Wealth, Capitalism and Ideology

Photograph Source: Ittmust – CC BY 2.0

Under the motto, “a different world is possible, a different economy is needed” – a German language magazine called Lunapark was born in 2008. It is dedicated to providing a much needed critique of the global economy. Perhaps as a pre-reflection of Glasgow’s 2021 Blah-Blah-Blah-COP26 PR-pageant, Germany’s failed environmental record is on stage, Lunapark started with the political economy on global warming.

Germany’s climate policy under Merkel has failed because of four reasons: firstly, Germany’s recent CO2 emission reduction came because of none other than the Coronavirus pandemic. Yet, Germany’s recent reductions were not as significant as its 1990 to 1995 reduction. Secondly, Germany’s overall emission reduction during the last two decades resulted – to a large extent – from an almost complete de-industrialization of former East-Germany. Thirdly, Germany’s next significant reduction came in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009 (GFC).

Fourthly, while CO2 emissions in Germany’s energy and industrial sector are largely stagnating and not going down as widely presented in Germany’s mobility sector, things are even worse. To a large part, this is because of a rapid motorization of the former East-Germany during the last few decades. In the area of CO2 emissions in the building and construction, Germany has achieved virtually nothing.

Beyond all that, there still is Germany’s overblown military budget of $52,8bn or 52,800,000,000 – $1,674 per second, day and night – which has also contributed to Germany’s miserable environmental record. Particularly, given the fact that a simple German army tank, for example, needs up to 500 liter of petrol per hour while a fighter jet needs 1,000 liter every half hour.

Given Germany’s abject climate failure, its Supreme Court strongly rebuked Merkel’s appalling environmental record. Meanwhile, a court in The Netherlands ordered the global oil-multi Shell to lower its CO2 by 45% by 2030. As the world is desperately seeking to keep global warming at a 1.5 degree level, Big Oil’s corporate lobbying continues unabated camouflaged by sustainability PR.

Worse, globally, about €300 million of tax subsidies continues to finance airlines, airports, and aircraft makers. Officially, this is justified as a return to pre-Corona levels. Yet, already in the year 2004 global air traffic was already twice as large as in 1985 and, it has created a devastating impact on the environment. Lunapark argues that we urgently need a post-growth economy. We face a choice between an immediate move towards, such as post-growth economy or, alternatively, we face collective ecocide.

The fact that the capitalist economy, as well as we as consumers, are hooked on money hardly helps. The relentless flow of money has been turbo-charged during the Coronavirus pandemic when central banks started pumping money into the market: the US Fed: $4.8bn; EU’s Central Bank: $8.6bn; and China: $6bn. Meanwhile, low interest rates encourage commercial banks to hand out easy credits to consumers. Much of this has engineered finance-driven capitalism that has heavily participated in recent crises: Asia’s crisis (1998), Japan’s bubble (1999), Dot.Com (2000), GFC (2007ff.), etc.

As an almost classical consequence of capitalist markets, sovereignty in monetary terms exists only for big players. The rest, i.e. poor countries, have to comply. One country that has to comply is India, as Arundhati Roy argues. Prime Minister Modi’s neoliberal economic policy, spiced up with religious fanaticism, has worsened the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. At one point, it got so bad that even Delhi’s crematorium ran out of timber to cremate the dead.

In India, Boris Johnson’s “let the bodies pile up high” approach has taken on a new dimension. Worse, desperate people have started to cut trees in public parks to burn their dead. Meanwhile, oxygen bottles are sold on the black market. Isn’t the free market wonderful! Even more wonderful for free market apostles is the fact that priests, for an additional fee, will perform the last prayer for India’s Corona dead.  And it is getting even better, Indian online doctors cash in on the victims of the Coronavirus pandemic.

On 27th April 2021, India announced 323,144 new Corona cases and 2,771 deaths. The precise numbers are designed to imply objectivity, science, and correctness even though most Indians know that nobody really knows. Just imagine, if people in Delhi do not know those numbers, how would people living in remote villages such as, for example,  in Bihar, in Uttar Pradesh, in Madhya Pradesh, etc. know at all. During Modi’s 2020 nationwide lockdown, poor and penniless workers facing starvation started to walk home. Hundreds died before making it to safety.

