“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” –-Edward Abbey
Capitalism can be defined as a system under which industries, trade and the means of production are largely or wholly privately owned and operated for profit. Following the end of feudalism, it dominated the Western world, and thanks to imperialism this domination extended to the global economic system by the end of the 19th century. Entering the 21st century, it continues to reign unchallenged as the world’s pre-eminent economic doctrine.
The world’s richest person (Bill Gates) has a personal wealth of $78.7 billion. This is higher than the (nominal) GDP of 130 countries, including Uruguay (population 3.4m), Ecuador (population 15.9m), Bulgaria (population 7.2m) and Croatia (population 4.3m). The wealth of the top ten richest people combined is $544 billion — higher than the GDP of 172 of the 194 nations for which UN data is available, including Thailand (population 65m), South Africa (population 54m), Egypt (population 88m), Portugal (population 10.4m) and Czech Republic (population 10.5m).
Almost half the world’s population, over 3 billion people, live on less than $2.50 a day. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die EACH DAY due to poverty. They “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.” Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names. For every $1 in aid a developing country receives, over $25 is spent on debt repayment. Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000
The modern form capitalism has taken is complex, with close relationships and revolving doors between politics and the multinational corporations and banks that act as the main players commonplace. Directors of corporations are under severe pressure to increase profits each quarter, partly to increase the size, market share, wealth and power of the company, not to mention keep their jobs. There is also a legal (fiduciary) duty to shareholders to maximise income and, as explained by Boris Johnson, avoid paying taxes vital for public services.
This necessity for relentless growth inevitably leads to the cutting of costs in ways that damage societies and local communities (outsourcing, lay-offs, etc.) as well as a massive global network of tax havens hiding trillions of dollars. It also aggravates poverty cycles in poor nations chosen as manufacturing bases, where their enormous power enables corporations to dictate extremely poor terms and salaries.
The profit motive, therefore, is the fundamental principle underlying modern capitalism; the all-encompassing priority of corporate entities. This drive for profit, however, is incompatible with the complex needs of humanity and the environment, as it leads to exponential ‘growth’ in a limited system, meaning it is unsustainable, creating mounting misery and chaos for ever increasing numbers of people, even those in so-called ‘rich’ or ‘advanced’ nations. The only benefactors of such a system are the corporations and the shareholders themselves, along with those in service to the system. The proof is in the pudding, as new horrors of poverty or environmental damage are reported (to the tiny percentage of people with access to or interest in such information) almost daily while the rich just keep on getting richer.
Global capitalism ultimately results in massive concentrations of wealth in the hands of very few individuals. This wealth is inevitably employed to further game the system to in turn acquire ever more profits, no matter what the destruction caused to the planet or its inhabitants. This has obvious negative consequences for democracy, as rich lobbyists command the overwhelming bulk of the attention of elected officials. These clear examples of the incalculable harm that the profit motive wreaks on societies are the tip of the iceberg. There are quite literally tens or hundreds of thousands of cases that demonstrate again and again and again that capitalism is the most damaging possible way to run an economic system.
Proponents of capitalism like to say that it has raised hundreds of millions out of poverty. First, there is no reason why an alternative economic system could not have done the same (and, of course, this is impossible to prove); and second, this argument ignores the billions left in hopeless, inescapable poverty today.
Supporters of the profit motive expound that the ‘free market’ ensures quality is high, because it is a competitive market and people will only buy the best products at the best prices. However, the largest companies can undercut smaller competitors, meaning they get bigger and bigger while the smaller ones inevitably die. The effect of Amazon on the book and publishing industry is well documented, as is what happens when large chain supermarkets open in a small town, destroying local businesses that have no chance of competing. Then there are the ten mega-corporations that control almost everything we buy.
This is all based on the principle that the public sector is inherently inefficient. Hand it over to private companies and they will swoop in with their efficiency, their economies of scale, their incentives and their competitiveness, winnowing it down into a dart of perfectly targeted public spending.
In practice, when they say efficiency, that generally means lower wages.
When they say economies of scale, that generally means constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them. When they say incentives, look closely and you will mainly see perverse incentives. And when they say competition, what you’re actually left with is four or five – sometimes only three – companies, who barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy.
What any government creates with massive-scale outsourcing is not “new efficiency,” it is a shadow state; we can’t pin it down any more than we can vote it out. All we can do is watch.
