Are we seeing the demise of capitalism?

Earth from spaceYou know, when I was rather younger than I am now, I remember my mother, who had nine children, declaring that she wouldn’t want to bring up a child in these dreadful times. That was in the seventies, coming from a woman who married in the Great Depression, who lived with five small children in Amsterdam in WW2 (the youngest was born in 1940), who then packed up and moved to Australia in 1955 to start all over again. Wow, I thought. You cannot be serious.

But now? I think I’m saying the same thing. Maybe I’m shell shocked from the senseless murder of two innocent people in a coffee shop in Sydney, gunned down by an Islamist nut case who should never have been allowed to be in public. Or maybe it was the murder of one hundred and thirty kids at a school in Pakistan, slaughtered by the Taliban in the name of Allah. Or maybe it’s the murder of eight children, stabbed by a woman in Cairns for reasons as yet unknown.

There’s plenty of discussion going around about those events and I’m not going to add to it. I think those matters are expressions of a deeper malaise.  When people give up hope, when fairness seems to be for everybody else, terrible things can happen.

I wrote the following piece before the events at Martin Place, Pakistan and Cairns. It’s about a much more fundamental matter – the demise of the capitalist system.

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There are times when I despair. This is one of them. One of those days when I’ve seen one story too many of unthinking greed, or I’ve walked along a supermarket aisle filled to overflowing with cheap consumer crap that nobody cares about. Merry Christmas, everybody. Happy holidays. Bah humbug.

I don’t want to trot out the age card. Yes, things were different when I was a girl, but that’s not the point. We can’t do anything about where we came from, but we sure as hell should be thinking about where we’re headed.

Corporate greed is at an all time high. The 1% of the rich are richer, the rest of us are poorer. Twelve year old kids with toy guns are shot, while the greedy bankers on Wall Street who caused the global financial crisis get off scot free. The last rhinos and elephants and tigers and lions in the wild are worth literally millions because of an absurd trade in traditional medicine. Here’s an idea of what ivory is worth, and why poor poachers poach. Again, it’s all about wealth.

We argue endlessly about global warming and melting ice caps, increasing sea ice, and whether the science is right or wrong. I don’t really want to argue a case here, simply to say that scientists have vested interests, computer models are devised from human brains, a few hundred years worth of reliable data isn’t a lot, and we really don’t understand weather as well as we’d like to think we do. I’ll simply say that yes, the climate is changing. It tends to do that. Why do we think we can stop that from happening by charging people for the amount of carbon in the atmosphere?

Why don’t we focus our efforts on things we CAN change? That’s not going to be the sun. It will do what it always has, regardless of what happens on our little blue planet.

  • We CAN do something about our oceans. We can clean them up, stop junk ending up in the sea. We can stop the over-fishing.
  • We can encourage people to use solar power, and use the power households generate to bolster the power grid. We can subsidise solar power, making it attainable for the less well-off, make it compulsory for all new houses, which will also drive down the costs.
  • We can stop global corporations from digging up our best arable land for coal. We can stop companies using fracking techniques to mine gas. Here’s a story about gas bubbles in an Australian river – right next to a fracking claim. Needless to say, the cover-up suggested the bubbles were “natural”. Tell that to the farmers who’ve lived next to the Condamine River for four generations. Especially in the driest continent, Australia can’t afford to have its underground water supplies ruined.
  • We can stop buying into the stupid commercialism of Christmas, Easter, Halloween, Valentines Day, Mothers Day, Fathers Day and the rest.
  • We can recycle, reuse – maybe even fix things instead of taking them to land fill.
  • We can pay people a decent living wage and provide good health care. We can force the big companies to play fair, maybe even put a cap on executive pay, or take some of these thieves to court. Oh – and get them to pay tax.

I can’t help but think the reason we don’t do these things is because of vested interests. Power companies don’t want cheap power. Oil companies don’t want solar powered cars. Coal miners don’t want China to stop creating a mountain of consumer crap. And they don’t care about the little people doing their best to live their lives. And they don’t seem to care about the long term damage they do to our planet. It’s all about the almighty dollar and the here and now.

Popular opinion does have a voice. This old man was forced off his land. There was a public campaign, an outcry, and this was the result.

The uber wealthy have had it good for too long. The Walton Family (owners of Walmart) are obscenely rich, yet their company doesn’t pay its employees a living wage.

All this and I haven’t mentioned ISIS or Ebola.

Something’s going to give, people. Historically when the upper echelons grow fat at the expense of everybody else and the environment they live in, the mob gets angry. Here’s what one of those high fliers who has seen the writing on the wall, had to say. And if (when) it happens, as it did in Russia in 1917 and in France in 1789, it isn’t going to be pretty.

What everybody has to think about, and realise, is that this is the only planet we’ve got.

I’ll leave you with this, Carl Sagan’s wonderful piece in his epic Cosmos series from the eighties, the pale blue dot.

4 thoughts on “Are we seeing the demise of capitalism?

  1. E J Frost

    Excellent post, Greta, even if it made me cry.

    I think that article by Nick Hanauer is prescient. And he’s right about the sudden momentum – one day one fellow sets himself on fire, then its a thousand people marching, and then the country is burning. Social media has helped us know about the injustice, inequality and horror going on around the world. It’s opened our eyes to information we don’t get elsewhere – but it has also helped spread the horror on a global scale. Nowhere feels safe. Nowhere *is* safe. Anywhere is the next flash-point. The next shooting. The next tsunami. That’s the world we’re leaving to our children, and it makes me cry.

    1. Greta Post author

      The spread of information has become a double edged sword. But it should be fine if there was some level of equality in the world. There isn’t. And as Julia said, that’s why people turn to fanaticism, religion and the like, looking for answers that don’t exist. I’m sorry I made you cry – but if it’s any consolation, you’re not alone.

  2. Julia Barrett

    There are times when I feel we live in the end of times, and then I think to myself– how narcissistic. Yet… I’m so sorry for all of you there. Such awful events. Once upon a time terrible things happened but everyone everywhere didn’t know about them. Now we do. It saps our spirits.
    People everywhere feel overwhelmed and alienated, lost. They are searching for certainty, which doesn’t exist, and so they fall prey to fundamentalism, totalitarianism, religious and political extremism. I worry about what kind of world we are leaving to our descendants – and I’m not talking about global warming.

    1. Greta van der Rol

      The fact we learn about the awful things that happen in the world has pros and cons. It’s much harder to fool people these days, with so many sources of real news. Unlike (say) Nazi Germany, or Russia, where you were told what the hierarchy wanted you to know.

      Yes, they do. And like you, I worry what we’re leaving for the future.

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