The free market in conjecture with religio-fanatic Modi also assured that poor families living on the edge of starvation have to fork up a monthly wage to get vaccinated. Much of this is engineered by a health system that is chronically underfunded, as India spends about 1.25% of its BIP on health. This is lower than some countries that are even poorer than India. Yet, even this number isn’t real as many estimate the real health spending to be at just 0.34%.

Worse, 71% of the health system in cities and 71% in regional India are privatized. Beyond that, health is corroded through corruption and medical fraud. Arundhati Roy’s sobering conclusion is that, the crisis-enhancing machinery of Modi’s government remains incapable to lead India out of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, life for poor workers not only got worse in India during the Coronavirus pandemic, it did so in Germany as well. This concerns largely two groups: farm and meat workers. On a farm in northern Germany, for example, out of 1,000 polish farm workers, 131 contracted the Corona virus. Many, as it turned out, had no health insurance. To escape responsibility of crammed living conditions and no health cover, Germany only demands a letter showing that workers are insured in their home country.

For many workers, inequality already starts when entering Germany as Corona tests are not free – unlike for Germans. Well, George Orwell got it right, some animals are more equal than others. To add insult to injury, Germany’s federal ministry “recommends” (sic!) to accommodate no more than eight people in one room. A recommendation perfect for the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Worse, the cost of a miserable accommodation and bad food is subtracted from the meager income of farmworkers.

As a consequence, German consumers enjoy cheap food while farmworkers suffer from unhealthy accommodation, high costs of food, and the constant threat of the Coronavirus pandemic. All of this applies predominantly to female workers laboring in Germany’s agriculture industry. Some of this has its origins in a hefty dose of misogyny – the hatred of women.

Historically, this dates back even before Christianity arrived in German woods, but misogyny surely received a kick with the rise of European Catholicism. The Catholic Church established The Empire of Misogyny, as the BBC has called it.

The Catholic Church’s idea that women are weak and full of evil sexual desire was carried over with the onset of capitalism. It forced women into harsh work regimes exposing women to the despotic, criminal, violent, and brutalities of – all too often male – factory bosses and overseers.

Managerial misogyny was – and still is! – expressed in the humiliating, abusive, and degrading mistreatment of women at work. Even the ideological godfather of neoliberalism, Ludwig von Mises, talked of the legal restitution of women [rechtliche Zurücksetzung der Frau] noting the peculiarities of their sexual character [die Eigenheiten ihres Geschlechtscharakters]. No wonder women have been on the receiving end for the last four decades as Mises’ ideology of neoliberalism became the catechism of capitalism.

Almost self-evidently, Mises’ off-sider and Pinochet friend Hayek strongly advocated against gender equality. Much of their misogyny came on top of the fact that women are mostly found in low-paid jobs in most countries. Capitalism rewards people in what Graeber calls bullshit jobs and not in (for capitalism rather) useless professions such as, for example, teaching, nursing, aged care, etc.

The Coronavirus pandemic has made the standard misogyny of capitalism worse because Covid-19 tends to hit the hardest – those who work in the areas where women work – frontline care. Yet, white-collar women moving into the home office often face a double dilemma of work and homeschooling as well as childcare. In the moment of crisis, women are, often more than usual, forced to assure that their, often male partners, can carry on working.

Worse, women also suffered from the Coronavirus pandemic as jobs in retail and hospitality were axed. In Switzerland alone, 40,000 women lost employment. Even worse is the suffering of 100,000s of the Eastern European female health and aged care migrants working in Western Europe.

Yet, on the top of the managerial hierarchy, women tend not to fare much better. In 2017, Germany’s law (FüPoG) to encourage female participation in managerial leadership was not even designed to lead to full equality (50/50). The law demands that only 30% of managerial leadership position are allocated to women.

