Once again I’m moved by a thoughtful critique of my posts to offer a follow-up, and once again I’m grateful for the generous time given in reading and responding to my writing – this time to Marcus. I’m going to try and address some of his points, this time just offering opinions in response. There’s a whole wealth of material out there discussing these things in more detail and with more in the way of hard evidence (see my politics links for some pointers).
shouldnt you be criticising the S African government, who from what i understand have denied HIV causes AIDS, totally failed to adress the issue, failed to buy and dsirtibute retroviral drugs, and generally swept it under the carpet? thats nothing to do with british govt.
I do indeed have deep criticisms of the ill-advised stance taken by the South African government and their abject neglect of the problem. I believe one of the underlying causes of the crazy positions they’ve taken is that the kind of state spending required to address the problem (with education, alleviation of poverty, and where necessary drugs) would be looked upon extremely poorly by the likes of the IMF and the World Bank.
My biggest criticism of the current South African government is they’ve decided to try and play the game of global capitalism and in doing so have tied their own hands in repairing the damage of colonialism and apartheid. Responsibility for this must lie both within South Africa and with the institutions of global capitalism that have effectively coerced our government with threats of withdrawn investment, even harsher loan repayment terms and reductions in aid.
You believe that global capitalism can be tweaked and improved to address the world’s problems. I do not.
What would you suggest replace capitalism?
In the sentence you quoted I specifically pointed at ‘global capitalism’ which I see as a specific recent form of capitalism that is moving (to a certain extent) away from class separation within Western nations, and towards a class separation that spans nations. If you look at those fulfilling the roles classically fulfilled by the “working class” in the UK, many of them are now either fufilled by recent immigrants, or in the further, somewhat hidden, reaches of the nation (call centres in Wales etc) or even more commonly just elsewhere in the world (the “third world sweat shop” phenomenon).
This also goes towards answering the question “who are the british oppressing now?”. It may not be as explicit as under colonialism, but the wealth of the UK is largely predicated on the favourable, and I would argue exploitative, trade relationships that were developed with the ex-colonies. That much of Africa suffers under both the legacy of colonial damage (both infrastructural and psychological), and the continuing harmful intervention of global capitalism, goes a long way towards explaining the ravages of HIV/AIDS in that continent compared with its comparatively mild impact in the West.
(Of course the UK is also complicit in the murder of tens of thousands in the middle east, although that is a somewhat different – though fundamentally linked – discussion: it is partly because economic exploitation is backed by the threat of force that the exploited nations generally accede to the demands of the West).
Is Capitalism fair? Of course not. But it works – and we all know it does.
I understand that being unfair is not in itself an indictment of capitalism. If your assertion is correct – that capitalism is the only system that works – then fairness is somewhat academic. However, I do not know this, and in fact I take serious issue with both elements of your assertion.
On the one hand, for me capitalism simply does not ‘work’. It may work for now for a privileged minority (which possibly includes a much larger proportion of the British population than in the past, but I’m thinking globally here). It is in many ways an admirable system, given that it allows essentially ‘dumb’ actors (dumb in the sense of having a worldview that extends little further than their immediate interests) to en masse enact a system of production and distribution that is at least basically functional.
However capitalism requires continual expansion and overproduction (what’s called ‘economic growth’). The rise of consumer credit is an adaptive mechanism so that growth can continue whilst the owners of capital continue to siphon large chunks of created value into profit. This is not something that can continue indefinitely. Either some catastrophe like climate change will kill us all, or we will deplete our natural resources to the point where our civilisation cannot continue in the same form. We can now in this era see very clear and scientific evidence for this assertion, more so than ever before in human history.
The oppressed masses of the world (remembering that the ‘richest and most powerful nations’ comprise a minority of the world’s population) will not suffer quietly forever. What’s called terrorism in the West is an early warning sign of the backlash that will only grow and continue unless this oppression ceases. Recognition of this is taboo for us; instead we are told “they want to destroy our way of life, it’s irrational hatred, any other opinion gives succour to the terrorists”. This is a taboo we maintain at our own peril.
Secondly capitalism is not the only system that works. Capitalism has a relatively brief role in the history of humankind; a few hundred years against hundreds of thousands of years of human existence. Every non-civilised society that we have encountered, we have destroyed. They did not destroy themselves by exceeding the carrying capacity of their surrounds, a fate we seem to be blindly speeding towards. To believe that our own system is not only the best, but the only workable system, is an amazing piece of arrogance and observer bias. It’s simply not scientific. (This isn’t meant personally by the way Marcus, you are by no means alone!)
None of this goes to fully answer the question “what would you suggest replace capitalism?”. It is far easier to defend an existing system than argue for a speculative non-existent system. I would point to countries like Venezuela and Brazil as undertaking brave experiments in alternate systems.
In truth I am suspicious of those who say they know with certainty of another system that works, is socially just and does not deplete and destroy the planet, just as I am suspicious of Marcus’s claim about capitalism.
New structures for society are created in action, through the living experimentation of open-minded and passionately motivated collectives of humans.
At the same time we must begin the task of dismantling this brutal, destructive and ultimately suicidal system that permits no competitors and tramples all alternatives. Marcus quite rightly states that “it is no coincidence that the world’s richest and most powerful nations are capitalist”. On that we agree, on the conclusion drawn we differ.