Saturday, April 9, 2016

For I am Old and Jaded and Find Your Ranting Silly

It was this that set me off:
The Panama Papers Could Lead to Capitalism’s Great Crisis
Oh, sure, a system that survived the Russian Revolution, World War I, the Depression, World War II, the Chinese Revolution, the Cold War, Vietnam, the 60s, Disco, the oil crisis, the internet, Justin Bieber and Donald Trump is going to be done in by the papers of one Panamanian law firm.


It would be nice if this actually led to a crackdown on tax evasion and like ills, but such things are in no way central to global capitalism. Much of the big money in these accounts doesn't even come from capitalism at all, but from government corruption in places like Russia and China. Unless you're one of those people who thinks that "capitalism" just means enriching the few at the expense of the many, in which case you don't know what you are talking about. We had the rich and the poor for thousands of years before we invented capitalism.

People like the author of that dismal screed I just cited think that these secret documents will expose something about capitalism that turns people against it, leading to electoral victories for Bernie Sanders and his pals. I suppose some people may find all this news about offshore companies and secret offshore bank accounts alarming, but so far as I can see the real evils of capitalism are right out in the open. The gargantuan salaries of CEOs are matters of public record, as are the tricks of legal tax evasion that allow companies like Apple to pile up billions in overseas bank accounts. Companies issue press released when they close plants in the US and move production to Mexico or China. Pollution was never a secret; the Cuyahoga River burned on national television.

Of course the failures of socialism are also matters of public record, from the destruction of the British automobile industry to Chernobyl.

Really we already know more than enough to evaluate the world's various political and economic systems and judge which we would like to live under. No secret file is going to change anything.


G. Verloren said...

I find your examples of socialist failures rather strange.

The accident which caused the Chernobyl disaster was completely unrelated to the economics and politics of the Soviet Union. It could have happened in almost any nuclear reactor of the age, and in fact numerous comparable failures have occured at sites in capitalist nations throughout the decades: the Windscale Fire in the UK, Three Mile Island in the USA, First Chalk River in Canada, the Lucens meltdown in Switzerland, the Goiânia accident in Brazil, and arguably the worst nuclear accident in history which occured at Fukushima in Japan. It turns out that running a nuclear reactor safely is simply very complicated and difficult, akin to launching rockets into space, and failures are the product of technical difficulties, not idealogical affiliation.

And as for the British motor industry, the collapse was in fact the direct product of capitalist behaviors. British car manufacturers were not competitive - they produced a large total number of cars, but their quality was very poor and hence Britain struggled to compete with foreign producers. Attempting to compensate, they tried to cut costs and squeeze extra money out of their workforce, but this backfired when it set of major labor disputes and caused production to grind to a halt.

It was only at this point, as the industry was already fully collapsing (which is absolutely the natural outcome of such a non-competitive situation in a capitalist system) that the government stepped in with a desperate bid to save certain companies through a plan of nationalization. But the damage was already done by this point - the situation was already too far gone to save, and no amount of nationalization could change that. So they admitted defeat and liquidated, closing down some companies, and selling others to foreign automakers.

To blame socialism for such failure seems utterly bizarre - it's like someone shooting themselves in the foot, and then blaming the doctor when it turns out the foot can't be saved.

John said...

All I know about the collapse of the British auto industry comes from Tony Judt, who was very much a man of the left, and he absolutely blamed the Labour government. He wrote that they refused to allow any restructuring that would cost a single job and "starved the industry of capital."

G. Verloren said...

Failure to fix the problem isn't the same as creating it in the first place, though.

The British auto industry failed because the capitalists operating it were putting out an inferior product without regard for the consequences. Eventually it caught up with them as people stopped buying their cars and started shopping elsewhere.

And then suddenly they wanted to invoke the typical recourse of all mismanaged capitalist endeavors - squeeze as much money out of the workers as possible to compensate for the failures of the owners and managers. But when you start to squeeze entire communities of poor blue class workers, they tend to resent it and eventually they go on strike, at which point things go to hell in a handbasket.

One of the major problems with capitalism is it turns a blind eye to reckless economic behavior because it operates under the assumption that the costs of mistakes can always be foisted off onto someone else. When the people in charge screw up, it's the people at the bottom who suffer for it.

Why? Because the top brass can get away with it. Because there are no consequences for exploiting the powerless who have no recourse against you. Because so long as management gets to keep their own paychecks, they have no qualms about disrupting the lives of thousands of poor families by laying off their primary wage earners. Because the very foundation of capitalism is profiting off the losses of others, and unless you watch people like hawks and regulate absolute everything, those who own the capital will find ever more monstrous ways to exploit those who do not.

The British auto industry collapsed because of arrogance and hubris at every step. They believed they could get away with cheating their customers on quality. When that blew up in their faces, they believed they could get away with cheating their employees. When -that- failed, they believed they could get away with having the government step in to bail them out on the taxpayer's dime.

And when -that- failed and the industry died out entirely, they believed they can get away with shifting the blame elsewhere. And from the very fact we're even having this discussion, it seems for the most part they did get away with it.