Written By: - Date published: 7:39 am, October 25th, 2017 - 73 comments
Categories: capitalism, community democracy, Deep stuff, democratic participation, Economy, political alternatives, Privatisation, vision - Tags: Incognito
This is a long post that undoubtedly contains many errors and misconception on my behalf; it is my rant against what I see as the single biggest problem of our time: capitalism. My aim is for each and all of us (realistically: some of us) to ponder and decide whether we want to be owned by capitalism and stay in its trap of wage- and debt-slavery or whether we are free to boldly go to post-capitalism, whatever that might be. [Yes, that was a subtle Trek hint] You decide, or give it a miss.
Capitalism means many different things to different people but the two central tenets of capitalism are ownership & profit leading to a socio-economic system of command & control in pursuit of profit & growth. Everything, and I mean everything, that happens within our society is therefore subjected to this pursuit, directly or indirectly, and is thus measured and calibrated relative to this pursuit. The profit-motive is bad enough on its own but coupled to ownership, be it private or so-called ‘public’ or State-ownership, it has disastrous effects on our collective wellbeing.
Hang on! Did I just say that State-ownership is as bad as private ownership? Surely, the State protects its citizenry against unbridled capitalism by market regulation & intervention, for example?
Nope! At best the State is a complicit regulator & arbitrator and at worst it is just like another capitalist owner aiming for profit even at the expense of its citizens. What makes it worse is the State – I include the Government in this – is in a unique position of trust and authority.
Even when it comes to so-called inalienable resources such as water – nobody owns the water – its extraction, treatment, and transport, etc., are used to generate profit to the owners of the infrastructure & management of this resource, in effect, by charging for its use (user pays principle). The argument always is that these profits get re-invested to safe-guard future supply.
Similarly, our cultural and natural heritage should be regarded as inalienable resources. This has obvious implications for how these are shared, accessed, and/or used particularly when there is commercial interest and profit-motive such as in the tourism industry, for example.
Some Māori for-profit enterprises operate in unique circumstances. Iwi-based enterprises may be asset rich but cash poor, because they possess collectively owned and inalienable assets. They have difficulty raising investment capital and loans against assets that cannot be sold, or sometimes because of their ownership structure.
The test for inalienability has become too weak & easy and at the same time the threshold for commodification has become so low that it is negligible, i.e. everything has a price and is for sale. A telling example is the commodification of (human) breast milk and even turning it into soap for sale. This is a relatively ‘innocent’ example but there are many others such as participating in clinical trials for a financial reward, selling (human) organs, donating sperm to a profit-making clinic, selling your body for non-medical purposes, etc. There now is even a ’market’ for human faecal matter. Regardless whether these are harmless and can even help others & save lives or whether are considered morally objectionable (by some) is not the point here; it is about unstoppable commodification.
So, what about the role of the State then? Well, the State regulates and even actively endorses these ‘markets’. But it also tries to extract profit from what I consider inalienable resources that are for the common good.
This can be seen quite clearly in how academic institutions have been forced to become education & training factories with an accompanying corporate management structure and audit trails. The role of these institutions as critic and conscience of society has come under much pressure by increasing demands on a return of investment of taxpayers’ money as illustrated in a recent Discussion Paper from MBIE entitled The Impact of Science.
Subjects such as the Arts and Humanities that are less likely to make the desired impact are discouraged and the few academics that remain standing or sitting for that matter are ‘owned’ by demanding they justify their existence in the same terms of impact. This quest on impact inevitably trickles down to the level of academic excellence and impact, which are also subjective, and individual performance. Generating art, knowledge or anything that has cultural value does not cut it any longer in this environment. Knowledge is built on knowledge generated by colleagues and predecessors, often funded through Public Good funding, and is an inalienable resource for all of mankind.
Art and cultural knowledge, for example, are only valuable (as in profitable) when they become scarce or inaccessible. This can be achieved through intellectual property arrangements or granting exclusive rights, e.g. by selling (or donating) to an owner who can then exploit it for profit or keep it from enjoyment by the community at large. Scientific and technological knowledge get sold or licensed to profit-seekers that have had no hand in its generation in the first place. For 30 pieces of silver they will take the hard work that rightfully belongs to the people and privatise future profits (e.g. Big Pharma). In the end all our endeavours and activities, individual and collective, are defined by ownership and profit.
How do we break this cycle of ownership-profit? It is easy to criticise capitalism but it would be incomplete and unsatisfactory without offering an alternative. What might that look like?
Firstly, I believe the role of the State and Government needs to change from its current authoritarian position of power & influence from high up to a mediating and facilitating role and let people take more ownership of their affairs. State-owned assets need to be redefined as property for and by the community and become inalienable assets. It makes no sense for the Government to sell assets to then extract a profit from the rightful original owners, not even when the buyers are a minute fraction of the rightful owners (Mum & Dad investors).
Secondly, the people need to step up and accept their responsibility in managing their freedom to make decisions for themselves and their communities. This means that they need to learn to manage the resources they collectively own in a responsible & sustainable way, not for short- or long-term gains.
Thirdly, people need to learn to provide for their communities rather than for their bosses or employers, i.e. we all become self-employed so to speak. This will be based on actual need rather than being driven by profit-motives, perpetual growth and corresponding excess (consumerism).
The hardest one will be to capture the ‘dynamism’ that capitalism seems to be encouraging that supposedly leads to advancement, innovation, and progress towards higher production and thus more prosperity – it certainly does this for the few at a (nebulous) cost to the many. What will be the motivation and incentive to innovate, to develop, if no material reward is awaiting? It is hard to imagine, with our current mind-set that is heavily influenced by centuries (many generations) of capitalism and decades of neoliberalism, that people will do things out of curiosity, for the greater good & community, simply and only because they can.
When we were still hunting, fighting off large predators, and living in caves we did what we had to do to survive. Now we face a different kind of survival as human race. What makes us human is not how much we earn, how many cylinders that car has in our driveway and its top speed, or how well we compete with our colleagues on the career ladder (by pulling up the ladder or removing rungs below us). It is not our material possessions and wealth that determines who we are, is it? What makes us human is not what we have but what we create and experience and how we share these with others and use these to build lasting relationships and connections. We have to decide whether capitalism owns us or whether we can and want to (!) remove its shackles.
This Guest Post is by Standardista Incognito.