Readers who watch Dateline on SBS TV will probably have seen the Sunday 18th September program which reported on the struggle against gas company fracking in the USA. This process includes the pumping of poisons into the earth to release gas and results in the consequent presence of poison and gas in drinking and domestic water supplies. It is a deadly serious health and human survival issue that also is a growing problem in Australia.
Unfortunately the fear that corporation chiefs’ greed and their capacity to misinform the public, intimidate and / or buy government personnel will destroy human health is real. In Tasmania in particular, chemical farming and chemically dependent monoculture plantations of trees for pulp - the latter situated in most key water catchments from which domestic water supplies are drawn - is perhaps less spectacular, but is in the same suicidal vein.
We live on a planet that has finite resources. Nature has tremendous recuperative powers but the history of past far less technologically developed and now extinct civilisations reveals it can take hundreds of years, at least, to repair damage inflicted by irresponsibility, greed and out-of-control human egos. Todays destruction, due to what Tim Flannnery has so aptly called ‘the war against nature’,(1) is not restricted to relatively small parts of one land mass or country, it is taking place on a massive global scale. This is a reality ignored by those who support an economic approach and a social / economic system that relies on growth to function.
At the centre of all of this mayhem is the control over governments and economies exercised by a few greedy, corrupt and irresponsible media and other corporation chiefs. It can be argued that the development of monopoly capitalism is an inevitable outcome of rule by those who have gained control of massive amounts of capital. Whether inevitable or otherwise, it is what has actually happened. And it is a situation that we have to confront and correct or be taken to extinction as a species by a few greed- driven and power-focused individuals who control large economic empires.
We need to try to understand why the advice of past economists of very high standing was over ridden by neo-liberal, or economic rationalist nonsense theories. Outstanding economists like J K Galbraith in the USA, and H C (Nugget) Coombs in Australia, and Herman E Daly who was once chief economist of the World Bank’s environmental division, all advocated a very different approach to how we organise our economic and social lives. Was it just bad luck and bad choice or did neo-liberal practice achieve dominance because capitalism is so dependent on growth as to make any control of capital appear as the beginning of the end of the rule of those who have accumulated large amounts of capital?
An unelected force
Galbraith suggested that modern corporations are an unelected force in the process of government and that we need to recognise that fact and publically discuss how to correct that situation. Coombs argued against growth, for careful husbanding of our natural resources and for an end to consumerism which he identifies as a key driving force of the capitalist market system. (For more detail and sources see my earlier August 2011 article “Corporation Power Causing Problems”.) ERE:
Daly argued that economic development issues are a social matter and need to be decided by a collective approach, with informed community inputs and rights in decision making. In opposing growth he differentiates between growth and development and sees development appertaining to enhanced quality of life. (Herman E. Daly paper for Population and Development Review, Hoover Institution Conference 1989.)
As I have argued in previous articles: ‘The onset of the current set of economic and ecological crises which capitalism is enmeshed in underlines the need for new approaches and new priorities in economic and social policy making. As large company / corporation control over the economy has increased, technological innovation has been harnessed to boost short-term profitability for the over-rich at the expense of people and our physical environment. The gap between rich and poor has grown, jobs have disappeared and the rich are taking an even greater part of the wealth produced by human labour. These underlying and basic faults in our economic / social system are today made worse by an artificial finance system that relies on debt to continue its wreaking of havoc.
The points in the immediately above paragraphs illustrate the sharp difference in the current situation in economic affairs to that being advocated late in the twentieth century by well-informed and competent economists. In a book published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2006, a prominent economic thinker and activist from Great Britain, Ann Pettifor, goes further back in time and argues that Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes all agreed on issues like the damage that usury caused, and the need for measures that included environmental sustainability. Pettifor makes the point that these three earlier economists would not have used the term, but ‘environmental sustainability’ was a matter they all recognised as essential to human welfare.
Whatever, the processes via which new wealth is created - that is the use of human energy and intellect in labour processes acting on the resources provided by nature - can be organised in a more constructive and equitable manner than is currently the case.
There are some who argue that the contradiction between social production and the private appropriation of what is produced in capitalist enterprises will lead to the self-destruction of the system. In several respects that process is currently in train. However, in my view, we cannot rely on the collapse of a corrupt and unfair environmentally destructive economic and social system because of its internal contradictions. There are too many possible ways in which a sick and dying system can, given today’s level of technological development, take our species into oblivion as it desperately tries to impose more of the practices that are at the heart of our problems.
Far preferable to the Abbott alternative
Despite the Rudd ‘Me Too’ positions in relation to the Howard policies that did so much damage to Australia, and Gillard’s horror position on asylum seekers, there are some important points on which current Labor positions are far preferable to the Abbott alternative. Important examples include immediate, if limited, action to tackle climate change and equity issues and the media enquiry. While we definitely need a vision for a future we also need to examine what immediate steps are necessary to help effect the policy and cultural changes necessary to change our currently existing crises-ridden political-cultural situation.
My view is that there are a number of possible shorter term outcomes that would have serious long term consequences, but that could be avoided if we are conscious of the dangers as the series of crises we are now living in unfold. We in Australia should do what we can to avoid these potential major world tragedies from occurring. That means we need short term as well as longer term strategies.
The negative possibilities, as well as possible problems in our own geographical area, include that , as the United States of America continues to be affected by the above mentioned contradictions, the worst of a very divided country, the tea party or similar such movements, could prevail. The USA could, consciously or unconsciously, use its military power to take the rest of the world into oblivion with it rather than allow change. If we are really focused on genuine security for Australia, and not on race-based prejudices, support for the genuine democratic movement that does exist in the USA is something that concerned Australians need to consider.
