Why Capitalism Can’t Fix Our Most Urgent Problems

by GARY ENGLER

Can capitalism solve the problems of global warming and growing inequality?

It seems to me this is like discussing the issue of inappropriate hypersexual imagery bombarding 11-year olds and then asking: Can Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga fix the problem?

Real capitalism, not the theoretical version taught in school, is a system of minority rule in which a few people profit at the expense of others.

Real capitalists are always trying to cut their costs and increase their profits, which leads to unemployment, falling wages, rising economic disparity and not paying for the environmental damage they cause.

Private ownership of what are social means of livelihood produces incentives for capitalists to pass along the real costs of industry to communities, workers, future generations and other species.

Private ownership makes growing inequality inevitable. A system can proclaim itself democratic, but if a minority holds most of the economic, and therefore social and political power, that minority will inevitably reward itself, its power will grow and ever-expanding inequality will be the result.

Capitalism is sociopathic. Its ideologues, like the late Margaret Thatcher, reject the social, claiming only individuals exist. Yet capitalism has driven individual producers to the fringes of economies. Most people, ninety per cent in the U.K., depend on wages or salary, working with others in cooperative, coordinated labour — social labour, but directed by wealthy minorities for their own profit.

Capitalism promotes greed. It boasts of this. So why would we be surprised when a small minority with most of the power looks after itself, in effect telling the rest of us: “Screw you and the planet you live on! We don’t care about global warming because we have the money to buy a nice place regardless of how high the oceans rise.”

Capitalism requires constant growth to satisfy its need for more profit. But what happens when the environment needs a smaller human footprint? When, at least in wealthier countries, we must learn to live with less stuff?

History shows capitalism reacts badly to declining markets. When the economy shrinks for a sustained period the system goes into crisis. Banks crash, unemployment grows and capitalists often turn to war to get their profits rising again.

The truth is a sustainable economy is incompatible with a system that constantly demands more profit.

To quote the greatest living English political philosopher, Russell Brand: “I know what the fucking system shouldn’t do. It shouldn’t destroy the planet and shouldn’t create massive economic disparity.”

Like Russell we know what we don’t like. That’s the easy part. But how can we get rid of capitalism and what is the alternative?

To answer we must go back to the issue of power and how to distribute it in a way that promotes the common good, a key element of which is a healthy environment. The best way is through more democracy. REAL democracy. Economic democracy.

Do you want an equitable, sustainable economy? Then help overthrow capitalism and create an economic democracy.

What exactly does this mean?

Let me give you an example: With the one pound one vote system that governs corporate capitalism, Richard Branson, with a net worth of 3.5 billion pounds get 3.5 billion votes. In comparison you (pointing) get 147 and you get 58. Most of you poor buggers owe more than you own so you get no votes at all. Economic democracy means giving everyone the right to a voice and an equal vote in their communities’ economic decisions. When everyone has an equal right in decision-making, economies will be motivated by general wellbeing, not private profit. Economic democracy means eliminating the divide between workers and owners by making everyone an owner. Economic democracy means multiple owning communities  — local, regional, national, international — so that power does not become concentrated in the hands of a single central state. It means that wherever social labour occurs a system of democracy manages the enterprise.

Imagine companies that are democratically run by workers together with a local, regional, national or international government, whichever is appropriate to that enterprise; companies whose mandate it is to promote the common good, rather than the narrow self-interest of rich shareholders; companies that no longer have incentives to destroy the planet, but rather face real penalties for harming the environment.

Now, I know what at least some of you are thinking. This is not realistic. Your ideas are just pie in the sky. But the truth is capitalism has already created what one might call “objective conditions” that do indeed make economic democracy possible. Most people in most countries already depend on social labor. Most of you, if you find paid employment, will be salaried or wage workers. If we choose to fight for it, we can expand one-person, one-vote decision-making into every area where people work collectively, which is most of our economy. If we elect governments committed to it we could pass laws that limit private property to what is truly private and doesn’t give an individual power over others. We could create a system of social ownership with multiple democratic owning communities.

If we accomplish these three things — replacing corporate ownership with social ownership, replacing capitalist entitlement with equal human entitlement and replacing master-servant relations with workplace democracy — the system that drives enterprises to maximize profits, regardless of the consequences, would no longer exist.

Capitalism and sustainability, can you have it all? No. But there is much better alternative: Economic democracy, a system that will offer authentic jobs, a nourishing work-life balance, your fair share of power and a healthy environment. This sounds like the essentials of a good life to me.

