Global Watch

Globally, society is undergoing a profound and disruptive transition

Capitalism.jpg

Society is undergoing a profound transition, akin to the end of feudalism 500 years ago in Europe, but this time around, on the back of new technologies, it is happening on a global scale.

This is the premise of a book by Paul Mason, Postcapitalism: A guide to the future, to be published at the end of July in the United Kingdom.

From a preview of the book, recently published in The Guardian, we learn that Mason, British journalist, writer, broadcaster and economics editor of the BBC’s Channel 4 News, believes:  

“Capitalism, it turns out, will not be abolished by forced-march techniques. It will be abolished by creating something more dynamic that exists, at first, almost unseen within the old system, but which will break through, reshaping the economy around new values and behaviours. I call this postcapitalism.

“As with the end of feudalism 500 years ago, capitalism’s replacement by postcapitalism will be accelerated by external shocks and shaped by the emergence of a new kind of human being. And it has started.”

How complicated, wide-ranging and globally interwoven this transition is, is evident from the following quote from the preview: “Without us noticing, we are entering the postcapitalist era. At the heart of further change to come, is information technology, new ways of working and the sharing economy. The old ways will take a long while to disappear, but it’s time to be utopian.

“The red flags and marching songs of Syriza during the Greek crisis, plus the expectation that the banks would be nationalised, revived briefly a 20th-century dream: the forced destruction of the market from above. For much of the 20th century this was how the left conceived the first stage of an economy beyond capitalism. The force would be applied by the working class, either at the ballot box or on the barricades. The lever would be the state. The opportunity would come through frequent episodes of economic collapse.”

Manson’s prediction seems to be a revival of a modern and “purer” version of the Marxist dream of a classless and “sharing society … structured around human liberation, not economics….”

He, however, does add that “unpredictable things will begin to shape” the transition from capitalism to what he calls an “sharing economy”.

Wider evidence

There is also wider evidence that the present global construct, with its dominating ideologies and its societal structures, is either broken or under serious stress and in some cases not working anymore for society at large.

Depending on domestic circumstances, historical background and culture, the details of the ‘revolt’, expressing the pressures for change, differ from country to country, but the underlying reasons and symptoms remain the same.

An article in Der Spiegel last week, in reaction to what happened in the UK’s Brexit referendum, is headlined: “Electorate Tremors: The Era of the Angry Voter Is Upon Us.”

“The phenomenon of the angry voter currently appears to be making significant strides toward conquering Western democracies at the moment. The outrage is directed against elites in politics and in the business community, against the established political parties, against the ‘mainstream media’, against free trade and, of course, against immigration. Many Brexiteers are among these angry voters, as are Trump supporters in the United States or (right wing populists) Le Pen voters in France,” it states (our emphasis).

Having been forgotten

 At the core of this anger there is often a “feeling of having been forgotten by the political system”, which a Brookings researcher, William Galston, ascribes to the fact that governments have “…all failed to provide an appropriate response to the effects of globalization” (our emphasis).

The present global economic system, based on ‘free trade’, the abundance of basically free information in an IT and global-corporations integrated word, is driving (labour free) automated production. In the process it destroys the free market’s core principle that price, including that of labour, should be determined by ‘supply and demand’.

But how does labour, for instance, compete (as free market ideologues demand) in terms of cost, with automated machines of which the core value is based on programmed production knowledge which is basically and freely available?

What is happening in the world of global free trans-border trade, based on supply and demand, is illustrated by recent research that found that since 1999 the average annual salary of a US family has fallen by around $5,000 to $53,657 (in 2014).

“Economists have even come up with a harsh term to describe the phenomenon as ‘financial impotence’. Work in the traditional sense of the word is becoming redundant and demands new life styles afforded differently.

“The American Dream promises that everyone has the opportunity to become prosperous – but unfortunately, it no longer applies to many,” Der Spiegel writes.

If this feeling of a broken promise causes voter anger in the US, just imagine what the feeling of broken promises and the frustrated expectations from the ‘freedom struggle’ do to the mood among South African voters.

In Postcapitalism Mason also concludes: “Millions of people are beginning to realise they have been sold a dream at odds with what reality can deliver. Their response is anger – and retreat towards national forms of capitalism that can only tear the world apart.”

Widening wealth gap

The same research has found that 400 Americans possess as much wealth as two-thirds of the rest of society. It is an uncontested fact that the way the financial system functions globally has had the effect that wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of an ever smaller group of people.

That is also happening in South Africa, and is exacerbated by growing evidence that wealth is mostly going to the ruling class and the politically well connected.

While evidence is mounting that the present violence manifesting itself in South African politics is mostly driven by power struggles between personalities and factions, another article in Der Spiegel concludes about the Brexit referendum that: “Ultimately, the vote was not about the stronger arguments for or against Europe. At its core was a cynical power struggle between two Tory politicians …”

Party politics dying?

As further sign of the increasing gap between elected representatives, that The Intelligence Bulletin wrote about recently, the results of the just held general election in Australia prompted emeritus professor of International Relations Joseph Camilleri in an article on The Conversation website to pose the question: “Are Australia’s political parties past their use-by date?”

In January we wrote: “The 2016 election race for what Americans like to call ‘the leader of the free world’ is turning into a scary ‘freak show’, exposing the global crisis experienced by democracy as the dominant governing system.” And worldwide voter turnouts at elections are on a downward trend, an indication that people are losing their faith in the system of electing representatives.

As the gap between elected representatives is growing and people increasingly feel they have no control over issues that deeply affect their lives, some commentators are even starting to talk about “parliamentarianism” being in a crisis.

Conclusion

If we add to these the strong possibility that the next global financial crisis might be just around the corner, one must expect anger levels around the globe to rise. For many societies it will pose massive challenges to prevent the transition to new dispensations not to morph into full-blooded revolutions.

From the preview of his book it would seem that there might be elements of what Mason is apparently saying that might disagree with, but one has to agree with the statement: “We need more than just a bunch of utopian dreams and small-scale horizontal projects. We need a project based on reason, evidence and testable designs, that cuts with the grain of history and is sustainable by the planet. And we need to get on with it.”

Also read: Gordhan gets it wrong this time

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by Piet Coetzer

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