Friday, 31 December 2010

Capital, Workers & Democracy

"We’re All In It Together…"

How often have we heard this phrase, presented as a statement of fact by political leaders? It seems to have become the ‘must have’ phrase, to be repeated ad nauseam every time some new round of ‘austerity’ is to be inflicted on the majority of citizens. Certainly it’s the phrase of the moment for the likes David Cameron and George Osbourne.

But are we?

We all know how badly most people have been affected – and are about to be affected – by the largest global financial ‘crash’ since the Great Depression following 1929. Unemployment, falling wages, reduced benefits and welfare across the board – with much more on the way.

But what about the rich? How are they doing, and what are their prospects? Don’t know about you but I’ve found that any facts and figures for this minority, who hold the vast majority of society’s wealth, seem to be so far under the Politics and Media radar as to be deeply subterranean.

However, Daniel Raventos of US Political Newsletter ‘Counterpunch’ has come to the rescue. He cites a report by Merrill Lynch, a bank owned by Bank of America, whose target clients are the 9 million or so persons, worldwide, who are either rich (HNWI – High Net Worth Individuals with assets of $1M+) or super rich (‘Ultra’ HNWI - assets of $30M +) [‘Assets’ here exclude primary residence, ‘consumer durables’ or ‘collectibles’]. So, that would include, oh, David Cameron, certainly Tony Blair with his reported £20m ‘consultancy’ for JP Morgan (bank), most, if not all, political leaders and a great many politicians anywhere in Europe or the US. Probably a lot of the senior TV media ‘journalists’ and presenters too.

So how are they all doing in our ‘we’re all in it together’ financial crisis?

Yep, you guessed it! Not badly at all. Aside from a sharp, temporary, dip when global shares fell at the onset of the crisis in 2008, their aggregate wealth is back pretty close to where it was before the crash – back up to $39 Trillion by 2009. Sure, they lost a couple of years of ‘growth’, but not to worry, things are looking good. Merrill Lynch are confident in their projections for the next 3 or 4 years that they can help them along to an average 5% year on year growth in ‘net worth’. That’s ‘net worth’ of course after, you know, life’s mundane essential consumables and consumer durables have been deducted – restaurant bills, a few designer rags to knock about in, the his‘n’hers Ferraris, toilet paper, that kind of thing.

So maybe we’re not all in it together then? If you’re wondering why, read on…

Surely it's time we looked at the fundamental driving forces deep underneath all the propaganda and BS? Simply put, there are two utterly opposing interests at work. On the one hand, Owners of Capital, who primarily live off renting (or investing) money or other assets and the Workers whose primary income is derived solely from their Labour.

Yes, it really is that basic. The fewer Workers can be paid for their Labour, the more wealth the Capital Owners gain and vice versa.

But here's the rub with Democracy. Intrinsically the Workers are in the majority – always. So a democratic system that actually represents their interests is fundamentally at odds with the interests of Capital Owners whose main desire is to own ever-increasing, limitless Capital. Which is without a shadow of a doubt where the evidence leads. How many Owners of Capital have we heard say that they have 'enough'? Virtually none. Over the last few decades the wealth of the rich has risen dramatically whilst the wealth of Workers has stagnated or decreased, with real costs in health and peoples' lives, to say nothing of unrealised potential. And the divide is increasing.

Of course, both sides need each other. Entrepreneurial drive is very often a good thing and works to the benefit of all. Crucially, such worth to all is the very thing that ultimately guarantees the consent of Workers for Owners of Capital to operate and even be highly rewarded. But if the system of democracy worked properly, the welfare of the majority would place limits on the accumulation of wealth. It clearly doesn't. The 'banking' system has been shown to be a casino, run by Owners of Capital, where they retain the profits but vast losses must be paid off by Workers nearly exclusively.

Most of us recognise the need for both 'sides'. This is entirely consistent with what, in a single phrase, might best describe the route for all of us to our maximum fulfilment and happiness – “ each according to their needs, from each according to their abilities...”

Furthermore, most us know what psychological and sociological studies have confirmed. ‘Needs’ are different from 'wants'. Needs make us happy, wants really don't. And the freedom and opportunity to pursue our abilities is also vitally important.

Some of us need to live life on a ‘bigger stage’, some don't, and all can be equally rewarding. What we need is society that reflects this truth whilst ensuring equality of opportunity.

So a balance must be struck between Capital Owners and Workers. In a democracy, this is the job of Politics and equally importantly those who should enable us to be accurately and fully informed, primarily the Print and TV Media, but also Science and Academic research. It should be obvious that these institutions need to be as independent as possible from both competing primary driving forces. But by our own foolish consent, corruption, both legal and illegal is endemic in Politics and Media and, partially so, but increasingly, in Academia.

Demonstrably, Capital Owners have become so wealthy and powerful that both Politics and Media are effectively owned by them. Greed is something that can and does infect us all and it is certainly at the core of the most powerful Capital Owners we have today. The speed with which humanity is degrading the very planet and ecology that gives us life is the absolute evidence of this. The best, untainted and overwhelming evidence we have from Science is that the wipe-out of 95% of all species, including our own, is a serious possibility that may become irreversible within less than a few decades; a result of climate change. And that is far from the only resource or pollution catastrophe that awaits us imminently.

The only way out of the impending demise is for the key institutions of democracy to be removed from the hands of the Owners of Capital. By definition, those representing the majority (Workers) cannot also be members of the minority (Owners) club. This does NOT need to be, nor should be, state, beaurocratic control or ownership of everything, but simply a system where 'rules' – rule of law – applies fairly to all. We are told no such system can exist. Don't believe it. A system that removes corruption by State, Private or other 'concentrated' interests is perfectly possible. It is absurd to believe otherwise of a species that has developed such immensely more complex systems in science and technology. We simply need to devise appropriate employment rules and terms in the same way we have for other 'special' categories of employment, such as police or military.

Remember, none of the basic welfare provisions that have been won (and are now being rapidly eroded) have ever been voluntarily 'gifted' by the Owners of Capital (now owners of Politics and Media) – nor can we expect them to be. Since the Owners now own Politics and Media virtually entirely, any attempt to work within the present system is no more than rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic. The system must change.

To the younger generation of Workers (or the unemployed or underemployed): good luck – you'll need it. Sad as it is to have seen the mere fledgling attempts at democracy so badly undermined, your lives, either way, will be nothing like mine.

Words: Mike Hall
Images: Tabz O'Brien-Butcher

1 comment:

  1. I think this is the best synopsis of Marxism I have seen anywhere.