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Can capitalism be tamed?

Capital nyseCHRIS OVERLAND

ADELAIDE - Bernard Corden’s splendid article, 'A Question of Balance', neatly describes the situation the Western world is now in and how we got here.

Neo-liberal capitalism is, in many respects, the reaction of the propertied classes against the sometimes unduly restrictive nostrums of democratic socialism that emerged in its full form in the aftermath of World War II.

As a philosophy, it is based upon the false premise that everyone can be rich if only they work hard enough.

As we now know, some people do indeed become very rich, but they achieve this on the backs of the great majority of people who, no matter how hard they strive, will never join the ranks of the wealthy.

Capital globeThe central illusion that everyone can be rich persists because of a number of factors.

One is its constant and relentless reinforcement in the mainstream conservative media.

Then there is the fact that many people have been lifted out of poverty in the developing world as capitalism seeks out the most advantageous places to exploit and establish new markets.

But perhaps the greatest contribution to the myth is provided by the ignorance and credulity of far too many people who want to believe it is true.

The current Covid pandemic has revealed the fragility and falsity of the neo-liberal fantasy.

I believe this will accelerate neo-liberalism’s eventual collapse under the weight of the financial profligacy and over consumption of resources that it demands to keep this growth-based Ponzi scheme from collapsing.

Capital cartoonThis is relevant to Papua New Guinea because in many respects PNG is an exemplar of a post-Cold War developing state.

Being resource rich it is being plundered by international capitalists as they strip its resources and divert the proceeds into tax havens across the globe.

But the vast bulk of its people are clearly not sharing in this generation of wealth, far from it.

A combination of ignorance, naivety, greedy elites and incompetent and corrupt governance ensures that a country like PNG is rich pickings for the unscrupulous rulers of the world's great corporations.

As we now understand, the great corporations answer to no government for their actions and use vast wealth to either buy or bludgeon the political class into doing their bidding.

So here we are, beset on all sides by problems of our own making yet seemingly unable to do anything about them.

The so-called ‘woke left’ have yet to understand the underlying problem let alone formulate a coherent response.

Instead, the left obsesses about identity politics whereby the needs and aspirations of often tiny minorities assume significance out all proportion to their real social or economic importance.

Capitalism tamedFor the capitalist and managerial classes, this is a helpful diversion from the main problem which is the underlying socio-economic structure or, put another way, from how the 'rules of the game' are loaded in their favour.

The original Communists, despite their many faults and follies, at least understood that the 'rules of the game' were loaded against the masses.

Unless and until the left can bring forth, firstly, a coherent critique of neo-liberalism and, secondly, an equally coherent alternative, we will all blunder onwards towards our collective ruin.

There are alternatives to neo-liberalism which exist, notably in the social democracy of the Scandinavian states and parts of Europe.

They are not flawless but they are certainly more measured, more stable and more humane than what we see in the USA in particular.

The path to moderation does not require the total repudiation of capitalism, merely its taming and restraint to ensure it works for the good of the many, not the few.

Right now, it is very hard to see even this very modest aim being sensibly articulated let alone achieved.

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