Presentation by Dr. Guillermo Sullings, Argentine economist and author of the book Beyond Capitalism, Mixed Economics
Panel: “Turning a crisis into an opportunity: Humanising the Economy“, at the Deutsche Welle Global Media Forum, Organised by Pressenza, International Press Agency
”We live in a time of crisis. A world in crisis: social and cultural crisis, political crisis, and economic crisis.
In such a landscape, one might think that the humanist aspiration of a united world of solidarity is becoming increasingly remote. However, those of us who refuse to give up the utopias that have mobilised humankind for centuries believe that this crisis may be the sign of a new world, because something is changing within people, and so it could change society.
Entering into the economic issue, it is clear that capitalism is approaching a dead end. That capitalism, which sometime ago appeared to reformulate its distributive equation encouraging Keynesian policies and the welfare state, has revived its true predatory nature from the 80s onwards through Neo-liberalism. Multinationals engaged in moving the various stages of production to countries with low labour costs and high flexibility in the labour market. The distribution of income in favour of corporate profits and at the expense of wages went on increasing the gap, and the way that was found to maintain the levels of consumption by the population was through the expansion of credit. This led to growing debt for people, companies and governments, with the consequent wealth increase in the Banking sector.
This worsening of inequality in income distribution, and the irrational consumerism being financed through credit, did nothing but feed the successive bubbles, which, at their point of bursting, unmasked for all to see the unfeasibility of the system, which only temporarily becomes dynamic again with another, larger bubble, until the last one also burst. And this will continue unchanged until the resolution of the root cause, which is the regressive distributive mechanism intrinsic to the capitalist system. Certainly the crisis will not be resolved through austerity measures that further impoverish the population, but neither will the Keynesian policies already implemented by the most progressive states be enough, for they will be insufficient to reverse the slippery slope of capitalist dynamics.
But this predatory economy, spurred by excessive desire for profit and irrational consumerism and in search for the mirage of eternal growth, contains at least three trends that are driving it to its now fast approaching limits.
1. The trend towards concentration of wealth generates serious contradictions that accelerate social unrest. The same system that preaches consumerism and economic success as a value in life increasingly marginalises more and more people away from the desired goal generating, in addition to poverty, social frustration and resentment.
2. The same system that preaches false, limitless growth as the solution to poverty causes, via consumerism, an increase in demand for commodities, consequently raising their price and therefore the cost of living for the poorest.
3. The same system that preaches that unlimited growth will provide work for everyone, decreases the availability of jobs by placing technology exclusively as a function of profit, at the same time it creates precarious working conditions by moving production plants to places that offer cheap labour.
Clearly this system is not sustainable in environmental terms, it is not sustainable in social terms, it is not sustainable politically, or economically. Some might assume then that some “objective conditions” for change are therefore given. However, it remains to be seen whether the subjective, the human factor, is also inclined towards profound changes. But above all, we have to see whether we as peoples are able to find such a transformation in terms of a global response, rather than just in the context of national demands.
Those who hold economic power in this globalised system know already the social and political consequences of their actions, and have sought ways to circumvent controls. While it is clear that the global financial system is largely responsible for the current crisis, it is also increasingly difficult to control, not only due to the complicity of political power, but also for its ability to take refuge in so-called “tax havens”. Moreover, besides “tax havens” they have created “labour exploitation havens” where multinationals are not obliged to follow minimum standards of working conditions, much less paying decent living wages. And they have created “environmental pollution havens” because when multinationals are not permitted to contaminate a territory they carry their factories where they are allowed to do so.
What we are saying is that the world economic power, having become globalised, usually buys political power, and where it is not able to do so, eludes its action. So, in order to change the situation of a population, it is not enough to change their rulers, because the possibility of action is limited.
If we were to answer the question of whether it is possible to replace this economic system, we must definitely say yes. Of course this would require a gradual reorganisation, step by step, so that the system does not fall on the heads of the people. We would have to reverse the distributive mechanisms by engaging employees in corporate profits, but mostly we would have to transform the present structure of production and consumption as well as the growth model. There are societies that perhaps should not seek higher growth, but rather a reduction of the working day. Instead, there are other societies that do need to develop to improve their living conditions, and investment should be directed towards them. We must change the headings of economic growth, increasing health services, education, communications, entertainment, and other services that improve quality of life without impacting on the environment. And we would have to give a more balanced approach to growth involving resource extraction. We cannot go into great detail now, but of course it is possible to change the economic system and humanise it.
And if we had to answer the question of whether it would be politically possible to do so, we can say that this depends crucially on the population, which should in turn transform politics by way of ousting the partners of globalised capital. Then, in a double effort, people would have to move towards political changes, building a real democracy so that from there progress towards profound changes in the economy may truly happen. But of course, this would be politically possible.
However, even if all of the above were to be achieved in any one country, we know that the scope of national policies are not enough against globalised power. This will require that a global response is given, an articulated response among peoples. It seems a difficult road, but it may be the only real one, taking into account the successive frustrations of isolated national efforts. And a story of frustration adds to the difficulties inherent in any attempt to change, the difficulty of discouragement, resignation, of assuming “it cannot be done”. In order to leap over the hurdle a new mystical call to cover the world is necessary, the image of a future Universal Human Nation, an aspiration to give us strength in every corner of the globe to converge in the transformative process, generating synergy among us all.
We must use all the new communication technologies to expand the ideals of a new world and to counter the pessimism that some media seem to want to impose on us. They want to convince us that the alternative proposals in economics and politics are naive, and that we must accept pragmatically the old, well-known forms as the only thing that works. It is necessary to strongly install the idea that the old world is already in retreat, and the ideology of a new civilisation is dawning on the horizon.
We are talking about the need to deepen a cultural change towards a society that values solidarity more than consumerism, that gives more value to life and the planet. Today there are signs that many human beings, and especially the younger generations, share this new sensibility, this aspiration for a better world, and, more importantly, live already with new values. We think this is a good historical moment to encourage the expansion of those changes already nesting in the human heart, through a powerful ideal: that of a Universal Human Nation, in which borders begin to disappear in order to articulate global policies that progressively reduce inequality, end violence and the depredation of the planet, and especially that enable people to reconnect with their spirit and fly above alienating materialism.”