02 November 2008

The road away from Serfdom

Sunday, November 02, 2008


John McCain's real problem is that if it is announced on Tuesday that he has won the election for the presidency of the United States, nobody will believe it.

Every indicator - including popular sentiment worldwide - is against him.

The huge crowds - some standing in the rain to listen to Barack Obama; the millions of poor people's dollars donated to the Obama campaign, the hundreds of thousands of volunteers for Obama, the hundreds of songs written for Obama, the number of early voters who say they have voted for Obama, and finally, the public opinion polls have embedded into the consciousness of the world the idea that Barack Obama cannot lose this election if it is conducted fairly.

The world is suspicious of John McCain and his confederates.
They, led by Rove, Cheney and Bush have so discredited the US electoral system, have so reduced US credibility over the world, that nobody really believes anything they say.

And it isn't that they are simply unbelievable, untrustworthy and full of it, they and McCain and Palin are also viewed as socially backward and behind the times, technologically advanced but culturally primitive -unrepresentative of what the world believes the real America to be.

In a world where Liberal usually means right of centre, non-Americans are astonished to hear "Liberal' launched as a cuss-word by people who believe that the world was created in seven days and that dinosaurs and humans once walked the earth at the same time.

A few days ago it was announced that Volkswagen had overtaken Exxon-Mobil as the world's most highly valued company. In a world where 'socialism' is an even more outrageous insult than 'liberal', it is startling to contemplate the fact that Volkswagen is a product of the post-war British Army of the Rhine directed by the 1945 British government of Clement Atlee- a bunch of socialist commissars who reinvented Hitler's 'People's Car' and put it on the road.

It was these same socialists who were responsible for civilising industrial relations in Germany by inventing the idea of Co-Determination, a system where the worker participates at every executive level of the German corporation and worker directors sit on corporate boards.

Co-Determination is an idea which has been so successful that it has transformed European social relations and flowered into the adoption of an EU social agenda - aimed at full employment and a more inclusive, participatory society. On December 9, 1989, the member states, with the historically ironic exception of the United Kingdom, adopted a declaration constituting the Community Charter of the Fundamental Social Rights of Workers.

Among the areas regulated in this charter are such matters as employment and remuneration, improvement of living and working conditions, social protection, freedom of association, collective bargaining, equal treatment of men and women, industrial health, the protection of children, elderly and disabled persons; and information, consultation and participation of workers in decision-making. Most of these principles are still, in the United States, subjects of bitter dispute.

A couple of weeks ago, President Bush, in a piteous appeal for a return to the wild, begged his fellow world leaders not to abandon the principles of laissez-faire when they come to remake the world in the aftermath of the current economic meltdown and the almost inevitable social catastrophe to follow.

The next president of the United States will need to come to terms with a world which no longer works according to American principles and rules. Free trade, globalisation, and the ideas behind the multilateral agreement on investment are obsolete.

This time, as in every crisis of capitalism, the pundits are dashing to the Internet and the libraries to reread Karl Marx.
Marx was not a sentimentalist. He hated neither capitalism nor capitalists. They were objective realities and functioned according to certain principles. Capitalism was doomed to fail because of its fundamental internal contradictions - not because of the greed of its practitioners.

These contradictions include the antagonism between the social, collective nature of production on the one hand, and private ownership of the means of production on the other; and the antagonism between the world market and the limitations of the nation state. Capitalism is based on production for profit and not for social need. The working class creates new value but receives only a portion of that new value back as wages.

The capitalists take the rest - the surplus. As a result, the working class collectively cannot afford to buy back all the goods it produces. Capitalism destroys its own markets by pauperising its workers and by over-production. Marx predicted globalisation and the worldwide effects we now experience.

The opponents of socialism, the proponents of laissez-faire, tend to believe like Margaret Thatcher that "There is no such thing as society" and like Ronald Reagan that "Government is not the answer, Government is the problem." The ultra-capitalists and globalisers abhor what they call "the Nanny State" - the welfare state that attempts to guarantee a basic level of civilised existence for all.

In FA Hayek's "Road to Serfdom?" the problem is stated: "In place of individual liberty, socialism offers security. It promises protection from personal economic necessities and restraints, and an equality of economic well-being." Hayek was not a socialist.

The main architect of the latest disaster, Alan Greenspan, has proclaimed himself confounded by the turn of events. He had a set of rules which he says had always worked. Until now! He cannot understand the disaster over which he presided.

Greenspan is a disciple of Ayn Rand, one of recent history's most eminent false prophets. Rand's theory - so-called 'Objectivism' - holds that human beings must rationally be selfish, putting individual self-interest first. She therefore rejects the ethical doctrine of altruism - a moral obligation to live not only for one's self but for the sake of others. Since Rand took millions of words to define her philosophy, any summary of it is perforce crude. I do not think, however, that I have misrepresented her, or Hayek, or Greenspan, or Thatcher or Reagan or the millions of others to whom freedom is a purely personal attribute and life is every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost.

Some others of us think that none of us is free if any of us is unfree. The fascists believe that any sense of duty outside of self is a fetter, restricting real freedom. We believe that only by our mutual recognition of all our humanity are we human, and that our civilisation and survival depend on that. We are all in the same boat and on the same journey.