Adapted from a speech given at the One World Week Forum at the University of Warwick on January 30, 2014.

Gary Engler is a co-author of the New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World it Really is Time to Unite, recently released by Fernwood Publishing.

Gary Engler is a Canadian journalist, novelist (The Year We Became Us) and co-author of the recently released New Commune-ist Manifesto — Workers of the World It Really is Time to Unite (www.newcommuneist.com).  He is currently working on the first great hockey novel tentatively titled Puck Hog.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
July 28, 2015
Mark Schuller
Humanitarian Occupation of Haiti: 100 Years and Counting
Lawrence Ware
Why the “Black Church” Doesn’t Exist–and Never Has
Peter Makhlouf
Israel and Gaza: the BDS Movement One Year After “Protective Edge”
Eric Draitser
China’s NGO Law: Countering Western Soft Power and Subversion
Paul Craig Roberts - Dave Kranzler
Supply and Demand in the Gold and Silver Futures Markets
Carl Finamore
Landlords Behaving Badly: San Francisco Too Valuable for Poor People*
Michael P. Bradley
Educating About Islam: Problems of Selectivity and Imbalance
Binoy Kampmark
Ransacking Malaysia: the Najib Corruption Dossier
Michael Avender - Medea Benjamin
El Salvador’s Draconian Abortion Laws: a Miscarriage of Justice
Jesse Jackson
Sandra Bland’s Only Crime Was Driving While Black
Cesar Chelala
Effect of Greece’s Economic Crisis on Public Health
Mel Gurtov
Netanyahu: An Enemy of Peace
Joseph G. Ramsey
The Limits of Optimism: E.L. Doctorow and the American Left
George Wuerthner
Bark Beetles and Forest Fires: Another Myth Goes Up in Smoke
Harvey Wasserman
Will Ohio Gov. Kasich’s Anti-Green Resume Kill His Presidential Hopes?
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode 4, a Bowery Ballroom Blitz
July 27, 2015
Susan Babbitt
Thawing Relations: Cuba’s Deeper (More Challenging) Significance
Howard Lisnoff
Bernie Sanders: Savior or Seducer of the Anti-War Left?
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma’s Profiteers: You Want Us to Pay What for These Meds?
John Halle
On Berniebots and Hillary Hacks, Dean Screams, Swiftboating and Smears
Stephen Lendman
Cleveland Police Attack Black Activists
Patrick Cockburn
Only Iraq’s Clerics Can Defeat ISIS
Ralph Nader
Sending a ‘Citizens Summons’ to Members of Congress
Clancy Sigal
Scratch That Itch: Hillary and The Donald
Colin Todhunter
Working Class War Fodder
Gareth Porter
Obama’s Version of Iran Nuke Deal: a Second False Narrative
Joshua Sperber
What is a President? The CEO of Capitalism
Zoe Konstantopoulou
The Politics of Coercion in Greece
Vacy Vlanza
Without BDS, Palestine is Alone
Laura Finley
Adjunct Professors and Worker’s Rights
Jon Langford
Mekons Tour Diary, Episode Three, Where We Thrill Everyone by Playing Like “Utter Bloody Garbage”
Weekend Edition
July 24-26, 2015
Mike Whitney
Picked Out a Coffin Yet? Take Ibuprofen and Die
Henry Giroux
America’s New Brutalism: the Death of Sandra Bland
Rob Urie
Capitalism, Engineered Dependencies and the Eurozone
Michael Lanigan
Lynn’s Story: an Irish Woman in Search of an Abortion
Paul Street
Deleting Crimes at the New York Times: Airbrushing History at the Paper of Record
ISMAEL HOSSEIN-ZADEH
Making Sense of the Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitical Implications
Andrew Levine
After the Iran Deal: Israel is Down But Far From Out
Uri Avnery
Sheldon’s Stooges: Netanyahu and the King of Vegas
David Swanson
George Clooney Paid by War Profiteers
ANDRE VLTCHEK
They Say Paraguay is in Africa: Mosaic of Horror
Horace G. Campbell
Obama in Kenya: Will He Cater to the Barons or the People?
Michael Welton
Surviving Together: Canadian Public Tradition Under Threat
Rev. William Alberts
American Imperialism’s Military Chaplains
Yorgos Mitralias
Black Days: August 4th,1914 Germany and July 13th, 2015 Greece