Capitalism? Yes, let’s have a trial

In announcing his long-avoided royal commission into banking, Malcolm Turnbull said that “it will not put capitalism on trial”. What a shame!

Not that anyone would seriously expect the Turnbull government to do anything useful, but a new trial of capitalism is long overdue.

I say “new trial” because there have been numerous trials in the past. Capitalism was not long out of its swaddling clothes before radical thinkers like Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, Proudhon, Robert Owen were producing devastating indictments. Even earlier, Adam Smith, who thought that capitalists would create the common good despite themselves, had some pretty sharp things to say about capitalist morals.

And that was before Marx and Engels produced not only a thorough indictment but also mountains of evidence and an unanswerable analysis showing why capitalism can’t help behaving as the criminal it is. In the 20th century, Lenin and other Marxists convicted capitalism of the new crimes it committed as it evolved – or rather, degenerated further.

Two world wars, preparations for a third – and possibly a fourth, if anyone survives the third. Countless other wars large and small. Billions of people forced to live their entire lives in poverty while a handful wallow in the luxury created from their misery. Discrimination, persecution, oppression, torture – these are such worldwide norms of modern society that the top criminals automatically threaten intervention against any country or group that tries to alleviate them.

Who or what is responsible for this obscene situation?

In an ordinary criminal trial, certain logical connections are taken for granted. For example, if there has been a bank robbery, and there is a trial of defendants who were found in possession of most of the loot, guns that were fired in the course of the robbery, diagrams of where stocks of cash and CCTV cameras are located and so on, juries don’t have much trouble arriving at a conclusion.

This is why lawyers for the defence, like Turnbull and Shorten, are opposed to putting capitalism on trial: they know the evidence is overwhelming.

For the rest of us, let’s keep reminding the rest of the “jury” of what the evidence shows, until we have convinced enough of them to be able to deliver our verdict – and sentence. And while in general I’m opposed to capital punishment, the case of capitalism is definitely an exception.

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