THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF CAPITALISM IS ITS OWN SELF-DESTRUCTION
I was just ruminating alone at home today on an early December evening as 2016 comes to a close and another year winds down. With all this talk of what is going to happen south of the border with a Trump Presidency and an unknown foreign policy, not to mention a gridlocked domestic policy which has severe repercussions in Canada, this got me thinking once again, as a student of Social Work, as to the structural deficiencies within liberal democratic capitalist society.
I keep harkening back to our good ol’ buddy Karl Marx, much maligned as he has always been here in North America, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, which seemed to be a harbinger at the time of better things to come for our planet. Folks were talking openly of a ‘peace benefit’ from having less defence expenditure on all that thermonuclear and conventional military gear. We were all supposedly headed in the direction of the ‘Winds of Change’, as the German Rock/Metal band Scorpions sang of in the early 1990s, when they evoked the heady sense of hope and promise that was sweeping over Europe, especially Germany, in the wake of the fall of the Wall and the subsequent long-awaited reunification of the German people after years of being kept apart by a Wall of cement and ideology.
Marx called it as he saw it back in the days when ‘democracy’, such as it was in the early part of the 1800s in Europe, was, for the most part, a bourgeois rich man’s game designed for ‘commoners’ (i.e. owners of a certain amount of real property, who met the property qualification of their country, enabling them to hold elected office and to vote and participate in the ‘democratic’ process), as opposed to the landed gentry of the old aristocratic families, who had acquired wealth and property hundreds of years previously by means of military conquest and the violent subjugation of the land and its people and the control of the productive resources of said lands such as agriculture, woodcutting and so on.
Marx saw a vast new process of wealth-creation being enabled by the transition from feudalism to industrial, commercial and financial capitalism’s use of the production of consumer goods in factories using labourers and machines. What he saw was not so much the idealized and supposedly virtuous, symbiotically organic, self-sustaining, balanced and equitable process of material exchange which Adam Smith expounded about in his book ‘The Wealth of Nations’, but rather a very perniciously predatory and exploitative system of aggregation and arrogation of temporal wealth into the hands of a very small number of neo-feudal corporate capitalist barons and overlords who, at the time, and even more so today, have rapidly begun to supplant and to integrate themselves into the older feudal aristocratic families of the world so as to form a new, post-modern, post-industrial plutocratic neo-feudal corporate-based elite of bankers, merchants and industrialists.
What Marx foresaw was a society whereby the production and consumption of consumer goods and services on a mass scale was not so much going to be accomplished so as to render any great service to humanity, such as was alluded to by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations, when he described the supposedly ‘perfect’ nature of the market mechanism’s ability to satisfy all human wants and needs through a mutually beneficial, equitable, balanced form of economic exchange based on self-interest in the tribally-based context of the production and consumption and exchange of goods which only the producer was capable of producing, and which the consumer was not able to produce and vice versa, hence creating Smith’s much-ballyhooed ‘perfect symbiosis’ of the market based on self-interest, but rather a system of egregious injustice based on the mass production and mass consumption of goods and services primarily as an instrument of wealth creation for the capitalist class, and not as an instrument of fulfillment of temporal, much less spiritual needs or wants of humanity.
Where this has led us now in the post-modern, post-industrial world, is precisely another fulfillment of yet another Marxian prophecy from the early 1800s, which has been the diminishment in the importance of men in the productive process of labour and the rise of women as prime movers of society in the information age where logical reasoning, speaking, convincing, persuading, management of data and administration of information and facts has become far more important in Western society than the physical labour which men traditionally have supplied in the industrial manufacturing workforce, much of which has now been shipped overseas or automated, thereby fulfilling the Marxian prophecy of yore.
Where all this is leading is anybody’s guess, but I can tell you one thing. Capitalism is based upon the maximization of the production and consumption of goods and services, hence the maximization of temporal and pecuniary gain and benefit for the owners of the means of production, and not to be ignored, the minimization of cost, at all costs. If you ask any business owner straight up what their biggest ‘cost’ is, that is to say, ’liability’, they will likely tell you, apart from all the rhetoric about ‘our people are our biggest asset’, and the personnel department being re-branded as ‘Human Resources’, they will more often than not tell you straight up that it is ‘labour.’ Then they will go into a lengthy diatribe about ‘the cost of labour is way too high, payroll taxes are killing business, it’s counter-intuitive to create even one new job, the government makes it so complicated for us, it’s not even worth it, we can’t afford to pay minimum wage, we use family members who volunteer their time in exchange for bartering services, or we pay less than minimum wage under the table, etc.…’
So clearly, labour is not seen by the average business owner as an asset, but rather as a liability, something to be minimized at all costs, and ideally eliminated if at all possible by replacing the pesky human with a machine, which is the ultimate wet dream of every big time capitalist manufacturer, is to have a fully automated production process, with zero labour costs! But this is where the title of this piece comes into play. (Finally!!!) On the other side of the equation, the same capitalist also dreams of maximizing consumption of his widgets which he has mass produced using little or no labour input. So our capitalist denizen needs as many mindless consumers with lots of money as he possibly can attract to buy his product. But where will all those consumers come from, seeing that our afore-mentioned capitalist’s ultimate wet dream is to starve the market, which he swears up and down is the cornerstone of society’s social fabric and the key to having stable families with stable conjugal arrangements and so on, of the crucial purchasing power needed to enable those same consumers to engage in this hagiographied process of maximization of consumption of goods and services, which we all know is going to necessarily lead us all to the ultimate Nirvana of fulfillment based on having ‘mountains oh mountains of things’, as Tracey Chapman sang about on her CD from the late 1980s.
