Tag: Capitalism is the greatest agent of collective human progress ever created

Why capitalism is safer in Corbyn’s hands

By Daniel Margrain

“If we don’t get inequality under control then it’s likely to lead to war. Inequality and the rise of a super rich elite is undermining the foundations of capitalism. The trappings of capitalism could be swept away by the pitchfork of revolution unless capitalism is fundamentally re-imagined.”

The above is not a quote by Jeremy Corbyn, Nicolas Maduro or Bernie Sanders, but by American venture capitalist, Nick Hanauer. During a 2015 interview with BBC journalist Stephen Sakur, Hanauer said, “If capitalism doesn’t change fundamentally, it will destroy itself.”

“In my state”, he said, “since 1990, close to 100% of growth has been accrued to just 1% of the top earners. People are beginning to get angry and increasingly less patient with a system that rewards nearly all of the benefits of growth to a tiny minority at the top.”

This ‘gushing upwards’ of capital towards the top of the socioeconomic pyramid is not indicative of regulated free-markets, but an extreme form of crony capitalism in which the publicly owned assets of the state are systematically stripped and the spoils distributed to an elite economic and political class.

The potential bailing-out of Carillion, farm, housing and rail subsidies, public sector retrenchment, quantitative easing and share giveaways, are some of the ways in which corporate welfare continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest 1% in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57% combined.

No morality

Hanaeur is clear that his argument isn’t intended to be a moral one but a pragmatic solution to a growing crisis: “I’m not saying that we capitalists should pay workers more because we feel sorry for them. But the more they get paid, the better it will be for venture capitalists like me”, he said.

Hanaeur added:

“The more money ordinary folks make, the greater the opportunity people like me have to innovate, create enterprises and sell them stuff. The better they do, the better I do.”

When Theresa May recently described capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, what she failed to grasp, but what Hanaeur understands, is that economic growth is the culmination of collective human labour. In other words, it’s the latter that gives rise to what Hanaeur terms a “thriving middle class”, not the other way round.

Similarly, in her critique of the austerity myth, author of The Production of Money, Ann Pettifor, argues cogently that “taxes are a consequence of investment and spending. They are not its cause.” The cornerstone of Tory economic policy is not to invest to stimulate the economy in order to boost growth and generate tax revenues, but on the contrary, to attack the welfare state and public sector which has the reverse affect.

What Theresa May and other apologists for the existing system really mean, is not that capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, but rather that neoliberalism is the best economic model through which the elite class are able to financially enrich themselves by manipulating the institutions of society.

It is not only leading politician’s on the political right of the spectrum who apparently have difficulty in untangling socio-environmentally protected notions of free trade from the cronyism associated with its neoliberal capitalist variant, but mainstream political commentators also. On Twitter (January 17), for example, radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer, spectacularly mischaracterized Jeremy Corbyn’s correct evaluation at PMQ of the Carillion crisis.

He means “capitalism”. It isn’t perfect, that’s for sure, but it’s a millions times better than the alternative Corbyn is proposing.

Julia Hartley-Brewer added,

Presumably, Hartley-Brewer is of the opinion that consumer-based capitalist economies can be driven with only the extreme wealth of the few and that any attempts to buck the market by ensuring that employers pay their staff a minimum wage of say £10 an hour will bring the said economies to their knees?

Reining-in

Hanaeur, whose primary motivation is to make money, recognises the absurdity of this kind of ‘booster of globalization’ argument. In the BBC interview outlined above, the venture capitalist argues that rather than being set free by deregulation, capitalism needs to be controlled through a system of planned and coordinated regulation:

“Capitalists have the idea that their things will be bought by everybody else as a result of higher wages paid by other capitalists”, he said.

Hanaeur added:

“But this logic of paying higher wages to staff to help improve business activity more generally, is resisted since capitalists will insist on paying their own workers next to nothing thereby not absorbing the costs themselves.”

Hanaeur’s argument can essentially be summarized thus: There is a need for capitalism to be reined in, in order to save the system from the rapacious actions of competing capitalists who are driven, as Marx put it, by their need to “accumulate for accumulations sake”.

In principle, Hanaeur’s view is no different from the minority of capitalists in 19th century Britain who argued in favour of the introduction of the Factory Acts of the 1830s and 1840s which set down a maximum length for the working day.

