A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Sunday, 16 October 2011

Capitalism Has Not Failed: Far From It

If he didn't laugh he'd cry

Here we go again - another band of professional activists who complain about the influence of companies and big business whilst decked out in the latest designer gear. It's one thing - and an eminently sensible thing it is, too - to suggest that taxpayers shouldn't be liable for the losses of every large private banking enterprise that goes to the wall, especially when their collapse was caused by willful miscalculation or over-reliance on risky investment. The threat of not being backed up by public funds, and incurring all losses privately, ought to make them think more carefully about who they lend money to. It is quite another to say - as some have - that capitalism, or free market economics itself has failed. Especially when you're waving one thousand shades of smartphone in the air.

To all anti-capitalist protestors, there is one stock answer: go to your local corner shop. There, in ten foot by ten foot, is the greatest abundance of food and drink in the history of civilisation, all affordable with pocket change. If the anti-capitalist element of the Occupy Wall Street protests can direct me to a non-capitalist society, at any point on the timeline of human history, that has provided such a wealth of choice within the reach of virtually all its citizens, then I'll pack my bags - I'm moving. But they can't. Because there isn't one.

They might try to argue that these things are nothing to do with capitalism at all, but merely the result of communication and transport links around the globe that far surpass anything our ancestors possessed. That's partly true: it wouldn't have been possible without those things.. But nor would it have been possible without capitalism. We have examples of non-capitalist states, from our own age, where the variety of food is abysmal in comparison. In more extreme examples, it extended to anything the ruling party didn't confiscate and reserve for the 'plum jobs.' We have seen, in Africa, capitalist free-market breadbaskets - where food was previously in abundance and affordable - reduced to starvation. Zimbabwe, whose dictator, Mugabe, is a self-confessed socialist, is a prime example. There is a striking - if not absolute - correlation between African countries that have suffered the worst famines and those which employed socialist economics at the time: Ethiopia, Somalia, Angola, and Mali are all on the list.

It's not only food: housing, too. More people own homes now than at any other point in human history, even if you take the current dip in home ownership into account, and multiply it several times over. Would this have occured without the emergence of capitalism and the growth of the middle classes into the demographic majority we see today? It is highly doubtful: especially if we look the rates of homeownership in states that have followed a different economic trajectory where capitalism is not as firmly established. Across much of the Meditteranean, which was dominated socialist or fascist dictatorships well into the 20th century, renting is the standard option, and owning a house is a rare privilege.

And innovation, variety, is the preserve of capitalist states: why do those anti-capitalist elements of the Occupy Wall Street protests wave so many varities of smartphones about? Why do they wear so many different brands? Wouldn't they prefer it if the manufacturer only made one model, as in socialist states? Apparently not.

If you are going to insist that capitalism and free market economics has failed, fair enough - that's your democratic right (though there's not a non-capitalist country in the world that's a democracy). Protesting social inequality is also fine - even though it's better that some be much richer than others, and all have a roughly equal chance of getting to the top, than it is for all to be equally poor and kept that way, as is the case in every truly socialist state (i.e. one without a free market or private enterprise) that ever existed. But please realise: you're doing it whilst you are a walking argument to the contrary.

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