Rather, what this does, and what this is doing increasingly, as unions get busted more and more in the west, and wages are getting dumbed back down to pre-Fordist levels once again from before WWII, and pension plans get eliminated, paid vacations get wiped out, and benefits get chopped, is that the market, such as it is, is increasingly weakened as purchasing power gets siphoned out of it by the billions of dollars in the form of wage cutbacks and job losses, which only weakens the social fabric even more as the market is a human creature, composed of people buying goods and services primarily for their own good, to satisfy their own needs and wants, not to primarily create wealth for the wealthy, but to ideally strengthen their own individual and family’s moral fabric and social security. The shame in all of this is that capitalism, by offshoring so many jobs, and detaching the productive process from the market in which consumption occurs, has created a huge ghetto in structural unemployment based on intergenerational population cohorts who are dependent upon government forms of income support programs and charitable organizations to survive, which not only keeps them poor economically, socially, emotionally and spiritually, but also robs society’s social fabric of a crucial link between productive labour and temporal and spiritual sustenance through material consumption of goods and services which are being consumed by the people who produced them in the first place, thereby creating a sort of organic bond between producer and consumer which strengthens the social fabric and which is now sadly lacking in the west, as goods are increasingly produced offshore by over-exploited, under-paid labourers, and purchased by over-worked, under-paid, or structurally-unemployed persons on this side of the world, who have no spiritual or temporal stake in the process of production, but yet are being exhorted even browbeaten by mass media advertising into over-consuming goods for which they increasingly have not the pecuniary wherewithal to purchase, and which is ultimately leading western civilization into an increasingly toxic spiral of neo-feudal style post-industrial and post-modern debt peonage and debt servitude for millions of North American families and individuals, thereby putting the viability and ultimate sustainability of our capitalist, liberal democratic society in jeopardy.
This is why I argue that capitalism’s ultimate goal is its own self-destruction. We cannot continue to live in a world where the social and economic system which governs our day to day lives is so utterly ruthless and de-humanized that its ultimate goal is to eliminate the human element virtually completely from the productive process through he minimization of the cost of labour and the continued perception of productive labour as liabilities as opposed to assets, and the converse perception of humans as ‘consumers’, whose principle goal and utility or purpose in life is to mindlessly maximize the consumption of goods and services so as to maximize economic gain for management. Both sides of the equation are soulless, de-sacralised and de-sanctified. No wonder there is an epidemic of obesity, addictions, atheism, mental health problems, and domestic abuse. Our elites perceive us as mindless vessels into which as much agro-industrial comestibles can be shoveled as possible, not to mention porn, gambling, alcohol, tobacco, and illicit narcotics. No wonder so many of us are committing suicide and losing hope. But yet, we have to ‘kick start the economy’ and ‘get people spending again’ if our society is supposedly going to be ‘successful’ again.
I feel as if capitalism is like an alligator or crocodile which, as soon as it gives birth to its progeny, it immediately attempts to eat them alive. This is similar to the market mechanism, which, like I described, seems to want to continually self-destruct and eat itself alive by trying to pay as little as possible into the market in wages to stimulate demand, yet continuing to flood the supply side of the equation with mass-produced goods using cheap labour.
This was demonstrably proven to be the biggest source of the capitalist based market’s structural weakness between the advent of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th century and early 19th century, and the end of WWII, when unions finally were able to convince a sizable number of employers, using strike action, and a famous capitalist’s own arguments (Henry Ford’s idea of paying workers enough so that they could actually buy what they were producing, which was an unheard of innovation in his day and faced significant ideological obstacles to it implementation), to implement the Fordist wage scale.
Well, I’ve said enough. Don’t know if it will change anything or anyone, but I got it off my chest.
Merry Christmas and God bless you.