As for ‘trickle-down economics’, even the rich admit it is a myth:
Economic prosperity doesn’t trickle down, and neither does civic prosperity. Both are middle-out phenomena. When workers earn enough from one job to live on, they are far more likely to be contributors to civic prosperity — in your community.
Parents who need only one job, not two or three to get by, can be available to help their kids with homework and keep them out of trouble — in your school. They can look out for you and your neighbors, volunteer, and contribute — in your school and church.
Our prosperity does not all come home in our paycheck. Living in a community of people who are paid enough to contribute to your community, rather than require its help, may be more important than your salary. Prosperity and poverty are like viruses. They infect us all — for good or ill.
An economic arrangement that pays a Wall Street worker tens of millions of dollars per year to do high-frequency trading and pays just tens of thousands to workers who grow or serve our food, build our homes, educate our children, or risk their lives to protect us isn’t an expression of the true value or economic necessity of these jobs. It simply reflects a difference in bargaining power and status.
The profit motive is an immensely destructive force, a cancer that has deeply infected the globe. As if the unacceptable actions of large corporations were not enough, the influence that capitalism has had on human behavior is both insidious and profound.
Capitalism requires endless consumption to be desirable. However, as people actually need very little to survive, the system gears itself toward making useless, superfluous or luxury products indispensable. It does this by appealing to the human ego, to insecurities about appearance and weight, to shallow commercial ideals, and accomplishes this goal by employing the enormous power of celebrity and branding through clever marketing techniques modeled on psychological theories.
As a result, we have created a situation that would be profoundly baffling to any aliens who happen to be covertly monitoring human society: the very worst of humanity — the parasites, the cowards, the sociopathic, warmongering political leaders — are treated with respect in the corporate media bordering in some cases, especially with business innovators like Steve Jobs, on reverence. Meanwhile, the very best of humanity, people like Dr. Mads Gilbertor Dr. Denis Mukwege are practically ignored in the mainstream. Token ‘angels’ like Malala Yousafzai are given the full treatment, of course, but only when they serve the pro-Western narrative. And all the while, people keep buying stuff they do not need.
All aspects of the human experience are now subordinate to commercial enterprise. Anything can be (and is) packaged, sold, repackaged and sold again. The effect is a zombified mass of people who have, in the main, no idea that their only purpose is to consume, to work and to die (hopefully after having babies to follow in their footsteps).
Capitalism is rarely, if ever, questioned within the corporate media. Those suggesting alternatives are politely tolerated and humored unless, in the case of people with mass popular appeal like Russell Brand, they cause too much trouble, in which case they are smeared by the entire establishment. The credos of GDP and growth, absurdly simplistic and misleading (like using a single number – IQ – to describe human intelligence), are religiously followed.
If our top elected officials were truly concerned about democracy, equality and justice, and were not the corporate tools they clearly are, they would appoint expert committees charged with creating viable democratic systems with certain non-negotiable parameters: health, education, justice, and all the other basic principles detailed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that all United Nations members have signed, and which is currently a worthless piece of paper; a system in which, given the conclusive evidence of its destructive nature (as detailed in this analysis), corporate interference of any kind is banned.
It is no longer apocalyptic to say that ‘the end of the world is nigh.’ Numerous serious commentators are predicting dire consequences for the human activities that have enriched a tiny few and devastated vast areas of the planet while killing and impoverishing millions. Alarmingly, in the political arena, arrogant, unaccountable and uncontrollable Western leaders, brought to power in elections gamed to ensure corporate-friendly political parties are the only ones with a chance of winning, are even now risking confrontation with a nuclear power (Russia) over Ukraine.
The capitalist system that has brought this to pass, the profit motive in particular, must be abandoned immediately with its instigators and enablers purged from all positions of power. All global institutions must be rebuilt with new democratic charters and powerful failsafes built in to deny the ascendance of future sociopaths in search of power and profit, as has always occurred throughout history.
Ordinary people, intentionally distracted, deceived and divided for so long, must somehow be made aware of the danger. Non-compliance, civil disobedience, mass protests and general strikes must be called for by influential people with significant reach (community and union leaders, writers, academics, celebrities who care and so on).
The lunatics really have taken over the asylum: the first (and possibly last) nuclear exchange in human history is now possible. It’s time for the gloves to come off.
“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” –-Edward Abbey