How and Why Is Global Corporate Capitalism Obsolete?

By Richard Clark, OpEdNews, August 28, 2012

Not only are personal ethics and a sense of connection-to-nature extrinsic to global corporate capitalism; in fact, the very idea of a fully developed human consciousness (which would prioritize this connection-to-nature over and above the ever-increased consumption that this sick hyper-production, hyper-consumption system requires) becomes extrinsic as well. In fact it becomes taboo.


Jerry Mander's new book, The Capitalism Papers, has a compelling subtitle: Fatal Flaws of an Obsolete System.

In liberal punditry, the acceptable spectrum of discourse does not permit use of the word capitalism. In the foundation-sponsored non-profit sector, for instance, such talk would be financial suicide. Nor are US trade unions (what's left of them) anti-capitalist. In fact their leaders explicitly claim that their aim is to get capitalism to work better. So, as Mander correctly points out, there seems to be an unspoken consensus: "Global corporate capitalism" -- a human creation -- "occupies a virtually permanent existence -- like a religion or the Pope, it is infallible."

According to Mander, who provides ample statistics to back up his claims, global corporate capitalism is leading inexorably to worldwide social and ecological collapse. Growing numbers of human beings are going hungry and getting sick . . as the world's vital resources are squandered, as pollution mounts, and as weather patterns become ever more destructive.

What lies at the heart of this insanity? It is this: Commanding an implacable and steady increase of top-tier individual and corporate wealth is the core principle of global corporate capitalism. Meanwhile, recognition of any social concern, or relationship-to-the-natural-world, that transcends the goal of increasing capital accumulation for the few, does not occur. Why not? It's because it is extrinsic to the system, and must therefore be ignored.

Four critical problems must then be recognized:

Dependence on growth: Global corporate capitalism relies on limitless growth -- but the natural resources essential to wealth production are finite, i.e. limited. Super-exploitation of resources is exhausting those resources and destroying the ecosystems with which they are associated, thereby jeopardizing human survival as well as that of other species.

Propensity to war: Since the only goal of the power elite is to accumulate (rather than more fairly distribute) wealth, the limited and shrinking resources that are essential to producing that wealth must and will be fought over, and will be owned and controlled by the winners. For this reason, high-tech, super-deadly warfare becomes inevitable.

Intrinsic & growing inequity, and the consequently inevitable disappearance of democracy: Without any constraining outside force or internalized principle of social equity, capital accumulation leads almost exclusively to ever more accumulation by the few, which is to say that ever larger amounts of capital are thereby concentrated in ever fewer hands. Problem is, democracies are corruptible: so this ever greater concentration of wealth allows the purchase of the legal and political representation it needs to get laws passed that facilitate the further accumulation and concentration of wealth in the hands of the moneyed and powerful few. This means that as the concentration of wealth increases, democracy is degraded and ultimately destroyed.

Ironically, extreme capital accumulation is actually unproductive of real happiness: Human happiness and wellbeing are demonstrably and empirically tied to factors other than capital accumulation. The extreme poverty that results, for some, from this lopsided accumulation, is clearly unproductive of happiness; but after a certain point of accumulation, so is wealth itself unproductive of ever more happiness. This happens just as soon as wealth goes past a relatively modest level. This is not speculation: Through much study and gathering of data, sociologists have found that happiness, contentment and human fulfillment are most widespread in those societies where:

a) there are guarantees that basic needs will be met for all,

b) wealth is more equitably distributed, and

c) bonds between people and the natural environment remain stronger than the desire to accumulate wealth.

Skeptical about such claims? British epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson has compiled an impressive body of research that demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that economic and social inequality is detrimental to human physical and mental health and happiness--even for the very rich. Relatively equal societies are empirically healthier on virtually every indicator of individual and social health and well-being. That is empirically based fact.

In our "capitalist utopia," it doesn't actually matter who or where you are on the socioeconomic ladder as long as you buy and don't get in the way of others buying. You can keep whatever trappings of subculture or individuality you have, . . provided they don't hinder consumption, commodification, or access to the resources needed to produce the things you are supposed to consume. Unless you are a rare and truly exceptional person, advertising will (constantly) instruct you on what those things are, that you are supposed to buy, and will convince you that your happiness, wellbeing, and most importantly, your identity, are based on buying them. The hyper-production, hyper-consumption treadmill society that is thereby destroying our environment, polluting our air, food and water, and squandering our resources, is by this means kept in motion.

Meanwhile, ever-growing productivity inevitably creates ever more in the way of surplus labor. But the problem of surplus labor and the poverty that results from it, is externalized by those who profit from our hyper-production, hyper-consumption treadmill society, and is falsely portrayed as a failure of individual initiative or, even more perversely, as an insufficient application of capitalism! Problem is, the only way that capitalism can even begin to create the number of jobs that are required is by finding some way to constantly produce ever more in the way of relatively superfluous goods and services, and then find some way to get people to earn and spend money buying all this superfluous new junk. But as Bertrand Russell once said about this process, "Can anything more insane be imagined?"

Not only are personal ethics and a sense of connection-to-nature extrinsic to global corporate capitalism; in fact, the very idea of a fully developed human consciousness (which would prioritize this connection-to-nature over and above the ever-increased consumption that this sick hyper-production, hyper-consumption system requires) becomes extrinsic as well. In fact it becomes taboo.

Yet this critique of hyper-consumption and hyper-production, fundamental to Mander's book, is not really a critique only of capitalism. Why not? Because unlimited economic growth, for all its ecological danger, is not necessarily unique to capitalism: a socialist society, also without an ecological consciousness, might well also view nature as infinitely exploitable. (Remember the USSR?)

Be that as it may, the maximized exploitation of human labor, in a capitalist society, leads to a corresponding and inevitable creation of degrading and inescapable poverty. This happens as wages for the bottom two-thirds of workers are constantly driven downward, so that those at the top may get rich at the expense of those desperate workers they exploit, many of whom get replaced by ever more sophisticated robots, computers and automation. All this is endemic to modern capitalism, but especially to global corporate capitalism. For unless they have guaranteed employment opportunities provided by the government, workers will always be at the mercy of those private enterprises that deign to offer them work. Problem is, private enterprises can offer no more work than growing amounts of superfluous consumption allow. And superfluous consumption cannot grow in an economy where the median wage is constantly being reduced, as ever more sophisticated robots, automation and other computer applications (as well as low-wage workers abroad) steadily replace the workers who once did this work, thereby forcing these laid-off workers into an ever-growing reserve army of the unemployed, within which they stand ready and willing to replace any employed worker who complains too much about their steadily diminished package of wages and benefits.

Summary and conclusion

In highly unequal societies the very rich are prone to seek affirmation of their personal worth through extravagant displays of excess wealth. By this means they readily lose sight of the true sources of human happiness, they sacrifice authentic relationships, and they forget their responsibility to the larger society -- and they do all this at the expense of their own humanity.

At the other extreme, the financially desperate are prone to manipulation by political demagogues who offer simplistic analyses and self-serving solutions that in the end further deepen the misery of these poor souls. Governing institutions then lose legitimacy, democracy becomes a charade, and moral standards decline. Civic responsibility gives way to narcissism and automatic disregard for the rights and well-being of others.