Can the internet give us better government?
27 February 2023
ADELAIDE – As Phil Fitzpatrick has written (‘Has the internet brought out the worst in us?’), the internet has indeed held up a mirror to us all.
It is hard to like much of what we see.
Greed, exploitation, lies and stupidity abound.
Neo-liberal capitalism is a system lurching into crisis.
The super wealthy have gained control of this system and are confident about their immunity from any attempt to make our societies fairer and more equitable.
They have become very brazen in the pursuit of wealth power and influence.
In the so-called democratic world, we have allowed a largely unelected oligarchy to develop.
“Aristotle warned that oligarchies emerge when the rich hold power and govern only for themselves,” writes Professor Maxwell Cameron in Neoliberal Oligarchy. “And this tendency has been a conspicuous feature of politics under neoliberalism.”
And the outcome? “Globally, the rolling out of neoliberal policies has led to a plethora of harmful socioeconomic consequences, including increased poverty, unemployment, and deterioration of income distribution,” conclude Associate Professor Kathomi Gatwiri and her co-authors in a learned paper on the implications of neo-liberalism for African economies.
The same situation applies in the world's two largest authoritarian regimes, Russia and China, except that in the latter case it is an unelected political elite who are the dominant force in society.
The internet, even in its worst manifestations, has exposed this for all to see, although many people remain resolutely blind to the obvious.
These people prefer instead to live in a dream world where justice, honour and good faith are the hallmarks of all democratic political systems.
In the Australian context, the evil of Robodebt as revealed by the current Royal Commission, is clear evidence of the callous indifference and bad faith of the previous government.
The, by Australian standards, extremely right wing Morrison cabinet blamed the victims of neo-liberalism for their fate and, moreover, set out to punish them for it.
In the USA, the Republican Party is a hot bed of radical evangelical activism bent on depriving people of their rights except when it comes to things that are dear to their hearts, such as an unfettered capacity to make money and the ownership of guns.
The Republicans also wish to subdue ordinary workers by crushing unionism and subsidising or otherwise supporting those who oppress and exploit them.
This is especially so in the case of the poor and dispossessed who, in practice, make up the huge majority of the cannon-fodder required by US neo-liberal capitalism to generate wealth for the already prosperous.
In the context of Papua New Guinea, the neo-liberal mood has been picked up by those who exploit and expropriate the country’s wealth.
They arrive using sweet words and bearing gifts for the various bigman who purport to govern for and on behalf of the people.
This system works so well that a tiny minority waxes fat upon the country's wealth and the great majority of the PNG people are condemned to poverty.
All these revelations the internet reveals constantly, yet we blunder on as if nothing was wrong at all.
Time to wake up people! The current system is rotten to the core while continuing to push the Great Lie that everyone has a chance to become rich if only they work hard enough.
The truth is that most people must remain poor and disempowered to allow the capitalist system to function.
Karl Marx worked this out and explained it in the mid-19th century.
“Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks,” Marx wrote in his best known work, Das Kapital (Capital), published in 1867.
But capitalism was able to adapt fast and far enough, at least in the Western world, to avoid the revolutions that later overthrew the political systems in Russia, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Hungary and other countries, some of which later reverted to the succulent juices of capitalism.
Alas, Communist revolution failed to change things because what they promised was an illusion which could never be achieved.
Now most of the countries that embraced and then repudiated Communism have become facsimiles of the same rampantly exploitative capitalism as prevails in the so-called democratic world.
I still believe that the capitalist system is capable of being renovated and its worst excesses curbed, but this will take tremendous political will.
Right now, even those political parties that know the system is broken are too fearful of entrenched interest groups to undertake the required changes.
So, it seems we must endure some sort of catastrophic system failure before a supine and ignorant public wake up to what has been going on and elect a government with a genuine mandate for reform.
Maybe the internet can serve as the catalyst for this.
We must wait and see.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.