I left this comment on an article in today’s Irish Times by one of its finance correspondents, Chris Johns. The article is titled ‘Taxing capital risks underinvestment in our future‘, with a standfirst that reads ‘Thomas Piketty’s proposals could effectively abolish capitalism‘ (yeah, right). It also has a picture of Piketty in a pose that recalls a Roman salute favoured by certain uniformed movements of the 30s and 40s, which I’m sure is mere coincidence. Johns claims in the article that ‘War, disease and Malthusian population dynamics prevented the world from becoming better off. Capitalism changed all that.’
Absent from the author’s view of capitalism are a few important considerations: 1) capitalism is nothing without human labour, 2) capitalism depends on class exploitation, and 3) capitalism operates on a planet with finite resources and subordinates the use of these resources to the extraction of profit, with disastrous ecological destruction as a consequence. These facts are no less real because the Berlin Wall was demolished. Sure, the habits and methods of the market economy have produced economic growth, but growth as an end in itself will ruin the planet.
The major political institutions that exist under capitalism exist to serve capitalism. So unless there’s a political and social revolution, capitalism will cause more war, more disease and more famine, not less (Also, despite the author’s claim that capitalism is pacifying, the bloodiest wars in human history have happened during the development of captialism with state-backed military technology the source of much of capitalism’s drive to innovate).
One thing Piketty’s work shows is that concentration of wealth in the hands of a few brings the concentration of decisive political power in the same hands (though you hardly need to be a genius to work that out). From the perspective of this ruling class, capitalism works as it should when they get rich and everyone else…well who cares?
Lastly, the notion that ‘few people are willing to put their heads above the parapet’ to defend capitalism is a very odd statement to make in a country that doesn’t even have a single left-wing newspaper and where universities want to turn every student into an entrepreneur.