Image: funkcool – CC BY-NC 2.0
Outside of the left-wing, there aren’t many places that you’ll find people openly describe themselves as anti-capitalist. Anti-globalisation maybe, and many who would find much shared ground with a lot of anti-capitalists, such as environmentalism or workers’ rights. But the identity of anti-capitalists in the eyes of a large proportion of the population conjures images of black hoodies, bandannas, and bricks through the front of Maccy D’s. Many people find such images deplorable, and would want in no way to be associated with them.
The justifiability of direct action and associated damage to commercial property is a big topic and not what this post’s about. Buy me a coffee sometime and I’d be happy to trade perspectives, objectives, historical contexts and ideological views at length. For the moment though, let’s just agree that a lot of people find photos of masked protesters battling with unidentifiable and unaccountable members of the TSG quite distasteful.
As such, when the port and cigars come out, and talk turns to politics, these men and women would never for an instant think of stating their position as ‘anti-capitalist’.
Yet to a greater or lesser degree, many of them seem to be just that – they just haven’t realised it.
Let’s take some recent headlines as illustration.
The pharmaceutical companies come in for a lot of flack. People get upset when their health service says it can’t afford to provide the drugs they need for luxuries like freedom from pain, the ability to walk, or being alive.
The pharmaceutical companies will counter this by pointing out the huge sums they spend on research, and the number of blind alleys that need to be pursued in the lab before they find something that’s effective in vivo. This rather ignores the fact that almost all the big players spend billions more on marketing than they do on R&D.
These poverty stricken companies post profit margins of up to twenty-two percent. The children of their executives and major shareholders must trudge to school barefoot each day; ten billion doesn’t go as far as it used to after all. I’m considering setting up a JustGiving page on their behalf, the poor wee mites.
And many people feel ‘justifiable outrage’ at this news, and demand that Something Must Be Done.
Utter tosh. You want capitalism? This is what you get; suck it up. Supply and demand. The headline about destroying drugs may be an extreme example, but it’s still only a manifestation of the primary drive for any profit-making business – to make cash for their shareholders. Without this purpose the whole system collapses; it’s essential for a capitalist economy to function. And as anyone who’s taken the most basic of economics lessons knows, if you restrict supply you can increase those profits. Chuck half your stock of cancer meds in the ocean, job done. Crack open the champers and congratulate yourself on a good day’s work.
Once you’ve made your fortune by flushing pills down the privy, you’d do worse than to invest it in the property market. Houses are needed; more than a quarter of a million people are homeless in England alone. Maybe. Bizarrely, no one really seems to know. You’d think that establishing just how many people are sleeping in hedges would be a fairly basic measure of a civilised society, and one that ought to have some solid figures behind it.
There is no national figure for how many people are homeless across the UK. This is because homelessness is recorded differently in each nation and because many homeless people do not show up in official statistics at all.
Anyhow, there’s certainly no lack of demand, so you’ll not need to repeat the pharmaceutical tactic by hiring a fleet of bulldozers and rudely interrupting the neighbour’s Sunday roast by driving through their front wall.
Those of a previous generation took advantage of the post war housing drive – and later the decision to sell off half the country’s social housing stock – to buy a three-bed semi with a fiver and still have change for the bus ride home. Then the government abdicated the responsibility to make sure their electorate weren’t getting rained on at night, and left such indulgences in the hands of the private market. That’s worked out brilliantly.
But the principle of restricting supply in order to make money still applies. If house prices go down, heaven forbid, it’s splashed all over the front pages as though it’s a calamity on the scale of Aberfan. In reality the only effect of such a trend is the inability to get rich off property trading. If the value of your house goes down and so does everyone else’s, then if you need to move you can still buy a house of a similar standard to your current one. The more significant measure should be the comparison between house prices and wages, and by restricting supply that ratio can be controlled, resulting in an ever increasing spiral. That’s not so much a problem if you’re already a homeowner – for the same reason as mentioned above regarding equivalent values – but it’s a bit more of an issue if you’ve just graduated from your nursing degree and haven’t inherited fifteen acres near Epsom.
Image: KPMG – Fair Use
Bad for first time buyers. Pretty good if you’re sitting on a cache of muddy fields with planning permission.
As an added bonus, you don’t even need to get involved with all that mucky stuff involving shovels and coarse chaps drinking overly strong tea. You can just let your land sit and mellow, ageing like a fine wine and increasing in worth fifty times as fast.
