The Capitalistic System And Democracy Are Incompatible... Even Antithetical
Banksy created this disturbingly provocative image and I got it from Umair Haque's latest piece about how the capitalistic system is bringing about the collapse of our society and, in fact, our whole world. The underpinning of his post is what he calls "3 tiny facts" that have certainly been making a lot of us feel very pessimistic right now:
One: the world’s richest men-- and they’re all men-- grew so much richer during the pandemic that they could have each single-handedly funded ending it…with what the IMF needs to vaccinate the world…with what they gained…and still have the majority of their money left over. Yet here we are…and a newer, more infectious variant of Covid is now surging.
Two: just 100 corporations are responsible for more than 70% of carbon emissions. Yet here we are…the temperature predictably, dismally rising every year, as we hit the verge of runaway climate change.
Three: our societies appear to be going insane, as disinformation spreads. Vast numbers of people believe that masks and vaccines are more dangerous than a deadly virus, and equate them with a literal Holocaust…because that’s what they’re told online, over and over again, bombarded by nonsense and propaganda. But this immense scale of disinformation is now destabilising our very societies, leaving them fractured, paralyzed, people at each others’ throats.
He then embarks an explanation about why the culprit is capitalism, "not your local dry-cleaning shop or bakery or what have you," but the mega system called capitalism. "Where corporations act on the basis of a profit motive, where nothing but profit matters, where those corporations are 'traded' on 'stock markets' which pressure them to only care about profit, and are owned by nameless, faceless, at this point, 'hedge funds,' or maybe billionaires. That’s capitalism. If the local bakery or microbrewery you love acted like that…if it only cared about profit….if it treated people like subhumans…if it churned out dreck…how long would you really go?"
[T]he world’s billionaires grew richer during the pandemic, so much so, they could have ended it. But they didn’t…and so here we are, Omicron surging. Meanwhile, the IMF is scrounging around for $13 billion…that nobody can cough up…to vaccinate the world…which is just a fraction of what billionaires gained during the pandemic. What the? Are you kidding me? Is this some kind of lunatic comedy?
You couldn’t have a better example that capitalism has failed. A tiny handful of people have hoarded enough resources that they could have single-handedly ended a global pandemic. Meanwhile, the entire planet is plunged into another pandemic winter because a tiny handful of insanely rich people have the resources all of human civilisation needs to end a pandemic.
This is an example of what economists call, blithely, “inequality.” Only this level of inequality is completely crazy, insane, bananas, horrific, nightmarish, obscene. How many more people are going to die now? The number is going to be in the millions. It’s already north of five million. Would you like to have those deaths on your conscience? What do you even call a person that could have saved a million lives…ten million…but didn’t?
Let me say it again. This level of inequality is obscene. Billionaires gained enough during the pandemic to end it…but didn’t…so the entire planet suffers.
This is an example of how explosively capitalism has failed. At a mega-scale. It has left our civilisation unable to fight a pandemic, which keeps bringing it to its knees, while every single year, billionaires grow richer enough, over and over again, to end it, but obviously don’t, because, well, they appear to be sociopaths.
It is completely insane when you think about it. It is civilizational failure at the highest scale to reward a tiny, tiny handful of people with enough money to end a pandemic, meanwhile, the pandemic rages on, and the whole planet is wracked by it, over and over again.
Now, if you ask me, how is all that capitalism, well, the answer’s obvious. The richest men we’re talking about aren’t kings or authors or poets or musicians or athletes or scientists (LOL). They’re capitalists. They “own” mega-corporations, like Zuck and Gates and Bezos.
The pandemic is now a crisis of capitalism. It’s not a natural disaster anymore. Now, it’s a problem that can be solved, but isn’t, because of capitalism, because billionaires have so much money they could end it but don’t, because Big Pharma owns vaccine patents, and because all that leaves us without a way to vaccinate the world nearly fast enough to prevent new variants.
The pandemic is raging on because capitalism has failed, and it is a stunning example of how badly capitalism has failed, too. The way that we should have approached it was obvious from the beginning. Vaccines are a public good-- they belong to everyone. Not as my moral opinion, but as economics-- I’m better off when everyone in the world is vaccinated. So we should have set up a World Vaccination Initiative, probably via the UN, (yes, I know the paranoid American mind is going to go crazy over that), and had it produce and distribute vaccines for all.