Hanauer’s pragmatism is closer to Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for society than it is to Theresa May’s and underscores the undeniable truth that the ability to accumulate for accumulations sake doesn’t necessarily lead to higher profits.

Contradiction

One of the contradictions inherent to capitalism is that the system as a whole needs to spend money to make profits, yet every individual capitalist wants to spend as little as possible. The lengths to which giant companies like Amazon, Google and Starbucks will go in order to avoid paying tax shows how this dilemma is played out.

The failed neoliberal austerity experiment is what economist Paul Krugman describes  bluntly as “a con that does nothing but harm the wealth [of nations]. It has been discredited everywhere else: only in Britain do we cling to the myth”, he said.

Contrary to mainstream media mythology, Corbynism and the notion of a reformed capitalism are, counter-intuitively, congruous concepts. It’s not only aspects like health and social care that are safer the further they are, ideologically, from neoliberalism, but from the perspective of capitalism’s longevity, so is the economy.

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Neoliberalism: Manipulation of The Many to Benefit The Few

By Daniel Margrain 

 

Theresa May recently described free-market capitalism as the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”. But progress is an ideology linked to advances in technology and science, that since the emergence of industrial capitalism in the mid-19th century, has infected much of intellectual life (see, for example, Chris Harman’s ‘A People’s History of the Worldpp. 384-86).

What the obsession with the prevailing neoliberal socioeconomic orthodoxy of successive governments over the last 40 years illustrates, is that right-wing politicians like May proselytize, not on behalf of genuine free-markets, but an extreme form of crony capitalism in which the publicly owned assets of the state are systematically asset- stripped and the spoils distributed to the elite economic and political class.

Farm subsidies, public sector retrenchment, quantitative easing, share giveaways and housing benefit subsidies, are some of the ways in which neoliberal corporate welfare continues to greatly enrich the wealthiest in society. Figures reported in the Guardian indicate that the richest one per cent in Britain have as much wealth as the poorest 57 per cent combined.

More evenly shared

The growth in inequality during the neoliberal era contrasts with the thirty year “post-war settlement” period in which the wealth created by workers was shared much more evenly. For example, data indicates that the share of income going to the top 10 per cent of the population fell over the 40 years to 1979, from 34.6 per cent in 1938 to 21 per cent in 1979, while the share going to the bottom 10 per cent rose slightly. Meanwhile, other figures indicate that economic growth in the UK, adjusted for inflation, has grown over the last 60 years from £432bn in 1955 to £1,864bn in 2016.

The Tory exchequer in 2017, therefore, has roughly four times as much money at its disposal in real terms compared to six decades ago. Moreover, the ratio of national debt to GDP was approximately three times higher in the post-war years compared to 2017. Nevertheless, the then Labour government built hundreds of thousands of “homes fit for heroes” and brought the National Health Service into being.

Many decades later, Theresa May who leads a immeasurably wealthier country than was the case during the post-war period, claimed “there is no magic money tree” to fund public services. Whereas neoliberal fundamentalists envisage the market as an ideological manifestation of a notion of scientific and technological progress, Corbyn’s vision is a return to a more equal society in which improvements to the quality of life for the majority through investing in public infrastructure and social capital play a crucial role.

The evidence Jeremy Corbyn intends to break the neoliberal consensus marking a return to the kind of equitable redistribution of the spoils of growth of the post-war years, is an economic strategy that is worrying a Tory government bereft of ideas. May and her Chancellor, Hammond, continue to advance the notion that the aspirations of those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are most effectively met as a result of economic trickle-down emanating from the top – a theory that has – given the subsequent growth in inequality – been comprehensively discredited. Under neoliberalism, wealth doesn’t trickle down. On the contrary, it gushes up.

Mixed economy in the right hands

Potentially, sustained economic growth that capitalism engenders can create the conditions for the mass of humanity to overcome poverty and pestilence and to meet its fundamental needs – but only in the right hands. Paradoxically, the neoliberal model is is likely to lead to the exact opposite: the extinction of our species and probably many others.

The poorest who can’t afford to enjoy the benefits of capitalism are, in the short-term, the most likely to be adversely affected by the climate chaos and wars it engenders. But the rich are not insulated from the process either since the affects of nuclear fallout and global warming are not undemocratic.

