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December 25, 2018

To the apologists of capitalism

Opinion

December 25, 2018

The gospel of free-market economy seems to have wreaked havoc in various parts of the world but even then many all over the globe want to suggest this recipe of disaster to address the financial woes of the world. They seem to be determined to apply its principles to steer us out of the economic crisis we have been facing for some decades.

Prominent Pakistanis and socialites continue to eulogise this system; this mostly reflects how ignorant people are in general about the history of capitalism. Admirers of laissez-faire consider it the ultimate reality. For them all the progress of the world lies in the hands of private capital. They say that the dazzling progress of India and stunning growth of China could not have been possible without the blind adherence to market forces. They believe the UK, the US and other capitalist countries achieved prosperity because of the miracles demonstrated by private capital. For them, this is the only system that can save mankind from abject poverty and fears of starvation and lead to the triumph of civilisation and victory of man over nature.

It is true that the Western capitalist world has made great strides in various walks of life. It is also correct that it has created much ease and comfort in life through inventions and mechanisation and that the global north has improved the living standards of its people. But to say that private capital made this all possible is a lie. It is also fallacious to declare the capitalist system an island of civilisation amidst an ocean of barbarism. In fact, the very foundation of this system was based on naked exploitation, ruthless plundering of the weaker states and annihilation of various nations and races.

Many historians claim that Europe was an overcrowded and impoverished continent riven with internecine wars, senseless conflicts and sectarian quarrels. One would hardly find any prominent scientist in the continent prior to 1492. That year marks the beginning of the plunder of non-white land by Western nations. First it was the Spaniards and the Portuguese that plundered the Americas. The Spaniards robbed the empires of the Inca, the Maya and the Aztec. Several tons of gold was transported to Europe. When Christopher Columbus landed on the Bahamas, the population of the indigenous people was around 25 million; it was reduced to five million in decades. Not only were the modern states of Canada and America based on the ruthless genocide of native people, Australia and New Zealand too had similar origins.

The British and the French also committed brutalities in more than two-thirds of the world that they dominated during the heyday of their empires. The British are said to have killed around 35 million people in Bihar, Orissa, Bengal, Ireland and other parts of the world through reckless policies that led to man-made famines. The French decimated millions in Algeria, Indo-China and other parts of the world. Japan, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and the US are also accused of killing millions of people in several parts of the world. Interestingly, all these countries are industrialised today. Some of them are part of the G8 while others are part of at least the top 40 industrial states of the globe. A new research claims that the UK extracted over $30 trillion from the Subcontinent only during its rule. One can imagine the type of plundering the capitalist colonial powers may have carried out in various parts of the world during their occupation of those states.

These powers did not only exploit the people of their colonies, they also oppressed their own people as well during the process of industrialisation. At one point of history the civilised parliamentarians of the UK, which is the mother of modern democracy, demonstrated the magnanimity of their character by raising the age of the working child to 10 and then 12 from seven or eight. Millions of children and women worked for ten to 12 hours under inhuman working conditions. Thousands perished in industrial disasters.

So, claiming that capitalism has always been benign flies in the face of the reality. In fact, it wasn’t the altruistic spirit of money lenders or greedy profiteers that prompted them to extend the basic amenities of life to workers or lay the foundation of welfare states in the Western world. It was the fear of revolution that haunted them periodically since the time of the French Revolution.

Workers did not have voting rights in most of the capitalist states until a bloody revolution swept across Russia and two others knocking at the doors of Germany and the UK. Women were enfranchised in the 20th century in most of the capitalist states. Ironically, after a few Western states, it was the totalitarian USSR where women first got the right to vote in 1917; the UK, France and the US accorded this fundamental right to women in a true sense after that revolutionary year. To be precise, the conditional right to vote was granted to women in the UK in 1918 while women were enfranchised in the US in 1920 and France in 1944. It is interesting to note that even liberal women with feminist ideas tend to ignore

this big crime of capitalism that deprived them of voting rights for decades.

Capitalism is also believed to be very creative. But it was not private capital that created smartphones, computers, GPS system and other such devices of our modern times. It reality it was the public sector that made these inventions possible. Various organs of the American forces or defence-related departments pumped billions of dollars from public money into these innovations and devices, handing them over to private companies to make profit later. Space technology, which is crucial to all inventions, is still dominated by the state sector of Russia, China, the US and other big powers.

It is believed that inventions require long-term investment and lengthy research. Private capital is adroit at extracting profit and it wants to make it in a short time. It can never afford to wait for decades in the hope of profit. The rapid movement of capital from one part of the world to another in the search of profit clearly indicates that.

The large infrastructure needed for research lies with the state. Prestigious universities, research institutes and prominent technological centres are still dependent on state and public money. It is the state that produces the larger number of the educated working class from public educational institutions. Advance studies cannot be possible unless quality schooling is offered by state. Trillions of dollars is spent by various states for primary, secondary and higher education. If companies were to start spending money from school to university, they would learn how costly it is to invent anything then.

Ignoring all this and crediting private capital for every innovation amounts to distorting facts. Transnational corporations may fund a few specific research projects but what about the expensive land of universities and research institutes allocated by the state using public money? What about the trillions of dollars spent on the education of masses, many of whom turn into a tool for these innovations? So, those who are blinded by the half-truth of capitalist development should look at the full picture before heaping eulogies on this economic system.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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