Instead, we used capitalism. We relied on Big Pharma to produce and manufacture and distribute vaccines. It didn’t. Not nearly fast enough. Because, of course, capitalism cannot solve problems of public goods. It has no incentive. The profit motive just isn’t there. There was never any real motivation for Big Pharma to supply the world with vaccines…and so it didn’t. Hence, rich countries hoarded, and poor countries went without. Bang. Omicron arrived right on time-- as winter began-- and that’s likely going to happen every year, forever, because, guess what? We’re still using capitalism to try to solve a problem it can’t solve, has no reason, motivation, ability to solve-- a global pandemic. Covid is here to stay now, because capitalism.
...A handful of corporations are responsible for the vast majority of climate change emissions. That’s a much more intelligent way to look at it than dividing it up by countries. Why? Because corporations are of course transnational. We can say, for example, that China and India’s emissions are rising-- but that doesn’t really tell the story. What is happening in the real world is that capitalism is burning our planet to a cinder.
Mega-corporations are the world’s polluters-- not nations, really. They’re the ones who own and run all those dirty energy...
Hence, we have a bizarre situation where governments strike climate change “deals.” And yet they have little to no power to really enforce much of anything, because of course the corporations who are major polluters are transnational. Those deals are nonbinding to begin with precisely because the major polluters are corporations. That is why we have this weird situation where the world’s leaders come together, lament, sign some agreement, celebrate…and emissions just keep on rising.
Capitalism is way, way more powerful than government as an institution. We have no real form of global governance with teeth to begin with. So of course there is nobody left, really, who can stop emissions from rising. One country can sue some corporation, another can try to ban it, but in the end, nothing much happens.
So we are left with this framework which is clearly not working. It’s the old, bad idea of letting capitalism “police” itself, which is a little bit like asking serial killers to be cops. The idea is that corporations and their “owners” will and should…save the planet.
...Let me end briefly with my last fact-- disinformation. Our societies appear to be going crazy. You can’t talk to a person anymore sanely, really. You don’t know if someone you’ve never met is going to turn out to be a crazy anti-vaxxer Covid-is-a-hoaxer. Or worse-- some kind of nascent supremacist who believes fervently in Trump or Zemmour or Farage or the rest of the demagogues.
Our societies are being radicalised by disinformation-- that’s the way pundits put it, and it’s true. But it’s not true enough. A better way to say it is that capitalism is destabilising our societies. With Big Lies, rage, hate, misery, greed, stupidity, violence. Why? Because it’s profitable. And because the flipside-- providing people good information, media, education, is not nearly as profitable.
Zuck would hardly have become a billionaire by trying to enlighten people. He became a billionaire by provoking and goading and inciting them with all kinds of insane, delusional fears-- and selling those to people even worse than him. Vaccines are a Holocaust! I’m a Jew in Nazi Germany because I have to wear a mask! This is what Facebook sells. To people who want to spread disinformation. It allows fear and rage and hate to spread because it’s profitable-- whereas kindness and decency and truth? Well, they barely break even.
Again, this is a choice that capitalism has made for us. It was Facebook which received billions and billions in funding-- not some kind of decent, sane alternative, like a public media version of social networking. It’s Facebook that was funded by capitalism, as a form of capitalism, precisely because it was what was most profitable. And now we are all living with the consequences of that: our societies are being desabilized, half of them, or some huge percentage, literally being driven out of their minds with lies, delusions, fear, greed, rage, hate.
Meanwhile, capitalism laughs all the way to the bank. Who cares if democracy dies? Not Zuck. Not the venture guys. Not the hedge funds. Not capital. Just you and me. For capital, having no democracy is great. Nobody left to regulate it, amirite?
Now. What are the three examples I’ve discussed at length in this essay-- too much length perhaps-- really about? What’s the common thread? It’s simple.
Capitalism has no incentive to provide public goods. Public goods are for everyone, optimally, at the lowest price-- so they are not profitable. Hence, capitalism doesn’t provide them well, if at all. And that is the problem we face as a world in a nutshell. Think of vaccines. Think of democracy and the good information it relies on. Think of clean air and water and energy. Capitalism has no incentive to provide any of those things. So it isn’t. And so our future is melting down, our planet burning to a cinder, while our societies die of stupidity and malice and hate.
Capitalism’s only incentive is to pile up more money at the top, in the hands of those who already “own” the most capital-- and so billionaires get richer while all this is going on.
