Global Capitalism: Some are more equal than others

August 7th, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


Over the past nine months we have covered a range of topics in our exploration of the nature of capitalism. A topic which has been presumed in those discussions, but never directly addressed, is the nature of reciprocity and exchange.

Capitalism presumes market exchange as the normal form of exchange between human beings. This form of exchange is, however, only one in a wide range of possible focuses of exchange.

In this post, we will examine the nature of reciprocity and exchange and the ways in which the forms of relationship which exist between people determine the nature of the exchanges in which they engage.

In many communities around the world, market exchange is only acceptable between people who do not share a close relationship. Those involved in market exchange focus on the items they are attempting to obtain or sell. The other person in the exchange is only recognised as a seller or customer. Most people find it very difficult to engage in market exchange with people with whom they already share another kind of relationship.

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Global Capitalism: Is The Sweat-Shop the Destination?

July 7th, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


In 2001, 924 million people, or 31.6 per cent of the world’s urban population, lived in slums. The majority of them were in the developing regions, accounting for 43 per cent of the urban population… In many cities, there are more poor people outside slum areas than within them.
(UN Agency for Human Settlements, The Challenge of Slums: Global Report on Human Settlements 2003 p. xxv,xxvi)

Is the sweat-shop the destination of human beings involved in deregulated, globalised capitalism, or is it a first step in a ‘take-off into self-sustained economic growth’?

Are we really headed for a world in which the number of  slum dwellers doubles in the next thirty years, with “unprecedented urban growth in the face of increasing poverty and social inequality”?

Unless something remarkable, and unlikely given present economic conditions, happens, the trends described in the UN-Habitat report will bring enormous problems in the next few decades:

The locus of poverty is moving from the countryside to cities, in a process now recognized as the “urbanization of poverty.” The absolute number of poor and undernourished in urban areas is increasing, as are the numbers of urban poor who suffer from malnutrition…

In some cities, slums are so pervasive that rather than designate residential areas for the poor, it is the rich who segregate themselves behind gated enclaves.
(2003 p. xxvi)

In this discussion we will examine the experiences of Third World nations as they became “unhinged” and attempted to “emerge into self-sustained growth” (to use Rostow’s (1961) colourful, optimistic phraseology); as they attempted to ‘develop’ into capitalist success stories over the past 60 years.

In the 1st decade of the 21st century, most Third World communities are transient. Most of them are in various stages of change. They are slowly, but inevitably, metamorphosing into communities which exhibit similarities with the pre-colonial communities from which they came.

Western peoples are faced with a difficult decision:

  • ignore the changes and continue to assert with Rostow and his many followers that Third World communities are still in the process of metamorphosing into capitalist nations — it’s just taking longer than we expected!
  • attempt to prevent the changes;
  • accept the changes and live with the consequences.

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Global Capitalism, Western Realities: From Protectionism to Free Markets

June 7th, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


The problem of 2010 is ‘sovereign debt’ (well – one of them anyway!).

Western nations have profligately continued to fund social welfare measures — such as aged pensions, free health care, free education, unemployment benefits, child and family support, poverty alleviation … — as though they still lived in a regulated and protected world.

But the world has been deregulated, protection has been traded for globalisation. “Public debt sustainability has exploded as a serious issue in advanced economies”.

The social welfare component built into production and financial sector costs in Western nations is disappearing. Like the Cheshire cat, we are left with little but the grin! Deregulation has shifted the costs from ‘the economy’ to sovereign debt.

Western nation-states, once firmly in control of economic activity within their borders are, in the deregulated, privatised world of the 21st century, decreasingly able to shield their populations from the exploitative consequences of unregulated and internationalised financial manipulation.

Now, there is no international forum capable of limiting and directing the bargaining advantages of finance houses whose international financial dealings eclipse those of the countries in which they do business.

No longer is the economy the means by which communities meet their needs and wants. Now communities service an international network of independent financial corporations which need accept no reciprocal responsibilities for their welfare.

