Capitalism creates the problems, socialism could solve them

You don’t need a degree in political science to know that our current leaders are a useless bunch of numpties. There’s no shortage of problems in society, yet the political and business elites who run the show seem to have no clue what to do about them.

Whether it’s the lack of affordable housing, the rising cost of utilities, the inadequacy of our urban infrastructure, overcrowded schools, universities, hospitals, and childcare centres, the lack of secure, well-paid employment, the mental health crisis, the aged care crisis, climate change – our supposedly very smart and educated politicians have no plan to fix any of it. 

They may tinker here or there, but for every small problem they might solve, ten new ones arise. No wonder a large majority of Australians have no faith in politicians’ capacity to address the big issues. 

People sense, correctly, that governments and those who advise them are out of touch. The problem, however, is that the political and business elites that run our society aren’t just out of touch. They’re on another planet.

Every now and then they say or do something that gives you a sense. Like any time a politician complains of how the hundreds of thousands of dollars in pay and allowances they get isn’t much money, or defends spending $5,000 on a helicopter flight because they were late for a meeting.

To the rest of us, this seems ridiculous. We have to remember, though, that politicians inhabit the same world as corporate executives, bankers, investors and so on – many of whom enjoy substantially higher pay packets, fly around the world in corporate jets and generally enjoy the luxury lifestyle that most politicians can only aspire to.

With this ruling class world comes a definite ruling class world view, one shared by business leaders and political elites. The key elements of this are, first, that the immense wealth enjoyed by those at the top of society is entirely deserved and, second, that society should be run to ensure that wealth is protected and allowed to increase.

It’s with this that we can understand why our political leaders are incapable of solving the major challenges we face. It’s not because they’re stupid or ignorant (though no doubt many are); the fundamental reason is that they will do nothing that threatens the profits of their corporate mates.

Unfortunately for the rest of us, boosting profits is, in almost all cases, directly counterposed to doing things that help society.

Take affordable housing. It would be relatively easy for the government to address the housing crisis by building tens or even hundreds of thousands of low cost units, alongside new laws to prevent investors from buying up properties and leaving them empty. The reason they don’t do this is because it would directly affect the wealthiest households with the most to lose from a more equitable property market.

Or take the stratospheric cost of basic utilities like electricity, gas and water. The high prices aren’t due to a lack of resources. They come from the fact that, in Australia today, these things are mostly privatised. 

With electricity, in most parts of the country one company is responsible for generation, another for distribution, yet another for connecting it to households, and then there’s the company that actually sells us the stuff. All these companies are, in effect, reaching into our pockets to ensure they get their share of the profits.

The whole thing would be much more efficiently run by the state. Then whatever profits are made, instead of being siphoned off into the pockets of investors or sent to offshore tax havens, could be used to improve the system, develop new renewable energy sources and so on.

But none of our current crop of political leaders, whether of the Liberal or Labor variety, would countenance this, because they’d be undermining the capitalists’ ability to profit from a highly lucrative sector of the economy.

In fact, if you take the issues listed earlier, it’s clear that if we rid ourselves of the idea that society should be run to maximise business profits, then the apparent complexity of the challenges is revealed as an illusion.

Socialism is an economic system in which society’s resources are controlled democratically by the people who actually do the work. The first thing to happen in the transition to such a system would be that the vast majority of those who occupy the commanding heights of the economy, and who run it like their own giant slush fund, would become redundant. They’d have to get real jobs like everyone else.

We’re taught that working people couldn’t run things. But we already do. 

All those corporate executives, managers, think tank dwelling “experts” and so on don’t do any of the things that keep society running. If they stopped work for a day, everything would go on as normal. But if, say, electricity workers, transport workers or IT workers stopped work, society would come to a grinding halt.

The richest 1 percent of the world’s population control more wealth than the rest of the world combined. The idea that they gained all that through hard work or the “entrepreneurial spirit” is rubbish. They gained it from exploiting the labour of workers. If workers ran society, all that vast wealth could be used to improve society.

According to the Australian Financial Review’s 2018 rich list, the combined wealth of Australia’s richest 100 people is $282.7 billion (51 out of the 100 are listed as having “earned” their wealth through property).

Think of what we could be done with $282.7 billion. That’s a lot of new trains and train lines, hospitals, schools, wind and solar energy facilities – the possibilities are endless. And in a socialist society, that would be just the start.

If society were run collectively and democratically by workers, the economy would be vastly more productive than it is today. Think of all the waste that’s inherent in capitalism. The biggest waste is of the potential skills, talent and enthusiasm thrown away because of the lack of educational opportunities and alienation.

Supporters of capitalism point to innovation as one of the positive attributes of the system. But how can you claim that capitalism promotes innovation when the majority of the world’s population are condemned to a life of mind- and body-destroying toil? 

Imagine the innovation that might occur when everyone in society had a decent education, a steady job with decent pay and good conditions, and could contribute their ideas through institutions of genuine mass democracy.

Then there’s all the potential that’s lost through poor health, mental illness and so on, which can often be traced to the poverty and insecurity so many people face under capitalism. And think of all the people working hard at “bullshit jobs” – jobs that make money for capitalists but play no useful role in the broader society.

And that’s not counting the literal waste that’s endemic to capitalism. Total global food production, for example, is more than 1.5 times what’s needed to feed everyone in the world – yet 30-40 percent of that ends up in landfill, and millions go hungry every day. Then there’s the fact that many products we buy become obsolete or fall apart within a few years so that we have to buy new ones.

And in a socialist society, we wouldn’t be pouring billions into destructive industries like arms manufacturing. World military spending sits at $2.3 trillion annually. This is inevitable in a system like capitalism, where nations are in competition for global resources and markets. 

Under socialism, a system based on global solidarity and cooperation, this wealth could be redirected towards improving the lives of people everywhere.

If workers ran society, providing the basics to live a decent life – housing, health care, education and so on – would be no problem.

Even bigger challenges, such as climate change, could be addressed. Think, for example, of the society-wide mobilisation that occurred in the 20th century in the world wars. There’s no reason, in a more rational society, that such mobilisations couldn’t be replicated to shift society rapidly to a zero-emissions energy system.

Capitalists and their political servants claim that working people hold things back when we oppose attacks such as job cuts, workplace “flexibility” and so on. In reality, the opposite is the case. It’s the ruling class, and its single-minded pursuit of profit, that’s stopping us from tackling the major issues facing society today.