That creates a vicious cycle-- the resources the rest of us need, as in humanity, for vaccines or decent education and information or healthcare or a livable planet…end up in the hands of a tiny few. The runaway processes of collapse accelerate-- because now inequality has reached such an insane, ludicrous point that, just as now, the money needed to fight the pandemic or climate change is relative peanuts…but nobody has it, because capitalism has concentrated it all in its own hands. And it doesn’t invest in public goods, because they’re not profitable. Bang. The vicious cycle of underinvestment and inequality and concentration of wealth just keeps on going.
That is how a civilisation collapses. Why don’t we have a future? It can be summed up in one word... Capitalism.
Like Umair, Washington state progressive, Jason Call-- a congressional candidate this cycle-- is a big ideas kind of thinker. I asked him if he had any time to focus on this incompatibility between capitalism nd democracy this morning. He took a little time away from his campaign to tell us that "People in America by and large have, thanks to capitalist control of mass media, the entirely wrong idea about capitalism. They have been conditioned to associate capitalism with freedom (ok, if you mean the freedom to be homeless, lack healthcare, and starve, there is that). They associate capitalism with patriotism and the Constitution (capitalism not mentioned anywhere, nor free markets). And they are also conditioned to believe that they themselves are capitalists, while having no actual capital, thanks to the false notion that everyone is a latent millionaire (billionaire these days) if only they would just apply themselves. Of course, all of that is propaganda from the actual capitalists so they can maintain their status quo as an oligarchy. The truth is that we are all laborers, except for that top 0.1%, and our real worth is not in our financial assets (because we have none to speak of), it is in our labor, and more importantly in our capacity to organize and withhold that labor."
Jason continued explaining that "Conditions never improve for the masses without the leverage of labor withheld. It’s one of the reasons the capitalist economy does not seek full employment. A minimum level of unemployment is acceptable if for no other reason than to act as a warning to unorganized labor that basically, do as your told and play your cog part in the machine, or you could end up unemployed an destitute. Unemployment is a fear based tactic of the capitalists to maintain the status quo of their profits. Also, people want to quibble about theoretical capitalism vs crony corporatism. 'We don’t have actual capitalism' they say, 'because the free markets are manipulated. If only…' But there is no if only because the only possible scenario to prevent crony corporatism is 'socialist' regulation. Capitalism cannot exist in a pure free market vacuum. Capital seeks externalizations in order to increase capital. In order to do that capitalists must seek control of any regulatory apparatus and bend it to their will. That’s literally part of the corporate charter, to do whatever is in the best interest of shareholder profits, therefore control regulations, exploit labor, and externalize costs. Lenin was 100% correct when he wrote that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism. Imperialism from the root Latin 'imperator'-- to control. Where the words Emperor/Empire come from. Capitalism seeks full control of everything that can be controlled, for the purpose of profit. It’s why in our capitalist system, police will protect property at the expense of people. That’s not a bit different than insurance companies denying coverage at the expense of people. Or why rents are skyrocketing at the expense of people. In the capitalist economy, labor is the most exploitable and least valuable of resources because in most instances labor can be replaced if it’s done piecemeal. What is much more difficult to replace is a lot of labor at once, i.e. striking workers. Hence the forty year assault on unions. So yeah, capitalism inherently seeks imperialism and is therefore inherently undemocratic and, if we’re strictly talking about people being free and equal, unAmerican. Anyone who looks around them with at all a critical eye today has to see it. The real question is, what are we going to do about it, and do people (and politicians) have the courage to buck the status quo? What are they willing to risk to push back against not just the propaganda, but the actual reality that capitalism is not working for most people. It is working, to be sure. But it was never intended to work for most people. Most people are exploitable and expendable. I encourage people to engage in a better way of thinking about our political and economic landscape. I am proudly anti capitalist, anti imperialist, and anti corruption. And this doesn’t even touch on the inherent white supremacy aspect of capitalism, because the easiest way to exploit people is to create an underclass, and the easiest way to create an underclass is to foment racial, ethnic, and gender division. If the American story of capitalism was a movie, you’d know who the bad guys were."
Congress doesn't have (m)any people who think this way. And in Jason's district, the member-- Rick Larson-- is a former healthcare lobbyist and corrupt New Dem who is decidedly not on the side of working families... bot by any stretch of the imagination. Please consider, no matter where you live, helping Jason's campaign with a contribution. There is no such thing as a contribution that is too small. And, believe me, we could sure use someone like him in Congress, don't you think?