Nations which, prior to 2008, were largely coping with the costs of scaled down versions of earlier public social welfare costs, now find themselves with unsustainable debt. Another crisis similar to that of 2008 would introduce many of them to structural adjustment programs similar to that currently being implemented in Greece.

Western nations are beginning to understand what ‘structural adjustment’ really means in a globalised neoliberal world. They just did not take the problems seriously when Third World countries complained about the effects of such programs over the past thirty years.

How is it that over the past three years, nations could be held to ransom by international financial corporations?

Why weren’t both nations and international financial corporations alerted by the financial woes experienced in the so-called ‘Tiger’ economies of the 1990s and so prepared for the problems of the last three years?

How did we get ourselves into this mess?

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Capitalism and its Colonies: Nation-States, Third World Nations

May 7th, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


We are at the start of a new century. A century which promised so much.

Yet it is threatened by forces greater than we, inhabitants of a capitalist world, have ever seen. And, largely, they have been invoked by us.

But for capitalism, they would not threaten.

What will happen in the next fifty years?

Will we see an ice free Arctic? acidified oceans? rising sea levels?

And then, there’s ‘global warming’, desertification and massive species loss!

All these seem very likely, even in my lifetime.

And there is another set of problems looming in this 21st century. They threaten the world as surely as increasing levels of greenhouse gasses. And they, also, are a consequence of capitalism.

As the empires of Western Europe have crumbled, the institutions in their post-colonial territories, established by them to ensure continuity with the colonial past, have become decreasingly effective.

Post-colonial territories are suffering turmoil and chaos as they metamorphose into communities which exhibit similarities with the pre-colonial communities from which they came.

And we will not, willingly, let them do so!

We still know that the world needs ‘developing’ and we know that wherever countries and communities are disintegrating, we have a deep responsibility to step in and save them from themselves.

Perhaps that’s because, as the Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency, in testimony to the US Senate Select Intelligence Committee on 10 January 1995, claimed:

it’s important to remember that the world is already awash in weapon systems. These range from the relatively simple small arms and mines, to more advanced hand held surface to air missiles, to increasingly advanced anti-ship cruise missiles.

Any country with hard currency can and will get these systems.

And:

In the last six years, Washington has stepped up its sales and transfers of high-technology weapons, military training, and other military assistance to governments regardless of their respect for human rights, democratic principles, or nonproliferation. All that matters is that they have pledged their assistance in the global war on terrorism.
(Rachel Stohl (2008))

Perhaps our continued concern is, as Obafemi Awolowo claimed in 1947,  “the result of a later compunction of conscience which usually dawns on any evil-doer who is not hardened beyond redemption”.

  • We invaded their territories;
  • forcibly included them in European empires;
  • created poorly established ‘post-colonial’ nations;
  • co-opted them into our ‘Cold War’;
  • supplied them with both weapons and military training;
  • fomented insurrection within their territories;
  • and blame them for the ensuing chaos.

Now,  they are killing each other, and the weapons have been (and are being) supplied by us!

Is it any wonder that so many post-colonial nation-states have become dysfunctional?

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Capitalism and Work: The White Man’s Burden

April 7th, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


It is said that the aphorism ‘Know Yourself’ was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi — Finding out who we are can be an unsettling experience.

Not only do human beings gild memories of experiences in their own lifetimes, they are extremely adept at reinventing those of their historical past.
It can be an educative experience to strip away what the French philosopher Voltaire called the ‘fable upon which we are all agreed’.

To understand the nature of capitalism, we need to examine the actual practices of Western European colonisation during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Unless we do, not knowing our history, we might well, as Edmund Burke suggested, unwittingly repeat it.

The 19th century was the century in which unregulated capitalism lay at the heart of most Western European public and private policy and practice. It was the century in which ‘The Poor’, long a vexing problem for responsible people — and, of course, a source of cheap labour and profit for capitalist enterprise — were taught to work.

