Too much political debate has been imprisoned inside one dimension for far too long.
Since the early 19th century, the major ideological fault line has been between ‘Socialism’ and ‘Capitalism’. Yet these terms are better understood as descriptors of polarity within a single system than entirely separate recipes for complete, well-functioning societies.
Our Common Future
Take Capitalism. A simplistic but commonly held belief is that a free market system works best with little state interference. Taxation and other forms of regulation are regularly portrayed as enemies of capitalism.
That’s may well be true in a village economy. However, it’s been clear from the outset of the industrial revolution that a successful advanced free-market economy requires very effective regulation. Good common infrastructure encourages enterprise to flourish. Advanced capitalism depends on a clear set of legally enforceable rules – rules that curtail absolute individual freedom, yet provide for a better functioning whole. These ‘socialist ideas’ are a prerequisite for capitalist success – and always have been.
Socialism is the other end of the theoretical polarity. In it’s purest form, it’s also known as ‘Communism’.
In the pre-modern world, there certainly were societies with no classes or castes, devoid of private property and without a competitive economic system. These societies were small in scale. Karl Marx referred to them as ‘Primitive Communism’.
Skipping through ten thousand years in a paragraph, I think it’s fair to say that no society in the modern world could survive without a monetary system of some type. Every modern society uses money – and money is the quintessence of private property (a dollar in my pocket is not in yours). In other words, every existing society has elements of property ownership and economic competition. While it’s conceivable a genuine ‘communist’ society could come to pass in the future, foundations for it are not in place. They have never been in place, not since the inception of capitalism.
Pure Socialism (aka advanced ‘Communism’) is a theoretical possibility for the future; it cannot be used to describe any existing large-scale society on earth.
The economic system of every country on earth – at the most fundamental level – has some basic similarities. Every nation, every city and every community is part of the global capitalist system and subjects its people to some degree of regulation, public ownership and state control. Every society allows its citizens a measure of economic independence and the opportunity to engage in some manner of enterprise. Specifics are very different in different societies. There may be more or less political freedom, more or less central economic planning, more or less public ownership. Yet every country, from China to the USA, Australia to Algeria, operates on essentially similar lines.
This last year saw great ironies unfold. C-Span viewers were treated to a session in which members of the US Congress eagerly inquired what lessons could be learnt from China’s banking system, since it’s remained so much more stable during the latest financial turmoil than US financial institutions. Questions like this would have been regarded as communist sedition a few years ago. Meanwhile, fierce debates raged about the extent to which western banks should be nationalized to save them form their own insolvency. The leader of Russia turned up at a global summit and soberly warned the west not to turn socialist in a crisis… Anyone beamed in by time machine from a quarter century back might well think they’d arrived in Alice’s Looking-Glass World.
Historian and social scientist Immanuel Wallerstein wrote decades ago of a modern, essentialy unitary capitalist world-system. To many in the 1970s and 90s, that seemed a stretch; the world appeared to be more like two systems (or three), with an iron curtain between the first and second world. How quickly that apparently immovable divide dissipated! Quite clearly, the world is now one globalizing whole. Every society on earth has a similar basic economic system, with more or less regulation. Every society makes some attempt to ‘socialize’ capitalism.
I’m aware that many people who hold similarly unorthodox views to my own about events such as 9-11 and the perils of Zionism probably don’t share my opinions about what’s needed for humanity to survive and thrive.
There’s a general tendency to be alarmed about ‘globalism’ – that is, the proposition that humanity requires a global layer to our governance. I see globalism as a historical necessity. Although government that’s universal is obviously fraught with many dangers, I regard the anarchic, unfair, fragmented state of the world political-economy at present as wholly inadequate to the tasks at hand and an intrinsic part of the problem. It may preserve some measure of ‘national sovereignty – but at what cost?
Many folk are strongly nationalist in their views. I see nationalism, for the most part, as a curse, although I welcome cultural diversity.
Many consider themselves ‘right-wing’, and would distrust my belief that the world should be run as one, ecologically sustainable, socialist enterprise. Yet that, in a few words, is the world society I believe we must create.
The relationship we must get right
Global governance does not mean absolute centralization. There’s no need to abandon existing layers of government. We just need to add an extra, properly-functioning layer at the global level.
