Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Capitalism with a Human Face.

Creative Capitalism.

In 2008, Bill Gates came out with the phrase "creative capitalism" which is supposedly a new form of capitalism, which has aims higher than just maximising revenue and cutting or externalising costs. Though, preferably the two coincide. The higher aim is that of solving the world's problems, such as poverty, famine and disease in the Third World. Unlike the old idea of market democracy, there is a place in "creative capitalism" for the state and nonprofits. In "creative capitalism", market forces complement the actions of the state, nonprofits and philanthropists, by moving towards innovation that is "tailored" to the demands of the poorest in the world. This is definitely not another laissez-faire approach to late capitalism, which merely a shallow glorification of class war. Though, the old Randian ideas of a "creative geniuses" and deregulated "titans" are still central to "creative capitalism". The main difference, being "creative capitalism" admits that government is needed - "market democracy" is too costly - and that there may be more long-term profits made in altruism than egoism. Notice another old idea remains, that of rational egoism, private vices reap public benefits.

Bill Gates, the world's richest man, is clearly the epitome of capitalist uber-success in the 21st Century and the wonderful meritocratic social structure of the United States. The entrepreneur is quite frank and modest about how his company has achieved such success. Though, there is no mention of his anti-competitive business practices or the Nixonian "blacklists" of journalists he keeps. Gates says Microsoft achieves such enormous profits by "extending and embracing" the ideas of others. This is true. Everyone knows that Microsoft is based on computers, software and hardware etc. What many people are unaware of, is that computer technology was developed in the public sector, beginning in the 1950s and onwards for about three decades. The technology was developed in universities, at 100% public expense, before being introduced into the market in the late 70s, throughout the 80s and even into the 1990s. Microsoft was the company that benefited most from this introduction into the market, even more so when the World Wide Web was established by governments around the world.

As Bill Gates embarked upon his now illustrious career in the early 1980s, the Reagan administration was busily "rolling back" the state and enacting large tax cuts. In 1978, the rate of tax on American citizens earning $400,000 a year was 70%, as it had been since the Kennedy administration first cut it down from 91%, but during the Nixon-Ford and Carter years plenty of tax breaks and "loop holes" for such Americans were found. It wasn't until the election of Ronald Reagan, that the rate of tax began falling steeply. At the same time, wages for working people continued to stagnate or decline, as they had since the late 1970s. While most college dropouts were subjected to massive wage cuts in the 80s, Bill was earning over $500,000 a year. By 1990, the rate of tax on Americans earning over $400,000 had been chopped down to 28%. As a direct result of these cuts, breaks and various loopholes, 1% of the American population made $1 trillion dollars in around a decade. Bill was part of that 1% then and he is part of that same 1% today, which made another $1 trillion dollars under the Bush administration.

Nearly 30 years later, Bill Gates is the richest man in the world and he's preaching about "creative capitalism", the market's ability to work with the state in solving problems. His wealth, derived from monopolistic business practices, massive tax cuts and a little "leg up" from the federal government. It's funny how things turn out. Behold the split persona of Bill Gates: the cold-hearted captain of industry, who employs all kinds of dirty tricks to either destroy or buy out rival corporations, in his quest for a monopoly. But Gates is also a major philanthropist, to say the least, who gives billions to charity. To Gates, and others like him, charitable giving vindicates him of the ruthless pursuit of profit and the accumulation of wealth at the expense of society. Charity to the Third World is now what is used to mask economic exploitation. As far as I am aware, Bill has yet to complain about the fact that aid for the Third World has been cut to subsidise men like him - the bankers.

The Future?

In Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew showed us that capitalism does not require democracy and can function under an authoritarian state. He held power for over 30 years and turned Singapore into a developed country. Deng Xiaoping praised Singapore as the model of which China should base itself on. We have seen capitalist dictators in Chile, South Korea, Indonesia etc. but democracy is usually restored after a decade or two. But today, China has emulated Sinapore's success and has maintained a powerful government for 60 years. It seems that the link between capitalism and democracy, as a necessity, is in decline. Capitalism with "Asian values" has been a success, and the West knows it. The likes of Berlusconi and Putin have taught us that the authoritarian capitalism, invented in the Orient, can spread in different forms. In Russia and Italy there is a powerful state, so powerful it is actively undermining democracy and human rights, to pander to the wealthy.

Silvio Berlusconi is an interesting figure in politics, to say the least, because he has achieved the impossible - combining technocratic liberalism with populist fundamentalism. Berlusconi's reign is no joke, Italy's democracy is rotting away from the inside and is gradually being reduced to a mere shell - just like in Russia today. Berlusconi remains incredibly popular, but why? Berlusconi is the embodiment of the Italian stereotypical male: corrupt, sexually promiscuous and bombarded by legal problems. To the average voter, this says "I am one of you." But it is Berlusconi's anti-communism and ugly opposition to immigration which completes this populist device. Anyone who criticises him is either a communist or an immigrant, or part of the "elite" that favours communism and immigration. But Berlusconi is one of Italy's richest men, if anyone is least representative of the people of the Mezzogiorno it is Silvio Berlusconi of Padania. Under him, the state has exerted power to protect the economic interests of the elite that he supposedly rails against.

