The ‘new normal’ capitalism desires

Posted on June 14, 2020


Covid-19 has brought to the fore the gross global inequalities that exist and has highlighted massive deficiencies in the capitalist system. As a result, there are growing demands that we should never return to “normal” in a post-pandemic world.

Within the financial elites and their governmental management structures this has triggered various suggestions for what would amount to merely a future “new normal”. The shrewdest proposal so far to salvage and maintain the underlying dynamic of a system responsible for the horrors of waste and poverty encapsulated in the wage and welfare gap comes in the form of a “Great Reset agenda” for capitalism.

The author is Klaus Schwab, head honcho of that billionaire rich boys’ club, the World Economic Forum. The three “main components” for this effective reinvention of capitalism as we know it sound, at face value, very good.

The first is to “steer the markets toward fairer outcomes”. This in order to “create conditions for a stakeholder economy”.

The second calls for stimulus packages from state, pension and private sector sources to create a “new [system] that is more resilient, equitable, and sustainable in the long run”. Here there is a genuflection toward a “green urban infrastructure” that would incentivise industries to improve their “environmental, social, and governance” track records.

The final priority is to “harness the innovations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to support the public good”, especially by addressing health and social challenges. All without changing the fundamental basis of profit-driven competition and private ownership. In other words, capitalism with a human face.

And while such statements and suggestions may be hailed as groundbreaking, they are nothing new. Every time there has been a severe crisis for capital and the exploited and oppressed masses have threatened to threaten, let alone overthrow, the system, concessions have been made: crumbs are cast from the political and economic tables, that undermine the drive for real change.

Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman poet, Juvenal, noted cynically that it was possible to buy popular support through “bread and circuses”: provide food and entertainment to woo the masses. This is a lesson not apparently lost on many modern politicians with their food parcel and pop concert laced election campaigns.

But while such crude tactics are still in evidence, more sophisticated methods have long been employed. Count Otto von Bismarck, chancellor of Germany, when faced in 1883 with mass demands to change the exploitative capitalist system, diflected these by nationalising some industries. “State socialism” came into being.

The same applied with the fight for representation in the management levels of society — parliaments. The struggle for true democracy was bought off, first by granting the vote only to property-owning men. Further struggles saw all men and — finally — women granted the right on a non-racial basis, to vote for parliaments that still remained under the influence of those who control, by one or other means, the ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

This is summed up in a 1946 photograph of a two British miners after the then new Labour Party government had nationalised the coal mines. They held a sign: “This mine now belongs to us.” It didn’t. The system remained intact, all that had changed was the ownership. As Frederick Engels noted 143 years ago, such transformation “does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces”; that workers remain sellers of labour, creating profit for a boss.

Perhaps, instead of accepting half a loaf that can later be clawed back, a democratically organised majority should aim to control the bakery?