Image: The Guardian – Fair Use
Outrageous? No, just market forces at work. Adam Smith’s invisible hand ruthlessly spanking plebeian backsides in a sustained convulsion of unscrupulous avarice. Many will bemoan the injustice and call for intervention, but they’d never admit to anti-capitalist sympathies for a second. They don’t even own a hoodie, let alone wear one out in public.
All this wealth-creation must be a tiring business – so it’s time for a nice sit down with a cup of tea, milk no sugar. This is one thing that almost everyone can afford, rich or poor. For the dairy farmers providing the milk though, it’s rather less relaxing.
Due to the mismatch between the cost of producing milk (about 17p a pint) and the farm-gate price paid to farmers (as low as 20p) many dairies face going out of business. The supermarkets are sometimes the ones vilified for this, with fingers pointed at the prices on their shelves. It’s true that once supply chain and other costs are added in, 50p a pint won’t pay much more than the Netflix subscription at farmer Giles’ place. The supermarkets certainly aren’t exempt from culpability no matter how much they harp on about fixed prices for producers and loss-leading market strategies. But the vast majority of dairies sell their milk to ‘milk pools’ like Dairy Crest, not to retailers.
It’s this bunch that put the squeeze on in the name of profit – ten million pounds of it in six months for Dairy Crest’s latest results – and why shouldn’t they? Their raison d’être is to make money and dammit that’s what they’re going to do. The other option for the farmers, instead of bankruptcy, is to embrace the megadairy. To pile the cows in as densely as possible, and milk them so hard they wrinkle like your toes after a three-week bath. Most of these ‘zero-grazing’ herds will never see the sun, let alone a field – but they’re only cows; screw ‘em. The producers can stay in business, and Arla’s Managing Director can buy a new sapphire-encrusted knife to stab baby pandas in the face with. I’m assuming that’s one of his hobbies.
Image: Louis Vest – CC BY-NC 2.0
This is, of course, awful. It shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Emails should be sent to MPs, and petitions signed. Angry letters should be written to newspapers, possibly in green ink.
But anti-capitalism? Never. Capitalism is good, for all of us. Wealth inevitably trickles down. Not to Jaywick or Blackpool apparently, but surely they can’t be spending all of their riches on megayachts hand-carved from ebony by raggedy orphans? Capitalism is good; it’s what I’ve been told. Anti-capitalism is about spray-painting rude slogans on The Cenotaph; I saw a photo in The Express.
There are a hundred other examples. The resistance to renationalisation of the railways is particularly striking, recalling British Rail’s unreliability, overcrowding of carriages, and poor service. The capitalist idol of privatisation promised that it would banish such horrors. I’m still waiting, but perhaps the prices need to go up still further before we see these pledges fulfilled. In reality the railway is effectively still a nationalised industry anyway, it’s just owned by the French government instead of our own, and it’s them that reap the fare price hikes.
But anti-capitalist? How dare you sir? I bite my thumb at you. The very same people that gleefully mock religious beliefs and faith, will build huge steel and glass shrines to the magical power of Adam Smith’s invisible hand.
Image: Dmitry Tonkonog – CC BY-SA 3.0
No doubt some will attempt to dodge the accusation with shilly-shallying and hand-wringing sermons about being in favour of regulatory frameworks, market oversight, and other such serious sounding expressions. They’ll say that what I’m referring to isn’t capitalism itself, but only free-market economics capitalism. But at the root, all this amounts to is an admission that capitalism is at the very least just as flawed as any other system.
Or sometimes they’ll ask if you’d rather have communism, together with the ‘fact’ that although a nice idea it’s been proven again and again not to work. No, it hasn’t. No one’s ever tried it. There’s just been a procession of despots that have stolen the name because it seemed like good PR at the time.
I’m not claiming that one system is better than the other. I’m certainly left-wing, but I’d not self-describe as a communist. There are pros and cons that come with any of the options thus far imagined. Despite my own ideology I’ll even concede that fascism has its benefits. I just think they’re a bit outweighed by all the oppression and genocide and whatnot. Whilst I try to remain open-minded, I’m fairly confident in stating that I’m against death camps.
But we ought to be able to openly consider the options and be able to discuss them in mainstream politics and media, rather than the tiresome mandatory repetition of the mantra that capitalism is the only system that works.
For one thing, it clearly doesn’t.