Can we do it? Yes we must!
As the political leaders of 20 of the biggest economies gather in Washington to work out how to fix the global capitalist economy as, like a runaway train, it heads straight for the buffers, the range of “solutions” is piling up. None of them have a hope of taking off.
For outgoing US President George Bush, the oh-so-obvious answer is “sustained economic growth”. He told a New York audience that "the answer is not to try to reinvent that system” but to “make the reforms we need, and move forward with the free-market principles that have delivered prosperity and hope to people around the world".
Others are into reinvention. Gordon Brown, who until recently thought globalised capitalism could not possibly be improved upon, is now for “creating a new global financial architecture” to replace the Bretton Woods monetary system (which actually collapsed 40 years ago!). The Germans want a “new balance between market and state” while the Canadian suggestion is that "dynamic new economic players ... must be full participants at the global table".
There’s another proposal aired by Bob Geldof. He is back banging the drum for Africa, which has been left out of the discussions. Bob wants to ensure that “900 million potential producers and consumers” are drawn into “the next round of globalisation”. With the whole world diving into slump, Bob sees salvation for capitalism in Africa.
And on that he’s at one with Bush, who just yesterday received a major humanitarian award from Africare for his work in Africa. No really, it’s true. According to Voice of America White House correspondent Paula Wolfson, Bush was honoured for his efforts throughout his administration to combat disease across the continent. Bush says America has an obligation to help the people of Africa. "It is in our national security interest that we defeat hopelessness. It is in our economic interest that we help economies grow.”
The brutal truth is all these plans, pleas and proposals are non-starters. Why? Because they all look beyond the current disastrous disintegration of the global economy to a bright, newly refurbished, much more regulated, fairer, capitalist world. This is not how capitalist slumps work themselves out.
Fixing the real problem - an overhang of capacity as global production turns from recession to depression and slump - has only one solution as far as capitalism is concerned. In 1942 in the midst of the Second World War, economist Joseph Schumpeter, a critic of Keynes, but a big fan of credit-led investment, published his most famous work Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. It was then, with the world at war, that he chose to develop his version of the concept of “creative destruction”. That is already under way, with 10 million Americans already out of work and General Motors on the edge of bankruptcy.
Bush bemoaned the fact that critics were "equating the free enterprise system with greed, exploitation and failure" and objected to it. He is right to warn against the coming assault on the citadels of capitalism. There’ll be many demonstrations and protests against the G20 over the weekend and the election of Obama last week was itself a product of the anger millions of Americans who want action against bankers and corporations.
What is urgently needed is a concept of a society beyond the private ownership and control of capital, together with the leadership and organisation to make it a reality. Can we do it? Yes we must!
14 November 2008