Theresa May’s notion that the ideology of progress, manifested in scientific and technological advancement, is indicative of the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, is negated by the chaos wrought by global warming, the spread of wars, the growth in relative poverty and the lack of disposable income for millions of people.

Under neoliberalism, the impoverished and war-torn are unable to engage in the kinds of commercial and cultural activities the rich disproportionately benefit from. It is therefore not “collective” human progress that May is referring to when she espoused the virtues of capitalism.

For neoliberal ideologues, progress is measured in terms of the extent to which people are able to consume what the advancements in technology the market is able to deliver. While it is true that more people than ever have access to “luxury” technologies like flat screen TVs, mobile phones and computers, it’s still the case that the majority of the worlds population don’t.

Moreover, it doesn’t necessarily follow that those who do have access to them are not struggling to feed their families. There is no correlation between poverty and the amount of consumer goods people have access to. Poor and hungry people without money who do have access to consumer goods like mobile phones are not able to console themselves by eating them.

Absolute v relative poverty

The Prime Minister is right to infer that the historical inward tidal flow of capitalist development over time has corresponded to an overall reduction in absolute poverty. But if it were only absolute poverty that resulted in social resistance there would never have been general strikes or revolutions after the first years of industrialization. As John Rees in Imperialism and Resistance (pp. 102-3) remarked:

“Few people in modern Britain wake up in the morning to face a new day and content themselves with the thought that at least they are not living like 19th century weavers. They ask themselves different questions. Is my child’s life going to be harder than mine? Are we, the people, who do the work, getting a fair share of all the wealth that we see around us in this society?”

It is therefore not capitalism’s ability to reduce the level of absolute poverty, but it’s socially relative poverty measured in terms of the level of income inequality that counts. 

At the turn of the century, the Office of National Statistics provided a snapshot of relative poverty in Britain. In interviews with panelists selected from the General Household Survey, it drew up a list of items regarded as “necessities”: a bed, heating, a damp-free house, the ability to visit family and friends in hospital, two meals a day and medical prescriptions.

The study found that four million people do not eat either two meals a day or fresh fruit and vegetables. Nearly 10 million cannot keep their homes warm, damp-free or in a decent state of decoration. Another 10 million cannot afford regular savings of £10 a month. Some 8 million cannot afford one or two essential household goods like a fridge or carpets for their main living area. And 6.5 million are so poor to afford essential clothing. Children are especially vulnerable – 17 percent go without two essential items and 34 percent go without at least one.

With the massive increase in the use of food banks, the rise in zero hours contracts and in-work poverty; the adverse affects of the bedroom tax and cuts to council tax benefit for the poorest over the last decade, these figures almost certainly understate the extent of the current problem.

Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director of The Equality Trust, said:

“The cavernous gap between the richest and the rest of us should be a real source of worry…Extreme inequality is ravaging society…While many people’s incomes have barely risen since the financial crash, a tiny elite has continued to pocket billions. If politicians are serious about building a genuinely shared society, then they urgently need to address this dangerous concentration of power and wealth and tackle our extreme inequality.”#

System of enslavement

A world in which the mass of humanity is getting increasingly poorer while the rich are getting richer, largely as a result of the latter’s collective theft of state assets, is indicative of a form of inherent systemic corruption on a huge scale. This is reflected by the extent to which public enterprises are privatized for profit and private capital debt is socialized through subsidy by the tax-payer. This is the kind of “free-market” capitalism espoused by May – a vision of a system built on the principle of socialism for the rich and enslavement for the rest. 

Although many commentators point out, correctly, that this neoliberal socioeconomic model is not working for the vast majority of people, the point is, it was never intended to be that way. The purpose of neoliberal socioeconomic policy is not to improve the living standards or protect the jobs for the many, but to defend the short-term economic interests of the few.

In Spain, the Rajoy governments use of brute force against the people of Catalonia is an illustration of the extent to which the one percent are prepared to go in order to protect their corrupt neoliberal system of wealth usurpation. In theory the EU, as an institution, can be the catalyst for raising the living standards of the poorest, but under neoliberalism, it too, has become a corrupt extension of the sovereign state.

What Theresa May really means, is not that capitalism is the “greatest agent of collective human progress ever created”, but rather that neoliberalism is the best economic model through which her class is able to financially enrich themselves by manipulating the institutions of society.

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