By the end of the century, life was slowly improving for Western Europe’s poor. But, for the responsible middle classes of Western Europe, the job was far from complete!
A new ‘Poor’ had been found, indigent and slothful, in need of discipline and direction, in the extensive colonies for which they had accepted responsibility.

The next century would be the one in which Western working poor slowly gained legal rights and entitlements, enshrined in labour awards. The wealth flowing into Western countries from the rest of the world would bring increasing material prosperity, improved living conditions, healthier diets, and even, for a period, the chance to pursue ‘leisure’ activities. This would not be true for the inhabitants of Europe’s colonial empires.

The 19th was not only the century when The Poor learned to work. It was also the century of Western European colonial expansion. Populations around the world found themselves designated ‘natives’ (the Western European name for ‘The Poor’ of their colonies) and included, whether they liked it or not, in Western European empires. They, like Europe’s Poor before them, would be taught to work!
The consequences for indigenous populations would all-too-often be catastrophic.

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The Virtuous Capitalist, The Poor and the Wasteland

March 3rd, 2010
Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).
The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book

In the last post, we described how capitalism gained its evangelical force.
In this post we describe the lot of ‘The Poor’ during the 18th and 19th centuries, and the ways in which, finally, they gained a foothold into the ‘lower middle classes’ of the West.
In the process, Western Europeans transferred their attitudes toward the wastelands of ‘The Poor’ in western Europe, to the wastelands of their newly acquired colonies and ‘protectorates’.
Those who live inside the bubble of capitalism have commonly seen anything outside that bubble as wasteland; regions which are out of control, dangerous, and in need of civilisation; in the words of William Booth, founder of  The Salvation Army, in need of ‘Soup, Soap and Salvation’.
They have, all-too-often, viewed those regions as impoverished, ignorant, superstitious and corrupt, subject to the control of  capricious chiefs, dictators, war-lords,gangsters and reprobates.
They are regions in need of the light of civilisation and the Gospel, development and democracy, of human rights and law and order.
They are regions within which Western humanitarian effort must be focused.
And this all began in the the 18th and 19th centuries when Western Europeans finally made a concerted effort to reclaim the wastelands of  The West.
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How Born Again Christians Rescued Capitalism

February 3rd, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


This is the 3rd post on the nature of capitalism. The previous post ‘ The Historical Emergence of Capitalism‘ traced the experiences of western Europeans which led to capitalism. It finished in the 18th century, with Adam Smith’s outline of a new environment – the economy.

Here we pick up the threads in the early 18th century and describe how capitalism received its evangelical force.

By the start of the 18th century, Britain, with most of the rest of western Europe to one extent or another, had in place all the necessary understandings, motivations and organisational processes and practices which would produce both the discipline of economics and the ‘industrial revolution’. What it lacked, was a deep religious commitment to capitalism.

Those who held the political and economic reins increasingly confused money-making and religious ideals. More and more of them justified themselves through involvement in money-making activities and the churches, which had been so strong in the 17th century, found it difficult to attract and hold members.

With weak attachment to religion, the religious morality which had constrained capitalist behaviour in the previous century lost a great deal of its force.  The drive to industry and frugality was seriously weakened as the money-makers and their allies gained political power and used it to enrich themselves.

Freed from moral considerations, their earthly-minded materialism, self-satisfied complacency and self-interest allowed them to engage in predatory behaviour toward the weak and vulnerable in society.  With little compunction, they stripped the livelihoods and entitlements from more than half the population, leaving them dispossessed and impoverished.

Thomas Jefferson, in 1787, gave his opinion of what he found in 18th century Europe:

…they have divided their nations into two classes, wolves and sheep. I do not exaggerate. This is a true picture of Europe. …man is the only animal which devours his own kind; for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor.

Yet there was no ‘revolution of the proletariat’. Instead, by the end of the century, Capitalism was poised to remake the world in its image. How on earth did this happen?

