The disease that is capitalism

What’s better – treating the symptoms or dealing with the cause?

 When a person is ill a competent doctor will attempt to identify all relevant symptoms: high temperature, site of aches and pains, loss of appetite, heart-rate, blood pressure, etc. etc. Following diagnosis, treatment will be offered in the form of dietary advice, physiotherapy, drugs, surgery or some combination of these or other remedies. If the aim is to cure the illness and prevent its return then the causes of the disease will need to be identified and eliminated. Effective treatment can only follow correct diagnosis of the cause. The doctor will seek to understand family history, working conditions, living conditions, e.g. is the patient living in an area threatened by any form of pollution, etc. Regular check-ups and preventive care are the surest way to avoid the onset of serious illness and an appropriate regimen leading to a healthy lifestyle will more likely ensure non-return of the previous disease.

 Political commentary on and diagnosis of society’s ills, however, tend to focus on discussion of how to treat the symptoms with scant regard to eliminating the causes. Reform rather than structural change. There continues to be a plethora of books published both criticising and offering reforms to the capitalist system; so many, in fact, that it points to the fact that there is a large audience of readers dissatisfied with the status quo, knowing the current system doesn’t work for them. An audience aspiring to structural changes?

 One World, Ready or Not – The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism by William Greider (US writer on economics and politics over several decades, contributor to The Nation and former editor of Rolling Stone) is one such book. Greider succeeds brilliantly in proving his contention that the global economy is sowing “creative destruction” everywhere by explaining symptom after symptom of capitalism’s failure of the majority. What are some of the symptoms of the disease that is capitalism? Widening gaps between haves and have-nots; rising poverty nationally and internationally; rising unemployment – ditto; no lasting gains from union activity extending over a century; a ban on unionised work in many countries; more temporary workers replacing former permanent positions; increasing poverty, hunger and homelessness; declining health care for many; serious environmental problems, etc. etc. Greider exposes all these symptoms and more with detailed background evidence and numerous examples from most parts of the globe.

 The book is a fine resource of investigation and enlightening statistics including details of interviews with workers, corporate CEOs, government officials and economists. Common cures (reforms) recommended include regulating finance capital, increasing, decreasing or shifting the weighting ratio of tax from one sector to another, regulating trade differently, implementing and honouring stronger workers’ and human rights, the restructuring of the World Bank, the IMF and central banks. Greider’s recommendations here can be likened to increasing the dose of palliative medicines without treating the cause. Implement radical reforms of the system in an attempt to rein in the most divisive runaway aspects of capitalism (the most invasive aspects of the disease) but leave the system in place and hope it won’t run amok again or get hijacked by more pesky capitalists at a later date.

 Treating only the symptoms, i.e. reforming the system, is ultimately doomed to failure in society as in the patient. Capital has no interest in that which is not in its own interest. Governments are limited in their ability to implement reforms anyway as they are pulled in various directions by the power of capital’s demands and the need to appease their constituents enough to remain in power in the short term. Greider’s proposed reforms are laid out with the caveat that he has no expectations that any of them would be implemented (in his case by the US government) and with the additional observation that much of what the government does is useless or harmful to broadly shared prosperity. In other words it allows or even encourages the disease to spread. Markets, money and money markets don’t play by rules endorsed or understood by consumers.

“Whilst claiming to promote human freedom capitalism profits concretely from the denial of freedom, especially of the workers employed by capitalist enterprise.”

“Consumer boycotts can be an effective way to mobilise the political issue but the true target should be the systems of human repression.” – There – he said it!

 Social consequences are largely ignored by capital. Evidence of this is everywhere from the countries with the richest economies to dirt-poor nations with all populations exploited or deliberately abandoned for economic reasons by local and global capital. More families and individuals are impoverished, hungry and made homeless each successive year in countries from Africa, Asia, Europe to the Americas and the general public are afraid that they, too, may fall victim to the disease as they tighten their belts and try and take precautions; but they have been taught to see capitalism as a system “too big to fail.” They have also been taught to be afraid of considering the alternative of dismantling the system and they continue to shout “reform.” Yes, they willingly keep taking the palliative medicine rather than working together to eradicate the disease for the benefit of themselves and future generations.

 Greider’s final chapter includes some notes on possible surgery and examples of individuals giving out preventive advice; promoting true sustainable development; evidence from environmental technologists which confirms that saving the world is possible at such time that there is steady-state equilibrium with the natural world. This surgery is possible but not on any agenda to be undertaken by the monetary, for-profit, capitalist system.

 What needs to be recognised much more widely is that the whole set-up (capitalism/the free-market economy/monetarism) is one enormous scam against those who produce the wealth, whether globally or locally. Those who produce the wealth are currently all part of a huge lottery; this year, this place, I’m in work; next year, some other place, maybe you’ll be in work. But, just like a game of chance, some manage to stay lucky and others never get a look in. If you are one of the multitude who has needed to work in order to live, you have been duped. The causes of the disease have been identified. It’s time to remove them completely. Only a structural change will do.


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