noting what the source of this high street boom is put down to. "Slightly more than half of pawnshop customers use the cash to pay for daily essentials, such as food and groceries, while about six out of ten are not in work, according to Bristol University research released yesterday." (Times, 25 August) Some of us are forced to pawn our sweetheart's engagement ring in order to get some groceries. Isn't capitalism wonderful?
The Price of Oil
We are often told by social commentators that capitalism with its wonderful technology and scientific endeavours has made the modern world a vast improvement on the past, but the human cost in injury and death is always soft-pedalled by capitalism's supporters. Almost unnoticed in the paeans of praise for the profit system is this short news item. "Employers in the offshore oil and gas industry were urged yesterday to improve their safety record after a big increase in the number of workers killed or seriously injured. The Health and Safety Executive said that 17 workers died in off-shore-related incidents and there were 50 severe injuries in the past year, a "stark reminder" of the hazards. The combined fatal and severe injury rate almost doubled, coupled with a "marked rise" in the number of hydrocarbon releases - regarded as potential precursors to a major incident." (Times, 25 August) When it comes to profit making human life is not a major factor.

A Nice Little Run-around
From time to time that old banger that you called the family car needs renewal. Here is an idea. "Lotus has unveiled the ultimate track-day car - a Formula One-inspired racer called the Type 125. The British sports car company will show its consumer-focused F1 clone at this weekend's annual Pebble Beach Concourse d'Elegance in the United States, with plans to build only 25 examples from next April. The 125 will cost much less than a real Formula One car but the price tag is still expected to be about $1.1 million." (Drive, 11 August) C'mon what is holding you back?