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Capitalism: can we give it back?

By Loz Lawrey

Human beings are self-aware. We can dream. We can imagine. We can visualise. We can turn thought into action. Great Apes that we are, we have the capacity to examine and assess our lives as we live them and the societies we create.

We observe, draw conclusions from our own perceptions and adjust our behaviours in ways that enhance our lived experience. Onwards and upwards we go!

At least, that is our potential … It’s a shame that greed, politics, power games and our natural inertia tend to corrupt society’s potential to provide each one of us with a chance to evolve and thrive.

As individuals and collectively as a species, what do we seek?

There’s no doubt that survival always tops the list. Survival, above all else, is our primary instinct, and to meet its demands we need a reliable supply of food, clothing and shelter. These days, to satisfy those requirements, we need money.

Our capitalist system, so staunchly championed by both sides of politics, is completely dependent upon our society’s shared recognition and acceptance of currency as a repository of value and medium of exchange.

Our Australian Dollar is a unit of agreed value as well as a useful means of payment or recompense for the provision of goods and services. We use money to get stuff we need, and other stuff we just … want.

We work, we get paid, we spend. Money is capital, the basic building block of capitalism. We have allowed it to become a necessity of life.

Some of us want just enough to provide for a “good life” (however we define that) for ourselves and our families. Others want obscene amounts, more than any one family could possibly spend in one lifetime. Most of us just want to survive.

And yet, while money is the building block of capitalism, the mortar that really holds the temple together is our shared agreement to, and acknowledgment of, the perceived “value” of money.

We are individuals and citizens of global nations. Capitalism is our model, the system of trade and commerce into which we’re born. We know no other system and our very concept of survival is framed by this capitalist paradigm.

At the same time, the increasing social and economic inequality that capitalism entrenches within global societies tells us that it is a flawed and corrupted system.

Capitalism does not serve us all equally. Left unchecked, it will always deliver great wealth for some, comfortable survival for others and misery for many.

Money itself, or currency, is not the problem. The problem lies in our surrender to capitalism’s “free market”.

One has to wonder how humans with the ability to think agreed to hand over the authority to rule our lives to such an imaginary construct. The “free market”, with its connotation of liberty and freedom is surely one of the most deceptive weasel terms ever dreamt up by the forces of evil.

The “free market” is a pirates’ paradise where global corporations and wealthy interests wield the power to influence governments and plunder the societies those governments were elected to serve.

The “free market” leaves whole populations of workers and welfare recipients behind, ground underfoot, crushed by a neoliberal agenda which values money more than people.

Governments that abdicate their responsibility to regulate our market economy display a religious zealotry, an obsession with ideology and belief. They ignore  evidence, research, facts, statistics and reality itself. They inhabit a mental fairyland, far removed from the experiences and concerns of we, the common people, and are unfit to govern.

If capitalism is ever to work for the benefit of everyone, it requires regulation: a return to the very “red and green tape” that lazy, self-entitled conservative politicians hate so much and work so hard to wind back.

There’s no doubt that capitalism requires our collective consent to even exist. Without our acceptance and endorsement of the perceived value of all global currencies, money would be worthless. Mere printed paper.

In fact, the very state, the condition of our world today requires our consent. Our messed-up world reflects us and the choices we make. We, the Great Apes (now with computers!), are the co-authors of our own story. We are all actors in a drama of our own making. War? Peace? Love? Hate? Generosity? Cruelty? Capitalism? We own them all.

As individuals, we may agree or disagree with the state of the world and the current organisation of our global society. Yet everything that happens on Planet Earth (other than natural disasters) is authorised by our tacit collective agreement. By our choices. By what we do.

When we elect a government, we give consent to the policies it will implement, which is why democracy demands informed participation from all of us. If we elect representatives who disregard the public interest, then we can expect decisions that are ultimately abusive towards large sectors of our community.

A government which treats refugees inhumanely in offshore gulags, which gives tax cuts to big business while cutting social security support for our most disadvantaged, reveals itself to be sociopathic in its approach and either ignorant or dismissive of the concept of the common good.

Without an ongoing desire to understand the people and their priorities, without active policies of empathy and inclusion for all, without a guileless and visionary leader, no government can ever govern fairly.

A government that wants to raise the age at which citizens can access the Age Pension (because, well … we can’t afford to get old anymore, can we?) is out of touch with the reality of people’s lives. Many tradespeople and manual workers over 60 already struggle with physical aches and pains from work and overwork. Retiring at 65 is tough enough. Changing the pension age to 67 is cruelty, pure and simple. Only fat cats could dream this stuff up.

A government which undermines its own working population by enabling a two-tiered economy of underemployed local workers and underpaid “visitors” (backpackers, 457 visa holders) no longer serves the voters who elected it. Such a government is owned by wealthy vested interests.

Yes. We, the people, consent to this stuff, and every three years we are given an opportunity to withdraw our consent by voting lousy governments out. When we do, however, the all-encompassing paradigm of capitalism still rules. The cult of capitalism continues to prevail and the temple of its predator priests will continue to stand.