Berlusconi has clearly mastered the methods of reactionary populism, often utilised by the Republicans in America. Reagan was the first "Teflon President" who succeeded the previous kind of American politician, the tragic crook that was embodied by Richard Nixon. A major part of Reagan's success was that he was not expected to be devoted to his electoral programme. Because of this, the Reagan administration were immune to the attacks by his critics. The President was portrayed as a benign and somewhat forgetful old codger. But this imagery was deeply deceptive. It was in the 80s that Reaganites waged a campaign of terror against South America that spanned a decade and propped up corrupt dictatorships in Iraq, Chile, Romania and Indonesia to name a few. As Reagan played the part of the harmless old-man with the ease of any Hollywood actor, CIA sponsored death squads murdered civilians in Nicaragua and priests in El Salvador. But it wasn't just "poor foreigners" that suffered under the Reaganites. Illegal firings of workers tripled in America as his administration conveniently "failed" to enforce the law against corporations looking to cut labour costs.

In more recent times, the stupidity of politicians has become the subject of jokes. The most recent example: Sarah Palin. A conservative female politician is nothing new, Palin is part of that most ignoble tradition of reactionary iron ladies such as Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir or even Angela Merkel. These are the man-ish women who rub salt into the wounds of Feminists and the Left, who have "failed" to empower women politically. This is a reactionary trap in itself: "I'm a woman and a conservative. Therefore, if I oppose the right to choose, it must be right to do so!" This same trap is present in Palin's persona - "The Piltdown Lady of Alaska". But in stark contrast to her predecessors Palin is in part an exaggeration of stereotypical femininity, all that is lacking is the blonde hairdo. At the same time this "Piltdown Lady" is an obscene parody of small-town America, God-fearing, simple and hard-working, which hides an attack in store for anyone who dare to mock her. Bill O'Reilly recently attacked Eminem as a "sexist" for mocking Sarah Palin and he even had a right-wing feminist on the show with him, to give his "defence" of women an air of "authenticity".

The Right will launch such attacks against any leftists, liberals, secularists, feminists who fall out of the line of silence. Let us not cower in the face of such assaults. Let us not be fooled by the imagery that surrounds individuals like Silvio Berlusconi, Reagan, Sarah Palin or even Bush II. The truth about Bush is that he was probably trained to speak with a Texas accent and to mispronounce words. It seems very doubtful that he spoke like that in Yale or at Harvard Business School, where he achieved two degrees in history and economics. The accent, his mangled use of words, rolling up his sleeves, wearing a cowboy hat etc. was all part of the "Bush Imagery". As a President, Bush worked to serve his "base", with tax cuts geared to reward 1% of the American population for simply being rich, orchestrating invasions driven towards maximising the profits of energy corporations. Now we see Palin smirk at the possibility of reading a terrorist their rights. These politicians are not a benign source of comedy, on the contrary, they are the enemy and should be treated as such.

Barbarism with a Human Face.

The function of this "richness of inner life" is to "disarm" the voter, reducing him to an apathetic passivity, who should opposed to the institutional role one plays in society. Whether this be the shamelessly loutish public image of Silvio Berlusconi, or the new kind of capitalist that Bill Gates claims to be. These are ways for them to avoid the labels of just another cynical politician that stands for nothing, just another fat cat sipping the "milk" of big government. Despite the undignified aspects of Berlusconi's persona, the flaws are what make him human to voters. But it is the apathy engineered amongst the voters, they are presented with only one realistic choice, which is what keeps Berlusconi in office. For Gates, it is compassion and a desire for a sort of "liberal communism" - a classless utopia predicated upon liberal capitalism - that makes him human to consumers. But these "human qualities" are false, a facade that exaggerates what is obvious - the role they play within society - and what makes them different to the others.

In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi called a state of emergency and had 4,000 armed soldiers deployed to points in large cities which were considered vulnerable - to an influx of illegal immigrants. A year before, a group of fishermen were put on trial for saving illegal immigrants in the sea, each of the fishermen were facing 15 years for the crime of "aiding and abetting illegal immigration". This was done to set an example. Now fishermen go out of their way to avoid "aiding and abetting illegal immigration", sometimes by beating away swimming immigrants with sticks and leaving them to drown in the sea. The fishermen responsible for such a crime, do not face trial or even arrest. It seems that illegal immigrants have been excluded from the civil order, of human rights and freedoms, and can be killed with impunity in Berlusconian Italy.

In laughing at Berlusconi's obscene character, we are already engaging with his cynical game - tolerating the war he has waged on immigrants and the Italian poor. The same is true of Bush II and most politicians, but also magnates like Gates. In admiring, the philanthropy of Bill Gates, we are already buying into his false notion of "creative capitalism" - which is merely a form of "honest capitalism", in the sense that it is honest about the fact that a large state is needed for it to exist. We are overlooking what is obviously wrong about the roles played by these men. We'd all like to believe that Berlusconi's policies on illegal immigration are a reasonable necessity, a just barbarism, rather than as racist as the more "direct methods" favoured by fascists. We'd all like to believe that a world in which the market and the state work together for the good of humanity is realistic - and not based on exploitation and double-standards.

We would all like to believe such things, in order, to distance ourselves from the base of immorality underlying Berlusconian barbarism and "creative capitalism". Ignorance is bliss, in the face of such crass immorality. But we should not commit such self-deception, before falling into the modes of passive consumers and passive voters, demoralised and apathetic. We must awaken soon to acknowledge the fact that a slave-master can be a good person - to his friends, family and even to his slaves - does not change the nature of the slave-master's role in society. The slave-master's "inner life", what makes him human to us, is essentially irrelevant, because in his institutional role he is a monster. The same is true of the likes of Berlusconi and Gates. A "human face" slapped onto the packaging of the same old cheap product is not enough. It is the product that needs to be changed, not the packaging.

America Decoded by Richard von Busack

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