As I noted back in 2014, Immanuel Wallerstein, the great sociologist of capitalism in the late 20th century, has been writing about the instability of the ‘world system’ (a term he coined) for over 40 years. He believes that the ‘world system’ of capitalism has been in decline since about 1968, so that we are now in a transition phase. The new system will not necessarily be better for ordinary people. In an intriguing piece from May 2014 – “The center isn’t holding very well” – he says:
- As our existing historical system is in the process of dying, there is a fierce struggle over what kind of new historical system will succeed it. Soon, we may indeed no longer live in a capitalist system, but we could come to live in an even worse system – a “rough beast” seeking to be born? To be sure, this is only one possible collective choice. The alternative choice is a relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian system, also seeking to be born. Which one we shall see at the end of the struggle is up to us, bottom-up.
He thinks the low-level followers are manipulating the elites, rather than the other way around. This may be true in so far as the elites are embracing ‘populism’.
This article tells us Why Amartya Sen remains the century’s great critic of capitalism. It says human beings:
- need more than material things to prosper. Calculating power is only a small part of what makes us who we are. Moral and spiritual relationships are first-order concerns. Material fixes such as a universal basic income will make no difference to societies in which the basic relationships are felt to be unjust.
- there is the material critique of capitalism. The economists who lead discussions of inequality now are its leading exponents. Homo economicus is the right starting point for social thought.
So they say. Material plenty is a basic requirement on which to build appropriate distribution to resolve inequality.
Sen, they say, embraces both critiques in a unified and seamless way. When egregious inequality becomes a central issue:
- piecemeal modifications to the machinery of production and distribution will not solve it. The relationships between different members of the economy must be put right. Only then will there be enough to go around. (Emphasis added)
While we need to work for reform at individual, local, and intermediate levels, it seems to me that real change must be negotiated on the national and international level
An article What socialism really is—and what it isn’t identifies five forms of political economy that have been conceptualised and to some extent tried:
- Democratic socialism
- Social democracy
- National socialism
Forget national socialism and communism as such. Forget also a sixth form – unconstrained laissez-faire or free market capitalism
- is an economic system where the means of production are socially owned. The “means of production” being the raw materials, factories, and machines used to make goods.
Democratic socialism is a system where the means of production are socially owned, but incorporates large amounts of democratic management, for example in workers’ cooperatives.
- is a system that leaves the means of production in private hands but assures that regulations, some public control of the economy, and extensive entitlements exist to keep everybody at a decent standard of living. This is often identified with the Nordic model…
That links to a large document I haven’t read.
I don’t see the private ownership of property as a basic human right, but am happy to live in a society with private ownership of property protected by law. Moreover, it seems in practical terms to provide energy and creativity in the economic sphere that is beneficial to society at large.
Within the ‘social democracy’ model co-operatives also sit comfortably as do government-owned trading entities. Management of corporations could also be democratised, for example by mandating worker representation on management boards, or arrangements similar to the works councils and supervisory boards of the German industrial relations system, where workers and customers join a supervisory board that appoints and supervises a management board and senior executives.
In practice the system in Germany operates within a complex industrial relations system. This thorough review paper by Michael Oberfichtner and Claus Schnabe shows a system under strain and one might say decay, especially in small firms, privately-owned firms and multinationals.
Much of this comes down to the role of the corporation, an unwillingness on the part major powers such as the USA to reign in their multinationals, and the gig economy which increasingly applies also in universities and public services. I know Commonwealth employees who have to reapply for their jobs every year. Teaching in universities is almost entirely done via the gig economy. In Australia I like to say It’s all John Howard’s fault.
Internationally the most appropriate forum to address such matters is probably the G20. Yet Phillip Coorey tells us:
- In a year of political upheaval, domestic and international, there were fewer more troubling images than that at the G20 in Argentina when two tyrants, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, openly smiled, laughed and greeted each other with a high five.
The mocking defiance in Buenos Aires in early December demonstrated that you could murder journalists and critics, invade your neighbour, shoot down a civilian airliner, back a regime that used chemical weapons, or poison your enemies, perceived or otherwise, on foreign soil – without any real consequence.
Trump’s biggest criticism of the murder of Saudi/American journalist Jamal Khashoggi was that the cover-up was botched. Putin treats Trump like a hapless fool.
- For years at international gatherings, whether it was foreign ministers meeting on the sidelines of the UN or at some other multilateral forum to discuss a matter of great import, it was always the case that everyone in the room would wait for the US to take a position and then line up relative to that.
Now, everyone just stands around while China, Russia and others do as they please.
Russia, of course, is run by a ruthless kleptocrat, said to be the richest man in the world at $200 billion, assisted by the KGB and a string of oligarchs. The ABC RN series Russia, if you’re listening is chilling.
Coorey links to Leonid Bershidsky’s Why 2018 was the year of the woeful world leader:
- 2018 saw a staggering number of countries woefully misruled by the worst crop of world leaders in recent memory.
He goes through lots of them finding little joy anywhere. That is unlikely to change in the next few years.
Here in Oz this turns the interest to Chapter 5 of the ALP draft National Platform Decent jobs with fair pay and conditions.
It’s not a revolution and should not scare the horses. Labor is looking for a balance between the needs of employers and employees and cracking down on some of the rorts.
Did you hear the one about Hungry Jack’s offering taxpayer-funded internships over Christmas, where the intern can earn as little as $4 per hour? The Chaser reckons it is invaluable experience to be f**ked over by a large corporation as preparation for what to expect in the big wide world.
Finally, I wanted to introduce an excellent session on the value of co-operatives.
Peter Martin outlines what they are and how they operate. He says the old industrial revolution turned out well, as it happened, but history may have been different. There is no reason why the new industrial revolution will turn out well – it may lead to a new serfdom. Co-operatives in Australia are practically invisible at a government level. There are no policies to encourage or support them.
Lieza Dessein, Community & Project Manager Smart Co-operative (SMart, société mutuelle pour artistes), Belgium gives a stunning case history of a co-operative that was originally designed to give stability to performers working in the entertainment industry. They have now broadened their scope and spread to nine countries.
They look after all the financial administration of members. The employer pays the cooperative rather than the artist/performer or other gig worker.
The worker starts getting a salary on the next co-operative pay day whether the client has started paying or not. Of course if the hirer does not pay, they are pursued legally by the co-operative. Fair pay, social security, insurance cover, super contributions etc are all taken care of.
Then Wally Newman, Chair CBH Group, the biggest co-operative in Australia, joined the others at question time. He had undertaken an overseas tour looking at co-operatives. The biggest surprise was the US where there were masses of them, and well-established in government thinking. This had been achieved by lobbying, so when he returned they immediately appointed a couple of lobbyist in Canberra. The group is based on WA grain farmers and has a turnover of $5 billion.
I think there are opportunities to initiate change at all levels, and new ways for workers to unite are emerging. There is hope, rather than just waiting for Sally McManus to become prime minister.