Editorial from the April 1962 issue of the Socialist Standard
"The colossal waste of capitalism.”
A phrase that for all its truth has become a cliche of the Socialist case. Words we use so often that they cease to have an impact.
We talk of the ludicrous waste of buying and selling: of the criminal waste of capitalist war and preparations for war: of the useless waste of potentially productive hands lost in clipping tickets, totting up accounts, filling in forms. But only now and again does the utter lunacy of the whole system pull us up short and make us see it as though for the first time. We are again struck with wonder at the way the human race can go on tolerating a world so out of keeping with its real needs and interests.
A recent issue of the Daily Mail told us that the launching into space of Colonel Glenn cost the staggering sum of £150 million. A few days later, a Sunday Times article stated that Britain had so far spent £700 million on rocket missiles with virtually nothing to show for it. Even greater sums must be being spent by Russia on similar ventures, yet Mr. Khrushchev has just let it be known that he hopes every Russian will be able to have an egg a day by 1980.
We have become so bemused by governments talking in astronomical figures that they lose their significance. It is only by a conscious effort that we manage to bring them back to their basic terms of houses, oil refineries, washing machines, boots and shoes, bread and butter.
In these days when families roam the streets of London looking for a night’s lodging, the £150 million spent on the Glenn circus could have built 30,000 houses (we mean houses and not the chicken coops which currently pass for them). For the same sum, five times as many homes could have been provided with good furniture to make them a pleasure to live in. Or perhaps a quarter of a million cars could have been built, or three million refrigerators, or 10 million vacuum cleaners, or a decent pair of shoes made for every adult in the country.
During the coming year, the British Government is planning to spend no less than £1,700 million on what it likes to call “defence." The United States will spend eleven times as much much and no doubt the Russians will be doing the same. Every country in the world reserves up to one-tenth of its national wealth for preparing for war. Some of the weapons they make are obsolete before they leave the factories, others even before they leave the drawing board. Many more are scrapped after only a few months service.
Probably no one will ever know the full amount that this country has spent on its atomic programme, and the expenditure of other countries is equally shrouded in secrecy. That the sums are vast is certain.
These are the millions, the hundreds of millions, the thousands of millions of pounds, dollars, roubles, francs, marks, yen. and all the other currencies one can think of, that capitalism wastes each year. And this only in misdirected production — we leave out of the reckoning all the other ways in which human labour and resources are uselessly frittered away.
Translate all this vast total of wasted wealth and labour into the worthwhile things of life and the means of producing them — into houses and brick factories, electricity and power stations, foodstuffs and agricultural machinery, clothes and textile mills, coal and oil, roads, railways, and ships.
Stop and think of this the next time you hear some glib capitalist politician talking of the millions that are going to be spent on a new rocket, a bigger tank or faster aeroplane, another atomic test. You will then have the real measure of that Socialist cliché—and of its overwhelming truth—the "colossal waste of capitalism."