A new incoming, slightly less bad, slightly more progressive government will also worship at the temple of the money-lenders. Like all incumbent governments, they will collude with the media to enact, both at home and on the global stage, our daily bread-and-circuses parody of either “good, responsible government” or “trouble at mill”, whichever serves the agenda of the day.

Conservative of progressive, whichever party holds office will continue to support our system of consumer capitalism, which is currently killing off the very environment that sustains life on this planet while condemning millions of humans to a miserable existence.

All of which begs the question: as citizens, could we withdraw our consent from not just an unsatisfactory government, but from capitalism itself?

Does our power begin and end at the ballot box? Could we somehow collectively change the paradigm globally? Is there a better way?

It seems unthinkable … I mean, we’d all have to communicate and … err … agree on a new way forward.

It’s a hard thing to imagine in our world, where capitalism is a “given”, a system we’re all born into it. Like all “isms”, capitalism is a human construct. It’s a mental collective agreement we’ve all made, a plane of shared consciousness we agree to stand on together … what if we all decided to step off?

Capitalism has nothing to do with nature, with nurture, with life, the spirit, the essence of our humanity. It’s simply a set of rules we’ve made to give chaos and anarchy some semblance of order.

If only it worked for all of us, equally.

Can we fix it? Or just … give it back?

17 comments

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  1. Andrew J. Smith

    It would help if key unions actively stood up for workers’ rights whether local or international. One sees too many of the ‘culturally specific’ or ‘pale and male’ left and/or unions having the ‘shared values’ of the LNP, PHON and Howard et al.

  2. Vikingduk

    Very enjoyable read, thanks Loz. We may have no choice in the matter of fixing or giving back. Until more of us realise we are or need to be responsible and to know we are responsible, decision making humans.

    Let’s assume Mother Nature, the universe are becoming totally pissed off with human destruction of this glorious paradise we call earth. Assume the warnings become more strident, more demanding, increasingly stronger, wilder, more frequent. Assume these warnings rapidly increase in ferocity and frequency to such an extent that all emergency services are totally overloaded, that large parts of the grid have been destroyed, no food in supermarkets, a complete breakdown of this artificial construct we live.

    Chaos unleashed, the four horsemen running free.

    The great problem with capitalism is that it requires constant growth, constant greed and living in a finite system this not possible. As greed grows, demanding more and more money, that greed slowly but surely will bring about less consumers with excess money to continue consuming. Apparently, the world’s 500 richest people added to their wealth by around 1 trillion dollars this year.

    Strangely enough the four horsemen of the apocalypse are sitting patiently in a park in Bruges, Begium.

  3. Bern pero

    Good article but why use chaos and anarchy together . Ain’t the same !!

  4. Phil

    Writing like this is so necessary – it sows the seeds of dissent which is the harbinger of change. For the seeds to germinate and take root they need to fall on fertile ground like here at the AIMN.

    Perhaps the alarming rise of obesity, of opioid and other drug abuse, the spread of mental health diseases, of domestic violence and depression in societies that serve the capitalist system is evidence of the cognitive dissonance the capitalist system has produced – enough stuff is never enough – enough wealth is never enough. Yet only the very few can have what the system claims is available to all if they just work harder and continue to tick ‘yes’ to neoliberalism at the polling booth.

    But people also see what capitalism has done to the natural systems on which they rely for their very existence – failing, flailing and dying before their eyes like oceans full of plastics and nanoparticles, and species extinctions – the cognitive dissonance of unfettered capitalism rules supreme.

  5. Harry

    A very incisive article. Of course it suits the elites to encourage as many of us as possible to disengage with politics and the minutiae of politics results in many doing just that and sink into apathy. Not just in Oz but in many countries the elites dominate discourse and they relentlessly push their self-centred view of the world.

    Many of us are also convinced by the banksters and neoliberal ideologues that There Is No Alternative (TINA) to continued budget cuts even though they damage us all due to the success of the “governments are similar to a household in their spending limitations” mantra.

    But there are signs that all the BS is being questioned.

  6. Ken Butler

    About two years ago I came to the realisation that where once there were three entities to political society, namely, corporatocracy (capitalism in this article), parliament, and the people, now there are only two, namely, the corporatocracy (which owns the parliament) and the people who are getting screwed.

    Also, although the people may seem powerless to react effectively, Mother Nature is not. She has a cavalry of horsemen.

  7. Ted Jackson

    Great read Loz. Unfortunately writing as good as this is not recognised and distributed more widely. I will do my bit and hit the ‘share’ button but I can see so many acquaintances eyes just glaze over at ‘another political rant’ What will it take for people to realise the giant hole that society is digging for itself? I swear, one day I am going to stand on the roof of my wagon, in the city and start shouting at people .. and yes I know how that will end ..
    Everyone wants a change but no one knows what to change to. One things for sure, we won’t get change if we keep doing the same things.
    I would encourage people to at least have a look at a ‘change’ at a developing level: https://newdemocracyparty.org.au/index.php

  8. townsvilleblog

    Capitalism does not have to be given back, it needs to be regulated by federal laws to make it fairer for the Australian community. For example the 700 foreign corporations operating within Australia who take tens of billions of dollars in income out of the country need to be subject to a federal law which states that they must pay a fair share of taxation on their huge incomes, instead of the current situation where they pay nothing, not one red cent. Also federal laws need to be strengthened on consumer rights, and fair trading, these laws are simple enough to legislate, all that is missing is the political will. Perhaps the corporations will threaten to pull out of Australia, imagine no more ‘Coka – Cola, there are plenty of substitutes around, but they would spend millions on a PR campaign trying to convince the public that they should not pay tax, and sadly some of the public would fall for the deceit.

