“Capital is the lifeblood that flows through the body politic of all societies. We see capitalism spreading out sometimes as a trickle and other times as a flood into every nook and cranny of the inhabited world.”
David Harvey, British academic, professor of anthropology and geography at the City University of New York
Although I have for many years been interested in and reading about what is happening in our world, and have even sometimes taken to the streets in protest, it has become apparent to me that life on planet Earth 21st Century style is, to say the least, pretty complicated. A bit overwhelming really, particularly with Brexit and the current political scene!
But it seems that, in feeling this, I am not alone. As Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari says:
‘If you feel overwhelmed and confused by the global predicament, you are on the right track. Global processes have become too complicated for any single person to understand.’
So, I write as an ‘Everyman’ struggling to get some understanding and to see some light and some hope for the future.
A good starting point has been that Adam Smith’s warning that capitalism’s ‘standing armies of special interests’ would ‘‘fight to the bitter end to keep their privileges’ has been largely ignored in our globalised world.
It’s pretty clear where this has led us …
- Movement of capital across national boundaries has undermined our democracy because, if conditions in a particular country don’t suit, capital will be moved to a more corporate-friendly country. The electorate might be demanding a hand-up for those in abject poverty measures to combat climate change, but on Budget Day the Chancellor has his eye on the interests of major banks and international corporations.
- Immigrants from poorer countries, used to poorer working and living conditions, have been pretty attractive to employers in developed countries keen to reduce their labour costs. This has undermined the living standards of indigenous workers and can be seen as a possible explanation for the spread of racism and populism.
- The availability of tax havens has led to the gradual deterioration of our public spaces and amenities. With the wealthy stashing away their wealth overseas, the tax income of the country where a corporation makes its profit is starved of the capital needed to build the very structure necessary for business to operate. Amazon wouldn’t sell many books if the State didn’t teach children to read …
Many people believe that these problems are at the root of the political turmoil and the rise of extremist groups which we are currently facing. Blame is directed towards benefit scroungers and immigrants whose stories often feature in the news, while the wealthy are usually able to live behind the closed doors of their luxury high-security houses far away from the headlines and inner city unrest. Not too much news about would-be Prime Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent move into a £5 million five-storey second-home mansion in Westminster or about his 17th-century country house in Somerset.
Where, then, do I find the light and the hope? My grasp of how capitalism has developed in recent years has helped me here. …
- As the power of corporations grew towards the end of the 20th Century ‘Industrial capitalism’ gave way to ‘Corporate capitalism’;
- As it became easier to move capital internationally and profit could be made from buying, selling and investing in currencies and financial products such as bonds, stocks, futures and other derivatives we came to ‘Financial capitalism’;
- As information technology developed we came to ‘Information capitalism’;
- Most recently, ‘Big Brother’ has been able to collect masses of data by tracking our every movement and every thought through our phones, our computers and our store cards and some people believe we have arrived at ‘Surveillance capitalism’ (creepy!)
- The latest kid on the block is the very scary ‘Disaster capitalism’ because those looking for investment opportunities can see loads of money can be made out of disaster and misery. Fear of social unrest increases the demand for private security guards and security fences. Climate change has created a demand for flood defences and fire-fighting equipment. A financial crash is a great way for hedge funds to make a quick killing by betting on financial apocalypse. (I’m on sticky territory here, but a Texas hedge fund claims to have profited by millions betting on a financial crash). Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’ and Philip Mirowski’s ‘Never Let a Serious Crisis Go To Waste’ are a pretty amazing eye-opener!
Are we to be left to suffer under Disaster Capitalism or is there another way? This is where I’ve found a glimmer of light and hope:
- Many campaigners have highlighted that our first need is to stop being negative and to find a new ‘narrative’, a vision of a positive future.
- The nature of, and problems associated with, ‘Neoliberalism’ – unregulated free-market capitalism – are increasingly being debated.
- Writers are beginning to identify the power of ‘State’ which supports the neoliberal agenda
An increasing number of people are beginning to recognise that ever-striving for a life of excessive material consumption above our everyday needs is not the panacea for a happy life.
- I daily come across ‘Random acts of kindness’ and have seen through the message we are led to believe that people are nasty and should be feared. No!!!
- Many progressive think tanks have been looking at ways our economy can be changed so that it prioritises the welfare of people, animals and the planet.
- The UK Public Policy Research Commission on Economic Justice has set out a fresh vision for the British economy in which they introduce ‘Collaborative capitalism’
It seems to me that ‘collaboration’ and ‘co-operation’ are pretty comfortable bed fellows so my discovery that the next form capitalism could be ‘collaborative’ led me to explore the worldwide growth of the co-operative movement and the massive increase in local initiatives which are springing up everywhere. David Cameron’s assertion that ‘Britain is broken’ is far from the truth – reading groups, community choirs, men’s sheds, community allotments are springing up everywhere.
My search for signs that change is on the way led me to where sharing, helping and co-operation are taking over from dog-eat-dog competition and greed.
Of course, Healthy Life Essex plays an important role in encouraging us all to live ethically and to help to bring positive change to our troubled world. And, interestingly, the directors of HLE are also directors of the Organisation for Responsible Businesses which encourages smaller companies to operate ethically and responsibly. And, in Southend, BSTLC CIC – Businesses Supporting their Local Community – encourages businesses of all sizes to support their local charities, community groups and educational establishments..
But, the big questions remain:
- How can we rebuild the ‘State’ which constantly supports the neoliberal power base?
- How can we spread a different story in the face of the constant drip, drip of messages supporting the idea that the good life depends on excessive material consumption, that the wealthy are wealthy because they deserve it, that the poor are lazy, that if we work hard enough we can ‘make it’?
- How do we spread the ‘Secret’ that many of the world’s happiest countries are those where community, family, co-operation, the natural environment and general well-being take priority?
- How can we build an economy that prioritises how we ‘feel’ over what we ‘have’?
- How can we come to see that there is an alternative?