Tuesday, 11 September 2007

It's all about the money

Buddhism: the reverence and worship of the teachings of Gautama Buddha.

Bushism: classic idiosyncratic verbal error committed by the President of the USA.

Marxism: socialist politico-economic theory placing working-class proletariat at the heart of the welfare of society as a whole.

So, if someone asks you to define Capitalism, where would you start? is it the reverence of capital? in a way, yes. is it an error? largely, no (debatable thought that is...). is it a politico-economic theory placing the pursuit of profit at the heart of everything? undoubtedly, yes.

Capital, and the power it brings, has largely dominated the global social and political landscape since the 2nd world war, shaping conflict, trans-national co-operation, social trends and fiscal policy. Of course we've experienced positive outcomes from the placing of capital at the centre of political and social theory - a conspicuous example would be the collapse of communist states and subsequent spread of democracy in the European Eastern bloc circa 1989 - but at what price?

A somewhat sinister side to the unfettered monetarist leanings of many corporations and other institutions has long been spoken of - just think back to Michael Moore's classic documentary Roger and Me, or the somewhat more recent contributions to the growing literature on the adverse effects of the pursuit of profit, namely Joel Bakan's The Corporation or Naomi Klein's No Logo. These are just a few of the many authors, journalists, film-makers and polemicists raising awareness of the often terrible human consequences of relentless pursuit of capital growth. And the latest slant on the determined drive towards profitability comes in an intriguing critique of governmental policy by Naomi Klein.

In her just-published book The Shock Doctrine, serialised in part in recent editions of the Guardian, Klein argues that disaster, whether natural or otherwise, is being used as the latest driver to economic growth in what she terms 'disaster capitalism.' She illustrates her theory by demonstrating how free-marketeers opportunistically capitalise (pun very much intended) on catastrophic events by stripping public infrastructure, selling off what's left, and blatantly profiteering from the victims of said disaster in ways that would surely make even Milton Freedman blanch. A seeming departure from laissez-faire market-driven economic theory, disaster capitalism is evident wherever floods, war, terrorism or a combination thereof strike - stoked by the philosophy that private enterprise has a right to profit from people's misery, we are seeing profit-driven corporations make hay while the sun burns thousands of ordinary folk on the ground.

This is not to say that private enterprise has no role to play in the rebuilding of infrastructure or the recovery phase following disaster. However, when will our political leaders wake up to the fact that people don't take kindly to being ripped off at the precise moment their lives have been turned upside down? If the chilling, short-sighted drive towards unmitigated profit, at any expense, continues, it is hard to envisage such a point ever arriving.


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