From Socialist Voice, January 2008

Economic recession: Some economists reassessing the broader issues

Looking at the latest analysis of the impending recession in the United States and Britain, one would have to laugh and weep at the same time at the suggested causes and the solutions being offered by economists and financiers. Despite having the whole world at their feet for exploitation, they are in deep trouble, and the contradictions of the capitalist system have never been more apparent.
    One analyst on the programme “Newsnight” on BBC television on 23 January said that post-war capitalism had concentrated on high-energy consuming industry and high consumer spending as the driving forces of capitalist economies. They are now condemning the wasteful way the planet’s resources have been plundered and are saying that a new way of thinking must be found to use the remaining resources, or dire consequences will ensue for the survival of the human race.
    They acknowledge that there is a dilemma between globalised capital making maximum profits by exploiting the rest of the world on the one hand and the domestic situation in which industries are closing, with the traditional high-consumers of these countries therefore not being able to purchase the low-cost products being produced—though of course they didn’t phrase it like that and couched it in more acceptable language for the delicate sensitivities of their fellow-economists and banker friends.
    One economist admitted that the American economy was a 70 per cent consumer economy. With a straight face, one banker said that the desired goal for happiness was that everyone should be employed, while qualifying this by saying that he did not say what quality of jobs people should expect.
    The quality of life under capitalism was another issue that kept coming up, with the more reasonable analysts bemoaning the unhappiness being experienced generally by people who are awash with consumer goods, from huge cars to every conceivable electronic device. This, of course, deals only with those who can afford these luxuries, and no mention was made of the dire poverty of vast numbers of people in these so-called developed countries, not to mention the conditions of the exploited countries.
    Everyone agreed that there is an “emptiness” in people’s lives, even when they are relatively well off. While this is a terrible reflection on life under capitalism, we need to get a grip on the real misery of the vast majority of the rest of the world. They face hunger, disease and death and would consider the spoilt life and problems of the exploiter countries with the contempt they deserve.
    During the post-war period of wanton waste in the capitalist countries and disregard for the welfare of the people of the world, there was in existence a socialist system in the Soviet Union that was advocating all the things now being advocated to save the world and give a decent life to all.
    Its aim during that period was to build up an infrastructure and an economy that could give everyone basic rights: to a job, to housing, health care, and education. In the beginning these would be basic, coming as they did in the aftermath of the destruction of the country following the Second World War and without the aid that was given to other European countries through the Marshall Aid plan (which, by the way, was to be given to the Soviet Union too but was refused because of the insistence that they abandon their principles).
    Elementary large-scale housing blocks are one example whereby the majority of people in dire need could be housed quickly; and of course these were derided constantly by the United States and its allies as an example of the failure of the socialist system. But these were acknowledged to be short-term measures and that under future five-year plans they would be replaced with better housing as resources became available.
    This was a society that was putting the important things first for its people, and it could not offer the excesses of the United States, which were (and are) only for those who could afford them. The United States waged an ideological battle of the most intense and politically motivated kind to force the Soviet Union to compete on this superficial level. This was to have dire consequences for the Soviet Union, which unfortunately, under poor leadership, began to try to compete with the capitalist countries on their terms.
    What eventually happened is now history, and there were many reasons for the ending of socialism, most to do with not continuing with the early essential elements of the revolution in involving all the people in the running of political and economic affairs (and it could be argued that, within the limits of the productive forces of that period, more emphasis could have been put on introducing labour-saving devices and consumer goods). But we are still judging these things on a comparison of the capitalist system of consumer goods for the lucky people who are the beneficiaries of the exploitation of the many.
    Nevertheless, the model of dealing with essential needs first for all the people now appears with hindsight to be how the world should have been conducting its business to save the world’s resources. Cuba is the biggest advocate of this way of running the economy and, despite the restrictions of the barbaric US blockade, is achieving great advances in the welfare of its people. Fidel Castro has consistently condemned the waste of expenditure on advertising in the world and the totally wrong expectations it engenders in people.
    This is a country that looks at its resources and does its best to distribute them for the benefit of the whole people. As in the Soviet Union, mistakes have been made, but the goal is still the same; and, as all the good capitalist textbooks on management declare, we learn from our mistakes and go on to do better.
    So the contradictions of capitalism— despite the benefits of globalisation to the transnational corporations—are becoming more acute, and new models are being desperately sought by the economists, the environmentalists, and the politicians. When the working class of the developed countries continue to feel the bite of loss of jobs and the increasing costs of health, education, housing, food and energy they will see that socialism offers the only alternative that is sustainable.
    Unfortunately the workers of the exploited countries will have to live and die under dreadful conditions, with long hours, unsafe work-places, child labour, and all the evils of capitalism, until they too organise themselves and realise that, despite the faults of the first socialist states, they offered the only rational solution to the use of the planet’s resources, while the great capitalist states squandered these resources knowingly during the same period.

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