The two Bush Presidents focused on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama focused on war in Afghanistan. They agreed on bailing out the super-rich who created the series of crises that continue to fester. Serious though these facts are, that does not mean that there are no differences between Obama and Bush, the Tea Party etc push to the extreme right. Obama’s current proposal to increase taxes on the rich is a small step towards more equity. Hopefully enough American citizens could act to build on what is best in the now growing mass movement in the USA, and find peaceful, equitable and constructive solutions to the collapse of their capitalist system. This is a hoped for possibility that Australians could support this by pressuring our Government to cease acting as a colony of the USA when it comes to supporting US-organised wars.
Rise of fascism
The possibility of Fascism in the USA is unfortunately not far-fetched. Hitler’s racist policies drew heavily on a phony racist, so-called science of eugenics, developed in the USA. Also capitalism, and Nazism or Fascism, after all, share the same basic relationships in the processes of production - that is, there are those who own means of production, and in consequence of the capitalist relationships in society, the products produced; and there are those who have only their ability to labour which they have to sell in order to access the necessities and some luxuries of life.
In early unregulated capitalism, or Dickensian times, workers suffered in many respects a similar lack of rights as did the workers in Italy, Germany, Spain etc. under fascism. In Germany, for example, Krupp and other monopoly capitalists made Hitler’s Nazi Fascist regime possible.
In the 1930s US President Roosevelt’s New Deal excluded Afro-Americans and others, and the murder rape and pillage against Afro-Americans continued. The movement against racism in the USA achieved important gains in the 1960s, but forms of slavery still exist in the so called ‘Land of the Free’. This is happening, for example, via the privatisation of the prison system and the use mainly of black prison labour in agro-business in particular.
In several respects the American people and the struggle between decency and indecency, and sanity and insanity, in their country will likely, largely because of US military power, play a very big part in our world’s future. We in Australia, whilst not major players in our influence on international events, could none-the-less assist what is the best in the USA by ceasing to allow the US corporations and governments to virtually dictate our foreign policy stances. These are only some of the possibilities, but they are particularly important for Australians given the role Australian Governments have been playing in recent decades in denying our own sovereign status.
In Australia we need to and could address our own problems, provided that we can build a movement of people and a public opinion that will reject corporation controlled globalization and move us into survival mode rather than continuing down the path of ongoing crises, developing chaos and eventual shorter term oblivion. The economic crisis, engendered by the built-in denial of equity that exists in capitalist society, and the ecological crisis represented by the contradiction between growth and ecological sustainability, can only be resolved by conscious human actions. That is, by how we relate to each other and to the resources planet Earth provides for us.
Things, and our chances, look grim, but the human drive for survival can win through provided enough people recognise the realities of our situation and can be persuaded to act in a positive, realistic and cooperative manner. Reverting to racist prejudices and the fortress Australia ideology can only bring more chaos. We live in a changed and changing world. Britain no longer rules the waves and while the USA has taken over Britain’s role as the main colonial power, its economy is collapsing under the weight of the greed of its corporation chiefs and their power over who ever may be in the White House and in their Congress.
Enough Australians have demonstrated concern at the Lib-Lab consensus on executive government and the effective by-passing of parliament to bring into being a Government that has had to listen to the people it represents on some issues. The Gillard Government’s July 10 announcement of the carbon price proposals and assistance to people on low and lower middle incomes resulted from Independent and Green pressure in the parliament. Despite its serious limitations this proposed package is an important step in the right direction and stands in sharp contrast to the mass media supported and thinly disguised Abbott plan to increase taxation on lower income people instead of making the big polluters pay.
Despite the rather terrible positions it has taken on some issues, the reality is that under pressure from Independents and Greens Prime Minister Gillard has demonstrated a willingness to depart from important aspects of neo-liberal policy dictates on the major issue we, in common with the rest of the world, face - namely, climate change. Where Rudd failed miserably Gillard, despite Murdoch, Abbott and other mouthpieces for corporate greed, appears to be able to enact legislation that the corporation chiefs are spending millions of dollars to destroy.
Another immediate issue - Free Trade is by no means always Fair trade
A paper delivered to the recent Stakeholders Forum eighth round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in September 2011in Chicago, USA, by Australia’s Dr Patricia Ranald, raises a further immediate issues that we need to consider. She was speaking for the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network and as a Research Associate at the University of Sydney.
This important paper discusses issues involved in so called free trade agreements and includes detail on the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries, where over 60 cases have been filed by corporations against governments over their policies. There have been a series of cases involving health and environmental regulation… The impact of these cases in NAFTA and through other investment treaties in which even larger damages have been paid has led to an effect described as “regulatory chill”. “This is a situation in which governments are made aware of the threat and the costs of both protracted litigation and damages, and are discouraged from legitimate regulation because of these threats,” Dr Ranald said.
The Fair Trade versus Corporation-controlled Free Trade issues are vitally important, because Corporations are doing all they can to prevent Governments from enacting legislation that gives people some protection against their over-priced greed-driven marketing activities. In a world in which corporation chiefs exercise virtual control over most governments, the words ‘Free’ and ‘Fair’ can mean very different things.
Changes in human history happen as result of human actions but are, in important respects, circumscribed by the objectively existing reality at the particular time. Thus, it is important to comprehend and assess current existing circumstances. Science fiction fantasies, like trying to prepare to live in space or to build in space for example, do not help, and in fact encourage the current squandering of scarce resources. I believe that what we as people do about dealing with the critical problems the current circumstances have created, can, does, and will influence future outcomes. A longer term vision is necessary and the longer term outcomes will be influenced by shorter term attitudes and actions.
(1) Flannery, Tim Here On Earth: An Argument For Hope Text 2010.