The climate problem will be eagerly taken on by all kinds of companies that see fresh profit opportunities in it. After all, they have to make a profit for their investors and shareholders. At the risk of facing ruin. The cause? A money-driven growth compulsion. That money power also meant that the more social version of capitalism - the Rhineland model - was packed in and stripped by a much more ruthless Anglo-American model: more markets, less government. If we do not tame money power and put it entirely at the service of the common good, we can forget the urgently needed degrowth.
By Willem Hoogendijk, Stichting Aarde/Earth Foundation
A spectre is haunting the world.
The spectre that is the power of money.
There are those that keep it afloat, those it benefits.
There are many that must put up with the spectre, to survive.
But there are many more who are plagued by the spectre.
Their voices are barely heard, though, their presence scarcely seen.
And so the spectre bends everything to its will.
With its whip it lashes out at all around it, not least the world of business.
Faster, bigger, more ‘efficient’ – everything must always be maximised.
Everything is being torn asunder, pushed beyond its normal bounds.
Money must work, so money must grow. Through production, through speculation.
Our means of exchange was turned into a commodity, with itself as its price.
Accumulation is what its owners seek, is their route to ever more power.
For money is the dominant factor of production.
Labour is subservient, is its slave,
as the workers have always known.
Workers whose labour is snatched away and cashed in.
Higher wages and cleaner work keep some of them calm.
But when all is said and done, from capital’s perspective,
even entrepreneurs are just outsourced workers.
Even they have a job to do: to make sure money accumulates.
(Via bank loans, dividends, profit handouts and so on.)
Production moves where it’s cheapest (measured against a poor yardstick).
The result: a global casino with no room for errors,
because then all hell breaks loose.
But money can also be put to good use: economically,
socially, culturally. That’s what makes matters so complicated.
“Capital circles the globe looking for the highest returns.”
as a Dutch conservative(!) politician once stated.
While we, the spectre’s befuddled prisoners, look on vacantly,
silent spectators acquiescing, unsurprised by anything we see.
Everything and everybody (all human activity, the entirety of our lives)
are subdued by the whiplash of money,
are prisoners of the power of money.
Some have comfy cells, with bars they neither see nor feel.
Others – the majority – have learned to live with the bars
and decorated their cells to make them look like home.
For them it’s just the way things are – such is life, as the saying goes.
How come? Because our official economics is that of the spectre.
Money-driven economics has distorted our minds in such a way
(hooked us to individual success and competition) that people now say:
“Capitalism is the best possible system for human society!”
And indeed: we’ve become desire-driven consumers, or been turned into them.
Because our kind of society is essentially a money-driven producer society,
and that needs sales: never-ending consumption that must be maximised.
Production violence requires overconsumption, the machinery oiled
by advertising, marketing ploys and planned obsolescence.
Some more economics:
Credit loans provided by banks (i.e. massive creation of money) –
what counts here are the short-term private returns.
Profits are frequently privatised, losses socialised.
Shareholders can easily plug into companies, and later pull out their plug.
The more mobile capital is, the more unstable the economy.
And today an enormous financial bubble has formed,
entirely divorced from the real economy.
Heavier workloads, austerity measures, bankruptcies and takeovers,
housing blocks, companies and government agencies
that suddenly fall into grasping, greedy hands,
town and country moulded ever more by money,
depopulated regions, ever more quality lost –
my friends: isn’t it time we started realising this?
In poorer countries people are often more aware of the totalitarian power of money.
Here, we have reconciled ourselves with that power thanks to ‘caring capitalism’.
But the rough version of capitalism (known as the Anglo-American model) is now
steamrolling the so-called Rhineland model. (See illustration below.)
Privatisation of government agencies, rollback of government services,
shutdown of social institutions, flex-contracts, a price to be paid for anything extra –
the monetary whip is merciless.
There’s not much politics can do, for it too is a prisoner of
the same money-driven, totalitarian economy.
The numbers will be familiar: 1% of the world’s population, their assets and funds,
account for over half the world’s wealth.
Here and there, the spectre’s starting to stumble.
The damage it inflicts far outweighs its few noble deeds.
Far, far outweighs, as things stand today.
Here and there, its white gown of innocence is beginning to tear.
The financial crisis of 2008 advanced our understanding.
The corona crisis, too, has played its part in helping
expose over-globalisation and the artificial imperative to produce.
