Contemporary capitalism is characterized by a political economy which revolves around finance capital, is based on a savage form of free market fundamentalism, and thrives on a wave of globalizing processes and global financial networks that have produced global economic oligarchies with the capacity to influence the shaping of policymaking across nations.
As a result, contemporary advanced capitalist societies are plagued by dangerous levels of income and wealth inequality, mass unemployment, rising poverty rates, social polarization, and collapsing social provisions. Furthermore, democracy and the social contract are under constant attack by the current system and there is an ongoing pressure by the corporate and financial elite to convert all public goods and services into private goods and services.
The rising inequality in advanced capitalist countries is well documented. Most recently, Thomas Piketty’s publishing sensation Capital in the Twentieth-First Century, translated into English and published by Harvard University Press, provides massive data showing a widening gap between the rich and the poor, thus questioning not only the claim that the capitalist economy works for all but also underscoring the point of how dangerous the current system is to democracy itself. Indeed, a few years ago, Larry M. Bartels’s Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age, published by Princeton University Press, pointed to the same gap between the rich and poor in the United States under Republican administrations.
The way wealth has changed in the United States over the last few decades, with those in Generation X and Generation Y accumulating “less wealth than their parents did at the same age 25 years ago”, is also demonstrated in a study produced by Eugene Steuerle, et. al. on behalf of the Urban Institute in Washington DC. And in a recent Strategic Analysis released just this past spring by the Levy Economics Institute with the title “Is Rising Inequality a Hindrance to the US Economic Recovery?”, the authors, Dimitri B. Papadimitriou, et al., demonstrate through macro modeling simulations that the current processes of inequality in the United States are unsustainable and that, if they continue, will result in weak growth and increased unemployment.
As for the problem of mass unemployment, the facts speak for themselves. Five years after the alleged end of the global financial crisis, the official unemployment rate in the US remains as of May at 6.3% (it averaged 5.8% from 1948 until 2014) while in the eurozone the official unemployment rate as of May 2014 stood at 11.6%. In the periphery of the eurozone, which has been hard hit by austerity policies conceived in Brussels, Frankfurt and Washington as part of the international bail-out programs that went into effect when several eurozone periphery countries reached the brink of bankruptcy after the global financial crisis of 2008-09 reached Europe’s shores, the official unemployment rates has reached stratospheric levels: 27% for Greece; 25% for Spain; 15% for Portugal; and 12% for Ireland, the nation with the highest emigration rate in all of Europe and whose government was actually asking the unemployed as of recently to leave and take jobs in other European countries.
In Greece, six years of an austerity-caused depression have shrunk the nation’s GDP by a quarter. Yet, both European Union (EU) officials and their lackeys in Athens have been trying hard to convince Greek citizens that a “success story” is under way because the enforcement of a draconian fiscal adjustment which dropped the standard of living back to 1960 levels produced a primary surplus. In the meantime, the debt-to-GDP ratio has reached an all-time high, rising from less than 139% in 2009 to nearly 180%.
Ireland’s public debt, which stood at 25% of GDP in 2008, grew to nearly 65% by 2010 and climbed to over 125% by the end of 2013. Yet German Chancellor Angela Merkel also hailed Ireland’s experience with austerity as a “tremendous success story”. Portugal’s public debt, which was slightly less than 70% in 2008, jumped to over 100% by 2011 and then to over 130% by 2013. That’s another “success story”. And Spain’s public debt has surged to nearly 95% of GDP, standing at close to 1 trillion euros – three times as much as it was at the start of the crisis in 2008 – and is projected to go over 100% by the end of 2014.
In short, all the bailed-out eurozone countries are sinking under the weight of debt while unemployment spreads like the plague – the result of the “voodoo” economics that the witch doctors of the EU and the International Monetary Fund cooked up in order to formulate the so-called “rescue” plans. However, according to national government and EU propaganda, everything in the periphery is working in compliance with the strategic plan for helping those countries exit the crisis.
Denial of reality, deception and distortion are traditional tactics used by the powers-that-be and their elite intellectual acolytes. We also saw this in the reaction of major media outlets like The Financial Times, Bloomberg, and Forbes Magazine, to name but just a few, to the publication of Piketty’s book. The Frenchman either adopted a flawed methodology, or got his data wrong, or is simply engaging in anti-capitalist propaganda. Indeed, as yet another commentator of the Financial Times stressed, with the belief that he hit a gold vein, upon reviewing Capital in the Twentieth-First Century, even if Mr. Piketty’s data about increasing inequality in capitalist societies are correct, he is not telling us why inequality is bad! In other words, Mr. Martin Wolf was essentially pondering about just what is so wrong with predatory capitalism making the rich richer and the poor poorer?
As actually existing capitalism has given up any pretext of being a “socially responsible” socioeconomic system and caters almost solely to the needs and interests of the rich and powerful by enforcing policies that are detrimental to the rest of society, the defenders of the status quo will get even more dangerous by denying the ugly truth about predatory capitalism. They don’t want to hear that actually existing capitalism is a system that favors passionately and defends ruthlessly the interests of the 1% over those of the rest of society. Doing so might jeopardize the goal of the elite to roll back the course of history to the detriment of the working populations so they can further enrich themselves and act like the new rulers of the world.
C. J. Polychroniou is a Research Associate and Policy Fellow at the Levy Economics Institute in the US. The ideas expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute and its Board members.