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May 1, 2018

Prosperity through exploitation


May 1, 2018

We are often told that working hard is the key to success, and that you must work hard if you want to become rich. If that is the case, then why do peasants, who wake up at sunrise and work in the fields until the sunset, continue to starve while landowners who don’t work as hard as they do are blessed with an abundance of food?

The same can be said about the workers who build beautiful houses while living in slums; make beautiful shoes while their children walk barefoot in the sizzling heat of June; manufacture expensive cars but cannot afford a bicycle; and design attractive dresses but struggle to buy dresses on Eid, Christmas and Diwali.

A glimpse into the life of a capitalist offers you a completely different picture. He never moves heavy machines under extreme heat. He doesn’t have to catch a bus to arrive at the factory on time. He doesn’t realise how much sweat and blood goes into creating wealth that is needed to keep the wheels of manufacturing and production running. But even then, he is swimming in dollars and pounds while the toiling masses struggle to make ends meet.

So, if working hard is the key to wealth, then why aren’t peasants and workers rich? This means that our notion of hard work needs to be questioned.

We may pour scorn on those who do not subscribe to the ideas of the free market economy. We may lambast them for deviating from the principle of laissez faire. But should we not allow them to present their case to the people in a fair manner? Don’t they have a right to access major business schools across the world and assail the dogmas of market divinity? Wouldn’t it be better to allow them to explain the endless economic crises that have repeatedly plagued the world since the beginning of the 19th century?

Is it dangerous to probe the factors that prompted Obama to shower over $800 billion in bailout packages for corporate goons whose financial rapaciousness has impoverished millions of Americans? Is it not wise for laypersons in Europe and other advanced countries to understand why their leaders have pumped billions of dollars into the pockets of arms merchants, greedy capitalists and unscrupulous financial moguls and failed to spend even a meagre amount on healthcare, education, housing, and the social sector?

Let’s begin with the industrialised and fairly advanced countries whose opulence is a source of fascination. Right-wing, racist Western intellectuals will argue that democracy; free speech; competition in economic spheres; and scientific thinking have triggered startling progress in the West. Any attempt to argue that these factors haven’t contributed to Western prosperity will be incorrect. But to claim that only these factors have resulted in the rise of the West will involve a grave distortion of history and facts.

Almost all advanced countries have been colonial powers and have looted the resources of developing countries to enrich themselves. If Shashi Tharoor’s research is anything to go by, then it could be claimed that the wealth of London rests on the plundering of its colonies by the champions of democracy and human rights. According to Tharoor, when the British came to India, the Subcontinent contributed towards over 24 percent of the world’s GDP. When they left, it contributed to less than six percent of the world’s GDP. Tharoor believes that the famines in India during the British Raj, which decimated around 35 million people, were an outcome of colonial policy.

Other Indian authors have explored how London systematically destroyed local textile industries, paving the way for the development of Manchester, Liverpool and other cities in Britain. Anti-colonial authors have asserted that it is not only India that was plundered by the white race but several other countries in Asia and Africa have also borne the brunt of Britain’s colonial policy.

The plundering of North Africa, the Middle East, and various parts of the Indo-China region by France is still fresh in the minds of millions. The colonisation of Africa brought miseries to a large number of people in the continent whose hearts were brimming with love for their Europeans guests. They naively believed that the guests were a source of blessing. But the policies of colonialists affected millions of people and contributed to the present-day misery in the continent.

It is believed that the US has never been a colonial power, and its wealth is not attributed to colonial plundering. The belief may reflect a partial truth depending on what definition of colonialism and exploitation is considered. While it is true that the US only occupied the Philippines, its sphere of influence in Latin America in the 19th century was developed through colonisation. When the US emerged as a world power, the nature of imperialism had changed – from political to economic – and America led the Western capitalist world in this form of hegemony.

If the Western capitalist world is rich today, it is not because of the hard work put in by greedy business entrepreneurs but the ruthless exploitation of the European working classes and the people in the colonies. The process began in 1492 when the West ventured out of its continental limits. The Spanish ruthlessly looted the Incas, Aztecs and Mayas, and transported gold and other precious metals that eventually led to the prosperity of the ruling class. This wealth helped them excel in shipping and other sectors. Even before Western industrialisation, 35 percent of the world was under the control of European powers.

The prosperity and opulence of America, New Zealand, Canada and Australia – perhaps the first settler states in the world – cannot be understood without the massacre of millions of indigenous people. According to some historians, the population of indigenous people in the Americas was around 25 million when Christopher Columbus arrived on it shores and shrank to just five million in a few centuries. Black authors claim that four million slaves perished in the Middle Passage alone. Millions more were condemned to a life of misery and abject poverty for decades.

Sociologists believe that no industries could have existed in Europe if there were no plantations and no plantations would have been successful without slavery. So, it was the inhuman slavery of African and indentured white workers; the ruthless exploitation of the European working classes; and the plundering of the colonies that led to the opulence of the present-day capitalist world. France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, Belgium, Netherland, Portugal, Spain, the UK and the US have never been colonised in the same way that developing countries were. In fact, colonisation is one of the factors that led to the rise in wealth in Western capitals.

The genealogy of Western capitalists clearly indicates that most of their ancestors were directly or indirectly involved in slave trade. The history of modern Western corporations, trusts and companies is no different. So, the point is: ruthless exploitation, and not hard work, leads to opulence.

Which feudal in our own country tills his own land to amass wealth? Which industrialist and business tycoon hasn’t been accused of having his debts written off, committing power theft, exploiting workers, and evading taxes? Some years ago, a Pakistani construction tycoon told a TV anchor during an interview that a person can’t even run a small shop with honesty these days, let alone a large business empire. This speaks volumes about the relationship between the accumulation of wealth and the use of fair means – of which hard working is a key component.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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