Capitalists on clay feet
Stewards of capitalism have much to fear, and much to lose. To survive, they must seek new strategies.
This opinion has also been published in Norwegian (Dagsavisen 09.03.2022)
In the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream about a giant statue with feet of clay and iron. If hit by a rock, it will collapse. Not a bad analogue of the coexistence between the owner class and the rest.
Capitalism manifests itself as crony capitalism, dictator capitalism, monopoly capitalism, state capitalism, owner capitalism, feudal capitalism, group capitalism, oligarchy capitalism, klepto-capitalism. Some believe capitalism will one day transform into socialism and later a communist paradise, almost as the result of a law of nature.
It won't happen on its own, but hopefully when a majority go to the polls and vote for it. At least if we are to believe some residual Marxist-Leninists, who admittedly take care to add it may become necessary to stand up against the bourgeoisie and the owning-class when push comes to shove.
Capitalism robs resources without taking responsibility for the consequences, as witnessed by the world's poor, its climate victims, its poisoned, exploited, and displaced people, as well as the planet's animal and plant life. The abolition of capitalism to solve the planet's crises is an understandable, even touching demand or desire.
Capitalism robs resources without taking responsibility
But it will not happen. All states we know, including Cuba, have entered variants of partnership with the capitalists, perhaps barring North Korea, hardly an example to follow. Even worker-owned enterprises are profit-oriented and structured similarly to private enterprises.
The multi-talented James Lovelock recently passed away, aged 103. He helped create the Gaia concept, which intrinsically is not New Age and environmental romance. Simply put, the Gaia principle reverses the idea that nature shapes life. Rather, life forms affect the globe. Thus, everything and everyone is part of the whole planet.
Mankind, of course, affects the most. We have compromised Gaia with filthy energy production, toxic emissions and a predatory exploitation of land, the sea, and all kinds of raw materials. The result is, among other things, plastic particles in our own organs, dramatic climate change and food procurement on the verge of collapse. The sphere of life itself is threatened.
As if that is not enough, there are the small and large wars, inclusive of the one in Europe. The use of nuclear weapons has once again become a viable possibility. Conflicts, war, and poverty are main causes of today’s expanding migration. In addition, the world sees more and more climate refugees, escaping rising seas and depleted living conditions.
Don't put your money on pandemics, galloping food prices, sky-high energy costs and devastating weather soon becoming things of the past. It is difficult to imagine a near future return to normality, whatever that would entail. Purchasing power is weakening for ordinary workers, who already have experienced negative or flat wage growth for decades.
This creates unrest and mistrust. We see it simmering even in prosperous Norway, and in the EU. In poorer parts of the world, the loss of subsidies on food and fuel leads to the storming of parliaments and government buildings. Belief in the rule of law and democracy is thrown out of the window, which then is left wide open. In crawl extreme right-wing populism and authoritarian leaders, almost invariably all older men.
This is where capitalists need a thorough reality check. It is now that they must make choices contrary to core values such as profit, accumulation of wealth and tax evasion. They also have an inbred aversion to government and regulation, even as they clamor for epidemic relief and cheap electricity and cannot do without welfare schemes and publicly paid education and research.
With the exceptions of the arms industry, agribusiness and pharmaceutical groups, things are looking bleak. Recession, expensive raw materials and falling purchasing power force capitalists to close companies, as well as making it difficult to move money into other businesses without heavy losses. Not everyone may own arms factories and investing in real estate has become a risky sport.
Some capitalists choose to cheer on autocrats promising to dismantle the liberal rule of law and all its obstacles. Throughout history, money and dictators have enjoyed a mutual attraction. And now, it has become increasingly comme il faut to doubt that only the western democracy can be a guarantor of decent living conditions and annual growth.
Capitalists must choose a side
Domestic and international capitalists come in all guises, from climate deniers and right-wing populists to concerned welfare adherents, from disgusting show-offs to confident-appearing father and mother figures, from reclusive multi-billionaires to serial talk show participants.
Capitalists must choose a side. They should carefully study the deep implications of checks and balances: the interplay of capital and enterprise, civil society, the judiciary, parliament, state, and the press. And they should take an open-minded, thorough look at the alternatives. In addition, they must choose what side to stand on in the efforts to save the climate, the globe, and species diversity.
As must we all, capitalists' own children need to breathe and eat and live in the years to come. If the giant falls on his clay feet, a fight of all against all is a likely outcome.