Individual liberty clearly means different things to different people. The International Republican Institute, headed by John McCain, no doubt believes that the people of Haiti are free, and free to starve to death, while the people of Cuba are enslaved by socialism, free education and the best health services in the world.

The IRI was one of the prime movers in usurping Haitian sovereignty to get rid of Jean Bertrand Aristide whom they consider a serious threat to real democracy as he was intent on building another socialist/welfare state alongside Cuba.


The Gleaner on Wednesday betrayed the essentially parasitical view of imperial capitalism, when it headlined a soiree held at the Gleaner with the admonition "Look away from the USA", and reported that a number of academics and a (now obligatory) theologian were urging the government to seek financial aid from world powers other than the USA.

On Sunday last Mr Edward Seaga similarly gave his considered and equally obtuse opinion that Jamaica stood to gain nothing from either Obama or McCain.

I am not at all sure when or whether Jamaica has ever got any useful financial assistance from abroad, except in remittances sent by our own emigrants. What we have got is massive loans which have gone to pay for SUVs, foreign travel, air-conditioned garrison-townhouses and expensive white elephants such as Mr Seaga's redevelopment of downtown Kingston and the 'Doomsday Highway'. The Kingston redevelopment tore the heart out of our once fairly elegant and vibrant capital city transforming it into a tawdry, lawless, toxic disaster. The 'Doomsday Highway' is the best means yet devised for separating Jamaicans from their hard-earned pensions. Bauxite development destroyed our countryside and its communities, sending our farmers fleeing to languish on the street-corners of Birmingham and the Bronx and leaving thousands of children fatherless, hungry, illiterate and ripe for exploitation by pimps and gunmen and doomed to be brutalised, jailed or hanged for our criminal neglect.

Now, courtesy of Russian oligarchs and presidentially pardoned Swiss billionaires, we are to metastasise our bauxite disaster. This phase is really something destined to sterilise the land, destroy the landscape, the water supplies, and the culture, and to send even more peasants into exile and even more children into lives of crime and social degradation.

Additionally, by burning coal the new bauxite miracle will complete the destruction of our air quality as it destroys our water quality. In the 1960s the graffiti had it that birth control was "a plan to kill Negro". Little did the artists know about bauxite.

Now that the capitalists have established that the state - that is, us, we, the people - are the benefactors of last resort, it is time that we too discovered that truth. The billions we are spending to rescue banks and capitalists would be more efficiently and cost-effectively spent on rescuing our communities. If Obama becomes president, that is a discovery his constituents are likely to make sooner rather than later. In fact, some are already making it, demanding fundamental change and a new economic order.

The decay of imperial capitalism is bound to produce unforeseen byproducts, some beneficial, some toxic. Those who will survive need to be able to quickly choose between them.

When Jesus of Nazareth chased the moneychangers from the temple in Jerusalem he knew what he was doing. Yet, today, every Christian yearns to become a moneychanger.

Few of us recognise that our salvation is in our hands and in our lands.

But hunger is a great teacher.

Copyright©2008 John Maxwell


Michael M said...

"Greenspan is a disciple of Ayn Rand, one of recent history's most eminent false prophets."

On the contrary, Greenspan was, not is, a disciple of Ayn Rand. He abandoned her ideas on taking the helm of the Federal Reserve to manage it rather than to eliminate it. And what is false about Rand's prophecy that mixing government force with the free market is a recipe for disasters like the one we are now experiencing?

Your definition of "capitalism" is so all encompassing it has no meaning at all. If you wish to treat the word as contextual, do so, but qualify it then as you flit from context to context. Rand"s capitalism is not Greenspan's or Reagan's or Thatcher's. Hers is defined with one principle with which none of them agreed:

No man may initiate the use of physical force to gain, withhold, or destroy any value created by or acquired in a voluntary exchange by another.

How is that not the politics of freedom for all? And how is it wrong to argue for each man to pursue his own rational self-interest and then to demonstrate that freedom for all is the only politics that fulfills that self-interest? In every political question, there is only one fundamental alternative: freedom or force. Rand's capitalism advocates only freedom and eschews all force for gain (as opposed to force for defense of freedom). She defined "freedom" in the political context as having but one meaning: "the absence of physical coercion" (http://www.aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/freedom.html).

All of the other so-called capitalists have compromised the two -- a compromise Rand equates with the compromise of life with death from which we get only sickness. The litany of disasters you cite were not the product of laissez-faire, but rather achieved by businessmen in collusion with your government. In Rand's capitalism, the government has no benefits to bestow on billionaires. They must earn the right to do what they do to your country one penny at a time.

As Sam Walton well knew, the masses are in command of more wealth in pennies than the billionaires are in dollars. He raised the standard of living of the poor more than all previous government and charitable programs combined, yet died the richest man in America. What moral right would anyone have to begrudge him that wealth. Rand's capitalism benefits the poorest most by taking from the government and giving to them the exclusive right to decide who will be a billionaire. Thus, in the absence of physical coercion, the only way to become one is to offer more value for fewer pennies. That is a very different capitalism from the one that is a misnomer for the politics of today.

FSJL said...

Ah, Randism as the One True Faith. The standard Randroid explanation, too: reality is flawed.