The spectre’s true nature, there for all to see: power-hungry, ever-driving,
ever-exploiting. Camouflaging itself with the system of money-must-work,
accumulation-is-essential. For this is how progress is defined.
The forces are rising, though, that want to turn the spectre into
a useful citizen, a helping hand. Money from master back to servant.
Technical measures aren’t going to save us; they’ll even postpone, even block
the Great Evolutionary Leap we so drastically need. There’s no point in keeping
a dumb economy of wastage afloat with renewable energy, however ‘green’.
Globalisation (global trade) needs to be reined back to normal proportions.
Which means preserving or rebuilding the local economy everywhere.
Green, calm but assured, thresholds low, with everyone participating as best they can.
Given the crises we’re facing (climate, extinction, nitrogen, etc.),
for the time being we can only produce what we really need.
So goodbye to an economy of supply, of thrusting-down-our-throats, and
hello to an economy geared to demand – ecologically sustainable demand.
(Thus an immediate, drastic reduction of our suicidal footprint.)
And hello to a flexibilising of the economy, so when there’s a temporary
fall in demand, businesses don’t go bust in a flash, as they do today.
And goodbye to the financial plug (loans, investments) being pulled out so easily.
Reward on capital (if it remains) will go up and down with a company’s earnings.
As will the number of employees. Besides a main job, it’ll be normal
to have one or more back-up jobs, depending on demand for the main product,
which after all can yoyo (why such demand is termed elastic).
And so there’s guaranteed income, though not all from the main job.
NB. Lots of demand is non-elastic: education, care, security, public administration,
bread, milk, toilet paper. For those in these sectors (40% of the economy?)
there’s therefore no need for multiple sources of income.
Everywhere, an economy of vegetable plots, skilled trades and light industry.
A lifestyle rather more sober – but with more community spirit,
more warmth, more empowerment, more talents (re)discovered.
Work with hands and heads more integrated. Income differentials slashed.
Work and home closer together. Neighbourhood services and democracy.
Regional currencies. And so on and so forth. The intelligent project.
All over the world, this economy still exists, in the villages lying behind
the high-rise of Western and Chinese cities. In the emerging cracks in
latter-day capitalism, people everywhere are sowing seeds of hope,
creating alternatives, towards greener, more sober, more social societies.
On a human scale. Responsible global trade will of course continue.
Around the world, though, local economies will create a stable base,
from where the official, over-globalised and overheated economy
can be calmed, made more localised, more sustainable and more social.
The people have nothing to lose but the whiplash and chains of the power of money.
They have a world to win. And the Earth to save.
Willem Hoogendijk Stichting Aarde / Earth Foundation May, 2020
Translated from Dutch by Nigel Harle.
Capital demolishing Hotel Rhineland
So what’s going on here? We’re talking about capitalism, its two modern versions: the rough Anglo-American (neoliberal) model and the more social Rhineland model, developed mainly in north-west Europe. The latter has (or used to have) reasonable working conditions, adequate wages, a social security net, an acceptable pension. But the omnipotent money-must-grow system is steamrolling the Rhineland model out of existence. Ever more compulsion to growth, thus ever more power to shareholders, more ‘market’ (i.e. privatisation), everything always bigger and faster, more efficient (on deficient yardsticks), human scale sacrificed. Job termination ever easier. Cuts everywhere, in staffing and services, the social frills. Flexible workers on zero-hour contracts. Tied workers under ever more pressure. Rising numbers of self-employed. Burnouts and breakdowns.
Elsewhere, new economic activity, wherever production is cheaper. Because the whip of the money system also incites an orgy of production (productivism), geared to supplying the stuff so desired by a public shaped by advertising (consumerism). Today, many are enslaved to the conveyor belt and the shopping mall.
If an economy more like the Rhineland model is what we’re after, the money system must be tamed. Money from master back to servant, in a far more sober and calmer economy. An economy far, far ‘greener’. An economy of, for and by the people. So farewell, capitalism.
PS. A robot at the wheel? Oh yes. Bankers, hedge-fund managers, captains of industry, politicians, top civil servants – all lackeys of the system, too. Well paid, obviously. But lackeys nonetheless. Befuddled (most of them) pillagers of the planet. Let’s liberate them, too, from their prison. And then all of us get down to building up our neighbourhood economies.