The real causes of the long-expected depression (by a few thinking observers anyway) are seldom mentioned. It is not just the greed of a few – bankers, CEOs etc. – but a historical phenomenon that has been growing ever since the beginnings of modern capitalism in the period that followed the English Civil War. This forced the too large and growing agricultural majority population off the land and into factories and whatever town life could offer in terms of employment. Most of it, other than heavily exploited factory workers, went into domestic service, some went into the arm and navy that created the British Empire, but miserable slum life, involving much crime, as captured in the novels of Disraeli and Dickens, was the destiny of a considerable number of the new urban proletariat. This led to the rise of the middle classes which was able to rival and often join the old landed aristocracy, much of it originally created by the Norman conquest.
What marked the rise of capitalism was the increasing replacement of manual human labour by machinery; this also being the principal cause of unemployment. This has continued into our own time with the globalisation of commerce and industry, today’s main cause of unemployment, and of the greed-culture which has accompanied it. The second world war brought a demand for more equalisation of society, and the 1947 election finally saw a socialist government with the spread of culture and educational opportunities, the gradual ending of domestic employment, replaced largely by new domestic devices and machinery and, most importantly, a system of taxation which made the gap between incomes, in terms of spendable money, about one to fifteen. Today it is one to many thousands in some cases.
As machinery, computers and other mechanical and electronic inventions have replaced human activity, only disguised for most of the last half-century by an illusory prosperity, created partly by governmental measures, but mainly by the exploitation of third-world countries and their natural resources, a few have been able to become very rich by the complacency of often indulgent political regimes and by replacing human employees with machines and robots. Unemployment is rising rapidly everywhere and the gap in living standards gets ever wider. There are only two possible ways to change this: revolution or governmental legal action. The former becomes ever more probable as the situation worsens, as it must, while incompetent governments have failed to recognise what is happening and are helpless to do anything but retreat into a dream-world, looking for ‘green shoots’ and a return to the recent past. Revolution, which will start with ever more frequent demonstrations, becoming violent as they grow, will most likely lead to a new authoritarian dictatorship of either left or right, but probably the latter due to racial conflict and tribal resentment of immigrant populations among those condemned to unemployed poverty.
The alternative to revolution, which always leads to dictatorship, is courageous but unpopular action by whatever government we have a year from now. Assuming that we are going to have a new leisure class of the unemployed and the unemployable, there is only one sensible and humane course of action. It is to tax the undeserved wealth away from the very rich and use it to transform society to that those for whom there is no work can lead useful, enjoyable and creative lives, and by making the machinery that has replaced human labour pay, by taxing it accordingly, for the education and the activities of those whose lives will consist of the acquisition of knowledge, often only for the sake of enriching the mind, the pursuit of the arts and personal creative activity, which does not exclude physical activity such as sport, or the encouragement of research into science, philosophy and the meaning of existence. There will, of course, be some who opt for crime, but that can be dealt with. There are great opportunities for volunteer and charitable work and we must learn to reduce our propensity to overpopulate, so that, as in recent Chinese history, families are reduced to one child or, at most, two. But can this be afforded? Yes, it can, but only if we stop spending on military action and on bailing out what deserves to go under, or else be broken up in to smaller units that do not need to make more profit than is necessary to exist.
This brings me to my final point: the end of globalisation. Big international conglomerates are one principal cause of the depression. Companies should not be allowed to grow beyond a certain point, should not be allowed to take over others for the sake of higher salaries and bonuses for some while shedding jobs of others to make this possible. This applies to foreign take-overs, which should be prevented by law. Smaller companies, with few exceptions, work better, are more pleasant to work for, and in relative terms, employ more staff. Big enterprises, especially where energy, travel and necessary social services are concerned, should belong to the state and therefore the people. What I have described and advocated is possible if we are willing to understand what the world is really about and to stop listening to the lies and delusions of most politicians. It is what a civilised, educated, non-tribal world can be. In other words: civilisation at last!
John Calder 18/9/09