As expected, it became increasingly clear to many in the years prior to the law, business’ self-regulation during the last few decades had failed once again. In other words, the ideology of business’ self-regulation continues to serve its purpose: delay the inevitable, namely government regulation.

Meanwhile at the lower end of jobs, the Coronavirus pandemic made things worse. The Corona virus not only attacks our society, it also makes visible that we do not live in society without classes. The Coronavirus pandemic has not only sharpened the edges of capitalism, it has also damaged the idea of an Atlantic-vs.-Rhine-Alpine version of capitalism made popular through Hall and David Soskice’s setting of liberal market economies against coordinated market economies.

In Germany, the river Rhine version of capitalism mutated into a Swine version of capitalism as neoliberalism took hold. The pathologies of no longer Rhine but Swine Capitalism only increased when Germany’s social-democratic Chancellor Schröder moved towards punishing the poor. It came under what is known as Hartz IV. Yet, those in employment did not fare better particularly in Germany’s exploding low-wage sector.

During the Coronavirus pandemic, this became particularly evident in the aforementioned meat processing industry where brutal exploitation reigns. This is spiced up with dehumanization of workers, maddening work pressures, profit maximization, and, inevitably, animal abuse. In one company – the Tönnes factory owned by Germany’s meat baron – 1,400 workers mostly from Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria tested positive after being infected with the Corona virus in June 2020.

Exploiting workers allowed meat boss Clemens Tönnies not just to donate handsomely to Merkel’s CDU, but also to offer former social-democratic boss Sigmar Gabriel, a well-paid job as business advisor. Apart from the rather standard capital-politics-corruption link, Germany’s stock exchange DAX experienced an unprecedented height on 30th March 2021, when passing the 15.000 mark right at a time when Germany’s Corona patients in intensive care and deaths also reached a new high.

Only a few days later (1st May 2021), the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic became even more visible when the wealthy area in the city of Cologne – Hahnwald – registered “ZERO” infections. At the same time, infection rates in the much less wealthy area of Chorweiler were at a whopping 500. Capitalism seems to continue with what Thucydides 9460BC) has pointedly outlined: “the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must.”

Much of all this is not entirely new as Germany’s inequality in the year 2013 was almost exactly where it was in the year 1913. In other words, after one-hundred years, Germany had made “ZERO” progress. The difference between then and today is that Germany was facing a revolution in 1918/19.

Today, capitalism furnishes workers with petit-bourgeois consumerism supported by a tremendous ideological apparatus selling capitalism as TINA: there is no alternative. This demands considerable ideological activities as none other than Thomas Piketty has also recognized in his recent book: Capital and Ideology.

Contemporary work on capitalism in Germany uses the term Propertarianism – a political philosophy that reduces all questions of society to the right to own property. In a German-Marxist understanding, Propertarianism’s original libertarian elements are replaced with the critical-scholarly concept of a Marxian political-economy. This links the political-economy to society in order to enhance our understanding of the role Das Kapitalplays in shaping society.

The political-economy perspective re-introduced Marx’s original concept of property and The Commodity – which after all, is the very first chapter in Marx’s book – at the center. Yet, it also means that a property owning class shapes most, if not all, aspects of society. The property-owning class likes to present its sectarian property-owning interest as the universal interest of all.

On this understanding of propertarianism – it is inextricably linked to capitalism, but it is by no means synonymous to capitalism. Instead, it marks a political ideology that sees the protection of private property as its defining value. As a consequence, Thomas Piketty’s ideas fall well into the category of propertarianism. Piketty does not challenge the right to own property. Instead, he advocates a change in taxation to create a more equal world.

Piketty’s core proposition is that inequality has next to nothing to do with economy and technology but is an ideological-political issue that can be solved through taxation. To achieve that, Piketty argues that more wealth and property needs to be created at the bottom of capitalism’s income hierarchy. In other words, with a bit of progressive taxation, capitalism will solve the problems it has created. Who would have thought?

Thomas Klikauer has over 750 publications. His latest book is on Media Capitalism. Meg Young is a Sydney Financial Accountant who likes good literature and proofreading, and in her spare time works on her MBA at WSU.