2000s >> 2003 >> no-1190-october-2003

Editorial: The case against capitalism

The world is in a mess. The big question is why? Various explanations have been put forward. It is said that wars happen because human beings are naturally aggressive. Hunger has been blamed on overpopulation, while the waste of the world’s resources is attributed to people being greedy.

Socialists reject all these explanations. In our view, the reason wars take place, the reason millions die of hunger, the reason the world’s resources are plundered, is that we are living under an economic system that is geared to making profits rather than to satisfying people’s needs. These problems are caused by the existence and the operation of the Profit System. They are an inevitable consequence of that system and cannot be eradicated as long as it remains in being.

Wars arise out of a conflict of economic interest between the two sides resulting from their pursuit of profits. All wars since capitalism came into existence about five hundred years ago have been fought over control of one or more of the following: sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets, and investment outlets – or control of strategic areas to protect or control any of these.

The standard non-socialist explanation for world hunger is that there are too many people. In other words, that not enough food can be produced to feed the world’s present population. This is just not true. Enough food (in terms of calories and proteins) is already being produced which, if evenly divided, could eliminate hunger and starvation tomorrow. In short, the problem is one of distribution or, rather, of maldistribution.

But there is no need to take food from those getting more than their basic needs to ensure that everyone’s such needs are met. World food production can be increased well above its present level. In expert circles if you reckon that world food production could be doubled, then you are regarded as a conservative. Most estimates by the various experts who have examined this question say it could be increased by three or four times rather than simply doubled.

So why isn’t this done? The answer is that we live under an economic system geared to making profits rather than satisfying needs. Once again, it is the Profit System that is to blame. Under capitalism production is for sale on a market. A market is composed of people able and willing to pay for some product. Some people think this is a brilliant system. They overlook the other side of the coin: if only those who can pay have their needs met, those who can’t pay don’t have theirs met. If you’ve got no money, or not enough money, you’re not part of the market, and production ignores you.

That’s why people starve today. Not because enough food could not be produced.

Pollution, too, arises because of the Profit System. This system involves competition between firms to sell their products and make a profit. The main weapon used by the combatants in this battle of competition is price. The firm that can keep its price down by keeping its costs of production down can sell the most. So the pressure under capitalism is to keep financial costs down: to use the cheapest materials, to adopt the cheapest methods of production, irrespective of the effect on the environment.

So here, then, is the indictment against the Profit System: that it causes wars and preparations for war; that it causes world hunger and famine; that it causes waste and pollution. If found guilty of these charges – and socialists contend that the evidence overwhelmingly points to this verdict – then there is only one sentence: the capitalist profit system must be abolished lock, stock and barrel, and replaced by a new and different system geared to meeting needs instead of to making profits.

We are saying that capitalism cannot be patched up, or reformed, or made to work in any other way than it actually does. Capitalism is a profit-making system that can only work by putting profits before needs and, as a consequence, causing wars, hunger and pollution. That’s its nature. So there is no point in trying to reform it. That’s just a waste of time that only prolongs the agony. All efforts should be concentrated on getting rid of the Profit System.

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