Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wrong questions (1993)

Editorial from the February 1993 issue of the Socialist Standard

Throughout the media and in everyday discussion questions are being asked about mass unemployment. Where will we find the “green shoots” of economic recovery? When will we see the end of the slump?

These questions are not new. They have been asked many times before and as in the past no one knows the answers. There are political promises and no shortage of economic forecasts but the record of both only tells us how useless they are.

The questions might just as well be shouted into a void in the hope that an echo might suggest what is going to happen next. An appeal to gods would be just as good. Indeed, the world of economics has become one of mystery to be interpreted by gurus, a priestly caste of so-called experts with little to offer more than a hope or a prayer.

It is asked when will people begin to spend again? Where can we find the money for better health services? How can we invest more in housing? Where can we drum up the resources to help those in desperate need?

In all such questions the word “resources” has come to mean money for investment as if pounds and dollars have their own powers of production. It is assumed we cannot produce without money and therefore, if there is no money we are helpless to deal with problems. In attributing powers of production to money it becomes a fetish before which we abandon our real human powers. Instead of control we have chaos. Instead of sound prediction we are beset by uncertainty and anxiety. Instead of decision-making and action we are deadlocked into failure.

This alienation from our powers to solve problems has created a deeply sick society in which the language of economics articulates the preoccupations of a world gone mad. Inflation, deflation, interest rates, exchange rates, balance of payments, deficit budgeting, unit labour costs, etc, etc, these are the features of a destructive system which has little connection with the world of real human needs.

The trouble is people have been asking the wrong questions. So, what are the right ones?

Socialists ask, why are 400,000 workers in the construction industry idle and why are millions of bricks being stockpiled whilst families have to suffer the miseries of homelessness? Why is food destroyed and why is land taken out of production whilst millions of people are starving and whilst even in the so-called developed countries some families have to go without food? Above all we ask, why is it that the great majority of people, the producers of goods and services in industry, energy supply, manufacture, farming, transport, health, education and other useful services, why is it that we have to suffer the worst problems whilst the obscenely rich continue to enjoy their privileges?

These are the right questions and the answers need not be shrouded in mystery. The answers are plain from everyday experience.

Workers are thrown out of jobs because they cannot be exploited for profit. Similarly, building materials remain stockpiled, food is destroyed and land is taken out of production because under capitalism profit must come before needs.

At the root of this is the fact that the planet and all its resources are monopolised by a small minority of economic predators—the capitalist class. One reason why the vast majority are powerless is because we have no control over the means of life, which is our labour and natural resources.

The first step to gaining that control is to work for a world of common ownership, democratic control, co-operation and production directly for the needs of all people. These are the only means by which we can end the economic nightmare of capitalism.

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