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The Historical Emergence of Capitalism

January 7th, 2010

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


Following on from the first post, this post explores the historical conditions in western Europe which led to the emergence of capitalism. This is an exploration of how some of the most basic presumptions which underpin Western understandings of life have been shaped by history, becoming seen as features of the real world, the unfocused backdrop to secondary ideological disputes. The issues examined include:

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Ideology and Reality

December 7th, 2009

Exploring the Nature of Capitalism
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The posts to this blog category have been reorganised as a book entitled The History and Nature of Capitalism which includes rewritten versions of 9 of the Capitalism blog entries, linked through a wide range of clickable footnotes (obviously this is all designed as an ebook (a hard copy version would make for a very unwieldy book)).

The book can be accessed from here: The History and Nature of Capitalism: The Book


It’s time we, living in capitalist countries, got ourselves into perspective.

Over the past century, people living in Western (capitalist) countries have increasingly imposed their understanding of reality on others. Now, they are becoming aware of  a growing antipathy toward ‘The West’ around the world. Henry Hyde’s view of  the problems facing Western countries (US House of Representatives Committee on International Relations October 3 2001) is not isolated,

Let us begin by accepting there is no single enemy to be defeated, no one network to be eliminated. Al-Qa’eda is but our most prominent opponent, but its outlook is shared by many others who are equally committed to our destruction… we know now that we have permanent, mortal enemies who will seize upon our vulnerabilities to bloody us, to murder our citizens, to commit horror for the purpose of forcing horror upon us…

For the past 8 years the West has confronted what it perceives as a growing ‘climate of terror’ around the world. While estimates vary, it is reasonable to say that thousands of lives have been lost and billions of dollars have been spent in pursuing, capturing and killing those deemed a threat to the security of Western nations.

It is time to take stock. Before continuing to pursue phantoms and shoot at shadows (and, in the process, alienate thousands caught in the crossfire) we need to understand what is producing this apparently burgeoning antipathy toward Western capitalist countries.

Western capitalist nations, over the past century, have attempted to re-organise the world to reflect their understanding of reality. Although we often fail to recognise it, this requires a far-reaching reorganisation of people’s lives in non-Western countries. It would be surprising if there was not, sooner or later, a reaction against such activity. So, what impact does this attempt to reorganise the world have on people living in non-Western regions of the world?

Human beings (including members of Western capitalist nations) believe that they interact with ‘objective reality’, that is, a reality that exists independently of themselves and is perceived in the same way by all human beings. In every community, models are built from that assumed objective reality which, in the opinion of those who order their lives by them, provide the best ways of organising life to make the most of the reality in which they live.

Of course, although the raw materials from which perceived reality is constructed are ‘out there’, nobody actually perceives them as ‘they really are’. We all filter our perceptions through sets of models which order that unstructured ‘reality’. And the models used to structure reality are, like language, constructed over time within communities.

Like language, each community has its own set of models, built through history, and believes that the models it perpetuates are ‘objective reality’ and so are universally held by all human beings. Because these models are fundamental to conceptualising reality and those who hold them have been immersed in the reality structured through them since birth, their existence is not even recognised by community members. This, again, is very similar to our experience with language.

Very few people are able to focus on, let alone describe, the models which structure their language. Even fewer are able to focus on the models which structure reality because they are required in order to think, and so form the bed rock of human understanding. To challenge those models, is to challenge all the understandings which people have taken for granted throughout their lives.

When people in other communities are subjected to Western capitalist demands for change, based on very different presumptions about ‘objective reality’,  their understanding of their environment and of themselves in terms of their environment decreasingly ‘makes sense’. They lose their sense of identity and self-worth as their indigenous status and prestige systems break down and brutality, despotism and corruption escalate in their communities.

Over time, people begin to realise that the problems they face and the disorientation they experience are connected to Western activity within their regions. Inevitably anti-Western sentiment grows… Read more:
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