    Secondly we need a political party with enough backbone to legislate the laws we need to regulate capitalism, many years ago the ALP had such a backbone, but alas it has now fallen to the dominant Right wing faction who are as weak as water on these matters, and the modern Left faction don’t seem to know why they exist anymore, such is the domination by the right wing faction.

  9. townsvilleblog

    https://newdemocracyparty.org.au/about.php This party has most of the right ideas, I have signed up and urge all true blue Australians to do likewise, if we are ever going to get a fair go a new political force seems the only way that it will happen.

  10. Vikingduk

    Out of chaos comes anarchy. As the rule of law collapses so does society. When traditional beliefs are shown for the bullshit they are, when there is seemingly no hope anywhere, we become beasts of survival at any cost. The construct of society ends, hate and greed rule completely.

    Is this possible scenario changeable? Can we learn new ways of communicating honestly with each other? Can we forgo ego and work together cooperatively? Work together for the benefit of all? Appreciate and respect this beautiful place? Can we change our wicked ways? How many see a need to?

    The rot has well and truly set in, I suspect Mother Nature will provide the answers to the corruption that infests every part of our lives, the political situation, all of the man made constructs of this society will be blown away, seen for the distraction, the meaningless this bullshit clouds our minds with.

    Make Art
    Not War . . . Shepard Farey

  11. Harry

    townsvilleblog:

    I agree its best to tame and control capitalism so that it provides benefits for all of us rather than the disproportionate few – by means of both regulation and taxes. The power of the state, that so many “progressives” allege has been diminished by globalisation, can and should be reasserted. Iceland is a good example where this has been done with marked benefits for the majority of its citizens.

    There have been some tentative signs that the ALP is finding its spine (notably Wayne Swan on seriously tackling unemployment) but the party is still infected by neoliberal thinking (notably Chris Bowen).

  12. Jack Russell

    Yes, give it back, marked Return To Sender: Unsolicited Mail.

  13. flogga

    I would disagree with your assertion that “changing the pension age to 67 is cruelty, pure and simple”. In 2023 when the pensionable age is raised to 67, many people will have been contributing to superannuation for 31 years, and a vast majority for a large part of that time – so this should not inhibit people’s ability to retire at 65 (or even before then) and to generate a living income until such time as they qualify for the age pension. Even $200k (a realistic super balance expectation for lower income earners after 30+ years of contributing) should generate an annual tax free superannuation pension of $40k for 6 or even 7 years. There will be people for whom this is not their reality, particularly women, but as a policy decision it’s not really about expecting people to work longer, but rather for people to self fund with their super for at least some of their retirement years.

  14. Glenn Barry

    I’ve been seeing the price/value absurdity that we now inhabit as derivative – most likely origin that I can discern is Genesis 1:26 and the granting of dominion.
    With dominion came the incorrect value system and the false sense of human superiority.

    I don’t actually give the Abrahamic religions much credit for originality, not for this either as most of their content is appropriated or plagiarised from other sources – it does however yield some interesting observations.

    That religious influence has held a position of much greater than deserved influence for the last several millennia – bringing with it, those original value systems.

    Slavery is the direct result of a belief whereby the complete subordination and exploitation of one person for the sole benefit of another was acceptable, based upon a false belief of superiority. That was a monetised trade.

    Nowadays we have not only some lifeforms, but entire ecosystems, measured purely by their monetary value, called industries. Their value(s) calculated as if left intact versus destroyed and exploited on a one time basis.

    Nothing about the thinking and calculation underpinning that value system is correct, just like the free market fanaticism, it assigns value(s) and right, or, denies value(s) and rights according to an entitlement and a superiority which has no basis in fact whatsoever.
    Right(s) in this circumstance is the right to even exist in the case of life forms being harvested to extinction or their ecosystems annihilated.

    The failure of the above system of thought isn’t really a difficult phenomenon to refute, given that the entirety of it’s assumptions are basically fallacious, that renders the whole system of though unprovable.

  15. Jack Russell

    I agree Glenn, and have been told many times to quit harping on it by those who do handsomly from it …. but to get to the point … yes, our entire system rests on the genesis of the dominion concept.

    Religion is all about getting you to pull the wool over your own eyes, and it’s worked a treat.

  16. Glenn Barry

    I suppose that leaves us with an approaching watershed – the continued existence of humans may depend upon the death of God.

    Whilst the delusion is perpetuated we remain apart from the world fomenting our own demise.

    Kill God, terminating the delusion and become part of the world, if we possess the maturity and humility…

  17. Jack Russell

    Well put Glenn … I think that way too. The evidence is in and the conclusion is indisputable – more people, less sheeple.

    HYN!

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