Those who believe in reformed capitalism, such as Paul Collier, are mistaken. With grim clarity, 2020 revealed the deep problems that capitalism causes in our societies. The system’s devastating internal logic will never change, argues Joti Brar.
As we turn our backs with relief on 2020, we can’t help but ask: what does the future hold? Will 2021 bring some respite? Sadly, in the short term, the answer is a decided ‘no’. As long as a capitalist economic system remains in place we can only expect more of the same.
2020 showed us that we don’t need to wait for the future to find ourselves living in a capitalist dystopia. The double whammy of economic and health crises have made it abundantly clear that the dystopia is already here.
Britain’s pandemic was avoidable
Contrary to the narrative that is being pushed hard in Britain’s compliant media, it was not a vaccine that we needed to save us from the nightmare of 2020 but simple health measures.
The rational, people-centred approach of governments like China’s and Cuba’s have demonstrated that most of the British casualties were entirely avoidable. Britain’s predicted death toll is 100,000 of a 65 million population. China’s death toll is below 5,000 out of 1.4 billion.
With straightforward measures, the first lockdown might not have been necessary in the first place. Lockdowns are a blunt instrument and an admission that the situation is out of control. We needed mass testing, fully supported isolation, to close ports except for essential goods and the centrally-resourced creation of covid-secure workplaces, schools, factories and hospitals (including utilizing those in the private sector).
We did, after all, have ample warning from the health authorities in China, as well as handbooks and protocols. It shows our leaders’ arrogance that they were unable to learn from China’s experience. It also shows how totally committed they are to serving the rich – in this case by using public funds to boost the profits of the private sector and buoy up the stock market rather than meeting the urgent needs of ordinary people.
In fact, the British government did not implement a health strategy. It implemented a profit maximisation strategy for the big corporations it serves. This was coupled with a PR campaign aimed at selling the government’s belated, reactive and contradictory health measures. This crisis has shown us that capitalism is not working.
The double whammy of economic and health crises have made it abundantly clear that the capitalist dystopia is already here.
Capitalism is not working
Under the combined pressure of the economic and health crises in 2020, the irrationality of capitalism has been revealed over and over again, in ways that defy the usual glib explanations of economists, journalists and think tanks. The underlying reality exposed by the pandemic is not an accident or an aberration. This is not a temporary blip; this is capitalism working exactly as its internal logic dictates.
Firstly, it is clear that the concept of ‘trickle-down’ economics is a lie. In reality, wealth flows in the opposite direction, from the poor to the rich, through their work and taxes. In doing so, the poor get poorer, while those at the top amass obscene wealth on an unprecedented, unimaginable and unjustifiable scale.
This is acutely obvious in the current crisis. The businesses of the super-rich have been bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions this year, as untold thousands of small businesses are collapsing into bankruptcy, as many of the self-employed are finding themselves without means of support, and as millions more formerly-employed workers are being thrown into unemployment.
Similarly, it has become glaringly obvious that most of our necessary key workers are underpaid and underappreciated. Perversely, the most important jobs in our society are done by those who are the worst paid and least respected. They are also horrendously understaffed and overworked, despite the millions of unemployed who are desperate for useful work.
Paul Krugman, Deirdre McCloskey and Grace Blakeley debate on Capitalism and Covid.
While mainstream economists claim that capitalism constantly increases living standards, we can now see clearly the destruction of decently-paid secure jobs for the mass of workers in the West and the poverty-pay that forces working families into debt and onto the mercy of the food banks.
Covid did not create this unemployment, poverty and inequality. These are unavoidable by-products of the anarchic capitalist system of production for profit (as opposed to rationally planned production designed to meet needs).
But the effect of capitalism goes beyond employment and wealth. The crisis has also exposed the state of the nation’s physical and mental health, the breakdown in our communities, the capitalist corruption of science and healthcare and the deep, long-term economic crisis that keeps the British economy teetering on the edge of another crash.
This is alongside the cronyism and corruption that characterises the rule of the capitalist class. Our ‘representatives’ have squandered billions of public money – firstly on bailing out big business and then on ‘covid procurement contracts’ for which there was, apparently, no stipulation to deliver any tangible product or result. It has shown starkly the loyalties and concerns of those in government - to the super-rich, to their friends and to themselves.
Capitalism has no solutions to its problems
In response to the problem of unemployment, capitalist theorists can only shrug and argue over how much support should go to those who are left without work, if any. The proposal of a ‘universal basic income’ is an admission that capitalism cannot find useful work for huge sections of the population. As automation continues, more jobs are made redundant. Automation should lead to lighter and more enjoyable workloads and to freeing up of human labour for other types of work. Instead it means that an ever-larger section of the workforce is considered to be ‘surplus to requirements’.
The choice left to us is this: change the system now or wait until a devastating war forces us to realise the urgency of removing it.
This squandering of human potential and wasting of human lives is the worst aspect of our capitalist society. It is the most pressing proof of the need to replace capitalism. The replacement should be a system that allows people to work for the common good, to contribute to social life and to live in dignity.
In the face of the climate crisis - which demands immediate unilateral and multilateral action - capitalism is likewise without answers. Politicians and business leaders haggle over distracting carbon quotas and plastic bag taxes while rolling out green-washing campaigns and subsidies for big oil and other polluting industries. These moves are no more than rearranging the deckchairs on the deck of the Titanic.
In our current system, profit for an individual business always triumphs over long-term benefits for society. And, crucially, it cannot be any other way. This is especially true at a time of financial crisis, when even the biggest monopolies are fighting for survival and defending every percentage point of their profit margins.
Would-be-reformers of capitalism need to wake up to the hard truth: the logic of capitalism is entirely opposed to the logic of humanity. Financial Times and Times commentators worrying about the social threat posed by growing inequality are canaries in the coalmine. But these articles will not persuade or enable capitalists to act in a way that defies the inbuilt logic of the system, even if they see a cataclysm approaching.
As this crisis deepens, competition over profits will increase to fever pitch. In the end, the only option left will be war. This is not because our leaders are particularly bloodthirsty individuals. It is because of the need to maximise profits, to control access to markets, to control sources of raw materials and to stamp out any resistance to market domination.
The choice we have is simple: change the system now or wait until a devastating war forces us to realise the urgency of removing it. Capitalism's dystopia is already here but it does not have to be our future.