Wednesday, December 3, 2008

the real crisis

For the last two months the media and the government have been obsessively informing us that we are in a 'state of crisis'. The 'crisis' they talk about is created by excessive spending, over- production, and a lot of toxic financial products. They call it a crisis, but it would be better to look at it as the inevitable outcome of an economic system based on greed and exploitation, exploitation of labour and natural resources.

What I think we are seeing is a clear example of the shock doctrine (an expression coined by Naomi Klein) in the way governments are using the economic crisis to push through an agenda without the chance of any real, sober and rational debate.

Worldwide, the taxpayers are footing the bill to save the same system that got us into this mess.

The capitalist system has solved previous crises by expanding and colonizing places and spheres of life that were once external to it. (See Lenin's Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism).

Lenin observed that capitalist nations had avoided this crisis by expanding the pool of workers they exploited. Capitalism, he argued, "had escaped its three laws of motion through overseas imperialism. The acquisition of colonies had enabled the capitalist economies to dispose of their unconsumed goods, to acquire cheap resources, and to vent their surplus capital."

If you replace 'colonies' with 'global markets', you have a pretty good description of globalisation. Now this model has started to show its cracks. Capitalism has expanded to every corner of the world, and though production can still be moved to places where labour is cheaper, overproduction has become a problem. Not all sacked factory workers in the West can be turned into low-paid workers in the service industry. Low wages mean that these workers' purchasing power has dropped, and easy credit can only patch things up for a short period of time, until the financial markets collapese, as they did, and people become so impoverished they cannot even keep a roof on their head, let alone spend on useless consumer goods.

The only way the failures of this system can be corrected would be through redistribution of wealth, by which i mean higher wages for workers, both in developed and developing countries, and shorter working hours. This is of course anathema to capitalists, as it would erode their profit margins.

Redistribution would also be good for the environment, because production would only meet real demand, instead of boosting it artificially through marketing, advertising, and 'easy credit'.

Shortening working hours could create more jobs, and though less people would be making millions more people would earn a decent wage. Yes, luxury goods would go unsold, but do we really care if yachts, private jets, Hermes bags and Bentleys go unsold? I'd rather see millions of people around the globe be lifted out of poverty and gaining access to clean water, nutritious food, and education than pandering to the whims of the super-rich, the only ones who have benefitted from unfettered capitalism. The 'trickle-down' theory obviously doesn't work, as the widening gap between rich and poor clearly shows. Let's call it 'trick the poor' theory.

So, the geniuses who got us to this point, want to cure the disease by administering more of the same poison, i.e. boosting consumer spending, cutting jobs, lowering wages, while devising even more sophisticated Ponzi schemes.

In Hong Kong developers worry about low birth rates, factory owners worry about the rising cost of labour and falling demand. The government echos their concerns. No wonder. THe government represents their minority interests, rather than our interests. Hong Kong people deserve space to breathe, not more residential and office towers. And if the population shrinks, we can all enjoy a better quality of life, and less competition for jobs, i.e. more bargainingl power for workers. A view which is obviously not shared by developers and retailers. But they have to wake up and realise that the current rate of growth is unsustainable. Their blind greed will become our doom.

The world population has ballooned to an unsustainable level, but putting a cap on births is still regarded as too controversial in most countries (with the laudable exception of China)

If we want to give the human race a chance, we all need to minimize our carbon footprint, and that means acting NOW to curb consumption. All kind of material consumption.

Global warming, the collapse of eco-systems, widespread pollution, the depletion of natural resources, over-consumption and mountains of waste... these are the real emergencies. Not terrorism, not the financial crisis.

No comments: