Unimaginable environmental degradation, a gargantuan appetite for economic growth, ruthless competition among companies, wars for domination and endless uncertainty in financial matters – these are the gifts of the modern philosophy of laissez faire. However, despite all the problems it seems to have created for humankind, many apologists believe that it is the ultimate reality. They assert that capitalism has the potential to salvage humanity from the quagmire of misery.
It is true that this system has created unimaginable wealth and gifted people with attractive luxury item, and that its miraculous tools have enabled man to land on the moon. But at what cost? The decimation of around four million from the black community in the Americas, the annihilation of over 20 million indigenous people in Australia, New Zealand, North, South and Central America and various other parts of the world, the starvation of more than 35 million Indians and Irish and the poisoning of millions of lives in China with the Western gift of opium.
The story does not end here. This system led to ruthless competition among corporations, backed by their states, culminating in the colonisation of Asian states and the scramble for Africa. This competition prompted Western capitalists to grow as much as possible. For this growth, raw material was crucial, which was not necessarily available within the borders of their imperial states. So they ventured out of their continental limits, taking the race for plundering and savagery to other parts of the world.
Apologists for colonialism may still use the mantra of the ‘civilising mission’, but in reality the colonisation of the developing countries was for nothing but raw material and outright plundering of their resources and wealth. It was an attempt to find markets for Western goods that could not be sold within their borders – owing to the development of machineries and the advancement of technology. For instance, before this advancement if Western countries were producing, say, one million meter of fabric, after this advancement they ended up with five million meters. So, where could this surplus production be dumped? The colonies were one of the ways to address over-production.
When one Western capitalist country acquired a certain technology to boost its production, others quickly caught up thereby glutting the world market with surplus goods. In order to prevent other countries from selling their surplus products and acquiring raw material, established colonial powers like the UK and France created various hurdles in the way of new industrial states, triggering animosity between these states. This culminated in the outbreak of the First World War that claimed around 40 million casualties besides destroying various towns and cities.
The senseless race for domination did not witness any respite despite this great slaughter. New powers emerged to claim their pound of flesh from a shrinking market. The two colonial powers – France and the UK – continued to create hurdles in the way of Germany, a leading industrial power of Europe after the First World War, prompting it to be more aggressive. Other powers were not reluctant to claim their share from a saturated world market. The scramble for colonies and raw material led to another conflagration, decimating around 70 million people as well as modern cities and towns. The cold war witnessed more than 280 small and big conflicts and civil wars, claiming three million lives in the Korean Peninsula, around seven million in Vietnam and millions more in various other parts of the world.
The world market seems to be shrinking again. The entry of China in the club of the capitalist world was heralded as a great victory for this system of competition and endless greed. China’s dazzling growth was cited as a success of this economic philosophy. Wall Street pundits heaped eulogies on the change that transformed Chinese society in the last four decades.
But now the spectre of endless and unplanned growth is haunting all major industrial and semi-industrial countries. China’s rise has caused the closure of more than 50,000 manufacturing units in the US alone. The world market seems to be facing glutting in all sectors of the economy. More than 700 million tons of steel is lying unsold. OPEC countries are under tremendous pressure to cut down the production of oil and gas. With the discovery of shale gas and oil in the US, the production of these commodities will witness a boom, causing a slow-down in its sale.
To capture the world market, friends of yesterday are turning into foes of today. The US is slapping bans on not only Chinese goods but on Canadian and European goods as well. The EU is retaliating with similar measures. The US is trying to create hurdles in the way of China and Russia the way the UK and France tried to obstruct the industrial growth of Germany before and after the First World War. This has led to greater animosity, prompting American war-mongers to declare China and Russia as the arch enemies of the sole superpower. This has potential to plunge the world into a new deadly conflict.
It is important that the world return to a planned economy and a model of self-sufficiency. We should get rid of this export-led economy that does nothing except creating friction and conflicts among states, and that too for the sake of a few companies’ profit. This unplanned method of manufacturing is wreaking havoc with our societies and our environment. There is no point in exploring more oil and gas when the world market is already glutted with these commodities. More exploration and drilling will cause immense damage to an already environmentally-degraded planet. Similarly, what is the point of growing more wheat when the US is already dumping millions of tons of wheat into South Pacific Ocean? Producing more milk does not make any sense at a time when the UK is dumping millions of litres in its lakes and rivers.
It is difficult to understand why states should carry out overproduction of goods and food items. According to some reports, only in the US around 40 percent of the food supply is wasted. Imagine the amount of water, pesticide, fertiliser and human labour that may have been used into producing this huge supply. What is the pointing in sending English apples to Germany and importing German apples for the English market, consuming thousands of litres of fuel that also contributes to environmental degradation.
One may argue that a return to self-sufficiency is a retrogressive suggestion but in modern times it is wars that have turned out to be the most retrogressive of human actions, annihilating cities and civilisations within no time. Look at countries like India, China, parts of Africa, the Aztec, the Inca and the Maya – they were all self-sufficient and would grow according to their needs; they also never invaded any country or plundered other parts of the world. On the contrary, the Western countries that believed in producing endlessly, turned out to be aggressors and colonisers. Even today their reckless and unplanned economic policies are threatening world peace. Therefore, it is important that the world return to a planned economy. Modern technologies can enable every state to grow enough to meet their basic necessities, unless they have a gargantuan appetite for production.
Companies, whose profits lies in ruthless competition and senseless overproduction, would not want this idea of self-sufficiency and a planned economy. Which is why states should come forward and rid economies from the clutches of profiteers. If states can pump billions of dollars into arms and conflicts, why can they not invest the same to ensure the basic necessities of life for their citizens?
Our recklessness has caused immense damage to the environment. Today Antarctica is melting six times faster than we imagined. Forests are shrinking and many species that are crucial to our life are disappearing. Only a sustainable method of economy will save us from total destruction and this sustainability is not possible unless we return to a model of self-sufficiency.
The writer is a freelance journalist.