The most obvious reason for doing this is that we live on one globe and our collective ecological impact is now so great that we’re doing serious damage to the planet’s ecology. Most other issues pale into insignificance compared with the prospect that we will continue to degrade our planetary environment, until this wonderful world is biologically impoverished and unable to provide the basis for congenial human life. Global ecological decline simply must be stopped and reversed – and fast! This must receive the highest priority. We need to salvage what’s left of our inheritance of biodiversity and treasure it. Clearly, we must stabilize the climate and remove human-induced triggers for climate change.
These are not easy tasks . Achieving them demands global agreement and co-ordination on a scale and sophistication that we’ve never, to date, been even close to achieving. As long as the fate of the planet is left to an unseemly auction between self-interested parts of the whole, each dominated by partisan interests, we lack the institutional framework required for managing this planet’s theatened ecology. This reason for global governance is perhaps the most obvious. But there are others.
Foremost among them is the obvious need to impose effective regulation on the activities of transnational corporations. These must include environmental regulations, but should also include health and safety and economic justice provisions. No companies should be free to move operations to jurisdictions where workers’ conditions or environmental standards fall below an acceptable baseline. That’s to everyone’s benefit.
At present, using mechanisms such as transfer pricing, trans-national corporations easily minimize their overall tax burden. Ultimately, all of global society loses from tax avoidance on this massive scale. Effective taxation of trans-national corporations and the super-rich is another good reason for effective, all-encompassing global governance.
Another is the possibility it opens up for the creation of a true global bank, to act as a lender of ultimate last resort – able to issue interest-free credit to fund projects conducive to sustainability and social justice.
That’s how – as a species – we can ‘afford’ the work that needs to be done to put planetary society to rights. We don’t need to ‘borrow’ funds from a mysterious priesthood of bankers, whose own solvency cannot be guaranteed. We simply need to issue the credit – as an economic expression of our common will to survive, prosper and nurture this world.
The obvious fact is we can’t afford not to do this.
This way of financing expansionary economic activity has been attempted before on a more localized level, with success. Deprived of loans from international financiers on coming to power, Nazi Germany took this approach. Naturally, they didn’t just crank up the Reichmark printing presses to maximum capacity. The goal was to match the issuing of new credit with real, productive economic activity. The policy was skillfully implemented, non-inflationary and remarkably successful in helping transform Germany’s economy within a few years.
It’s true that individual countries could attempt something similar now, as contemporary ‘Social Credit’ advocates such as Ellen Brown and Richard Cook argue articulately. They are both Americans and propose the Obama Administration bye-passes the Federal Reserve system and issues currency directly, like President Lincoln did during the US Civil War.
One problem, it seems to me, even if the US Administration was to muster courtage not seen for a century, face down America’s banking elite and attempt this policy alone is that the USA also has a gigantic twin deficit and isn’t close to bringing its own budget into balance. The world would likely perceive new ‘interest-free’ dollars as just another way for America to continue its extravagant lunch out on everyone else’s tab. And the world might well be right.
Interest-free credit in truly large amounts are surely best issued at a global level, backed by the consensus and collective guarantee of humanity as a whole. Global credit should be created to fund activity we can all agree about: non-violent, socially-beneficial, ecologically sustainable work.
Such activity could be funded to a practically UNLIMITED extent. As long as inflation is kept in check, there’s no reason not to. By definition, it can do only good. Much of the world has effectively been in recession for most of the last two centuries. It’s long past time to put an end to an artificial constraint on financial capital that’s served the interests of private issuing authorities but left hundreds of millions destitute.
Capitalism and socialism can co-exist on the same planet. In fact, they always have. They are more like yin and yang than enemies. Both must now fit within a new all-encompassing framework of comprehensive ecological sustainability. It’s possible to achieve this at a global level. We should do it.
How we ensure that global society is open, pluralistic, non-authoritarian, protective of minorities while respecting majority interests, how we ensure it’s suitably decentralized and genuinely democratic – these are vitally important questions that certainly need solid answers too.
One thing that’s clear is that global society must put an end to war – and to the unfair ‘advantage’ of militarily powerful states who parade their macho like alpha males in a colony of great apes.
To survive and be be prosperous in the long-term, we become fully human.