2000s >> 2003 >> no-1192-december-2003

Voice From The Back

Our unelected bosses
We are often told that we live in an egalitarian, democratic society, where we can tell our leaders what to do, and if they don’t do it, sack them. In a political sense there is some truth to that, but, when it comes to wealth and control, capitalism leaves us all powerless. A good example of this was recently supplied by a survey conducted by the Times (15 October). They analysed the personnel of the FTSE 100 boardrooms and showed the immense power that these unelected men and women have over our lives.
“None of the people included in the Power 100 is a household name. Few are all that well known among close followers of business and stock market affairs. The most powerful man, Sir Robert Wilson, is more likely to elicit a response of ‘who he?’ than sage nods of familiarity.”
Here are some of the entities under his control (with his salaries in brackets). Chairman of Rio Tinto (£1,410,000), non-executive director Diageo (£68,000), BG Group (£35,000). Such people decide where factories and offices are built and where they are closed. They decide whether you work or not and inside capitalism you are powerless to do anything about it. Some democracy. Some equality.

The killer system
In 2000 the UN pledged to cut the death rate for the under five year olds by two-thirds and halve the number of people suffering from hunger, but now concede that these targets are unlikely to be realised because of the import of subsidised Western food with the consequent ruin of under-developed countries’ farmers and cuts in aid programmes. In the most scientific survey held to date Unicef have revealed a heart breaking picture.
“More than one billion young people in the developing world are now living in conditions of severe deprivation, according to a report for the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). Tens of millions of children in developing countries still do not have access to basic human needs such as food, water and sanitation, the study found. …. Professor Dave Gordon from the University of Bristol (one of the repor’ts authors) said: ‘Many of the children surveyed who were living in absolute poverty will have died or had their health profoundly damaged by the time this report is published, as a direct consequence of their appalling living conditions’” (Independent, 22 October).
One billion reasons for getting rid of capitalism. One billion reasons for organising for socialism.

Market in misery
The misery that is capitalism is summed up by the desperate plight of workers in Moldovia selling their kidney in order to survive.
“’Every month someone walks into my office begging to sell an organ,’ says Dr Adrian Tanase, of the Renal Transplant Section in the City Hospital of Chisinau. ‘This has not been done for a long time in developed countriesbut here you buy or sell everything.’ …. The demand for kidneys is as strong as ever and the poverty in this virtually lawless main donor country is deepening” (Times, 25 October).

A rotten system
Capitalism is a system based on exploitation so it is hardly surprising that those respectable men in suits on Wall Street are up to their elbows in fraud and deception; but don’t take our word for it here is one of their top dogs on the subject.
“Mutual-fund managers have suddenly joined the long parade of suits in handcuffs that began with Enron two years ago and has led to monster fines, complex trials and a video of at least one multimillion-dollar toga party. It was bad enough when mutual-fund returns were pummeled by a two-year-long bear market that started to thaw only this spring. Then, in September, a few funds came under fire from New York State attorney general Eliot Spitzer for allowing big, sophisticated investors to game the system. The abuses are turning out to be so prevalent that regulatory officials predict a big shake-out. ‘There are going to be criminal cases brought in considerable number down the road’, Spitzer told Time. ‘It’s not one or two bad apples. The whole crate seems to have gone rotten’”(Time,17 November).

High anxiety
We all have to face the problems of mortgage payments, credit card debt, fear of redundancy and just the day to day grind of working inside capitalism; so the following is probably no great surprise.
“Britain is becoming a nation kept artificially happy by pills, with doctors handing out eight million more prescriptions for depression, anxiety and stress than five years ago. About two million people are estimated to be taking antidepressants every year, costing the NHS more than £380 million, according to government figures” (Times, 20 October).
Capitalism seems to be driving an awful lot of us round the bend.

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