Capitalism: Can we give it back?

By Loz Lawrey

Human beings are self-aware. We can dream. We can imagine. We can visualise. We can turn thought into action. Great Apes that we are, we have the capacity to examine and assess our lives as we live them and the societies we create.

We observe, draw conclusions from our own perceptions and adjust our behaviours in ways that enhance our lived experience. Onwards and upwards we go!

At least, that is our potential… It’s a shame that greed, politics, power games and our natural inertia tend to corrupt society’s potential to provide each one of us with a chance to evolve and thrive.

As individuals and collectively as a species, what do we seek?

There’s no doubt that survival always tops the list. Survival, above all else, is our primary instinct, and to meet its demands we need a reliable supply of food, clothing and shelter. These days, to satisfy those requirements, we need money.

Our capitalist system, so staunchly championed by both sides of politics, is completely dependent upon our society’s shared recognition and acceptance of currency as a repository of value and medium of exchange.

Our Australian Dollar is a unit of agreed value as well as a useful means of payment or recompense for the provision of goods and services. We use money to get stuff we need, and other stuff we just… want.

We work, we get paid, we spend. Money is capital, the basic building block of capitalism. We have allowed it to become a necessity of life.

Some of us want just enough to provide for a “good life” (however we define that) for ourselves and our families. Others want obscene amounts, more than any one family could possibly spend in one lifetime. Most of us just want to survive.

And yet, while money is the building block of capitalism, the mortar that really holds the temple together is our shared agreement to, and acknowledgment of, the perceived “value” of money.

We are individuals and citizens of global nations. Capitalism is our model, the system of trade and commerce into which we’re born. We know no other system and our very concept of survival is framed by this capitalist paradigm.

At the same time, the increasing social and economic inequality that capitalism entrenches within global societies tells us that it is a flawed and corrupted system.

Capitalism does not serve us all equally. Left unchecked, it will always deliver great wealth for some, comfortable survival for others and misery for many.

Money itself, or currency, is not the problem. The problem lies in our surrender to capitalism’s “free market”.

One has to wonder how humans with the ability to think agreed to hand over the authority to rule our lives to such an imaginary construct. The “free market”, with its connotation of liberty and freedom is surely one of the most deceptive weasel terms ever dreamt up by the forces of evil.

The “free market” is a pirates’ paradise where global corporations and wealthy interests wield the power to influence governments and plunder the societies those governments were elected to serve.

The “free market” leaves whole populations of workers and welfare recipients behind, ground underfoot, crushed by a neoliberal agenda which values money more than people.

Governments that abdicate their responsibility to regulate our market economy display a religious zealotry, an obsession with ideology and belief. They ignore evidence, research, facts, statistics and reality itself. They inhabit a mental fairyland, far removed from the experiences and concerns of we, the common people, and are unfit to govern.

If capitalism is ever to work for the benefit of everyone, it requires regulation: a return to the very “red and green tape” that lazy, self-entitled conservative politicians hate so much and work so hard to wind back.

There’s no doubt that capitalism requires our collective consent to even exist. Without our acceptance and endorsement of the perceived value of all global currencies, money would be worthless. Mere printed paper.

In fact, the very state, the condition of our world today requires our consent. Our messed-up world reflects us and the choices we make. We, the Great Apes (now with computers!), are the co-authors of our own story. We are all actors in a drama of our own making. War? Peace? Love? Hate? Generosity? Cruelty? Capitalism? We own them all.

As individuals, we may agree or disagree with the state of the world and the current organisation of our global society. Yet everything that happens on Planet Earth (other than natural disasters) is authorised by our tacit collective agreement. By our choices. By what we do.

When we elect a government, we give consent to the policies it will implement, which is why democracy demands informed participation from all of us. If we elect representatives who disregard the public interest, then we can expect decisions that are ultimately abusive towards large sectors of our community.

A government which treats refugees inhumanely in offshore gulags, which gives tax cuts to big business while cutting social security support for our most disadvantaged, reveals itself to be sociopathic in its approach and either ignorant or dismissive of the concept of the common good.

Without an ongoing desire to understand the people and their priorities, without active policies of empathy and inclusion for all, without a guileless and visionary leader, no government can ever govern fairly.

A government that wants to raise the age at which citizens can access the Age Pension (because, well… we can’t afford to get old anymore, can we?) is out of touch with the reality of people’s lives. Many tradespeople and manual workers over 60 already struggle with physical aches and pains from work and overwork. Retiring at 65 is tough enough. Changing the pension age to 67 is cruelty, pure and simple. Only fat cats could dream this stuff up.

A government which undermines its own working population by enabling a two-tiered economy of underemployed local workers and underpaid “visitors” (backpackers, 457 visa holders) no longer serves the voters who elected it. Such a government is owned by wealthy vested interests.

Yes. We, the people, consent to this stuff, and every three years we are given an opportunity to withdraw our consent by voting lousy governments out. When we do, however, the all-encompassing paradigm of capitalism still rules. The cult of capitalism continues to prevail and the temple of its predator priests will continue to stand.

A new incoming, slightly less bad, slightly more progressive government will also worship at the temple of the money-lenders. Like all incumbent governments, they will collude with the media to enact, both at home and on the global stage, our daily bread-and-circuses parody of either “good, responsible government” or “trouble at mill”, whichever serves the agenda of the day.

Conservative of progressive, whichever party holds office will continue to support our system of consumer capitalism, which is currently killing off the very environment that sustains life on this planet while condemning millions of humans to a miserable existence.

All of which begs the question: as citizens, could we withdraw our consent from not just an unsatisfactory government, but from capitalism itself?

Does our power begin and end at the ballot box? Could we somehow collectively change the paradigm globally? Is there a better way?

It seems unthinkable… I mean, we’d all have to communicate and… err… agree on a new way forward.
It’s a hard thing to imagine in our world, where capitalism is a “given”, a system we’re all born into it. Like all “isms”, capitalism is a human construct. It’s a mental collective agreement we’ve all made, a plane of shared consciousness we agree to stand on together… what if we all decided to step off?

Capitalism has nothing to do with nature, with nurture, with life, the spirit, the essence of our humanity. It’s simply a set of rules we’ve made to give chaos and anarchy some semblance of order.
If only it worked for all of us, equally.

Can we fix it? Or just… give it back?

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