The Voice From The Back column from the July 2012 issue of the Socialist Standard
An Insane Society
Nothing sums up the priorities of capitalism better than the following news item. “On Tuesday, the British government — in the midst of an austerity program that includes cutting education, health and retirement programs — announced contract awards of $595 million to begin design of replacements for its four nuclear submarines that carry Trident sub-launched ballistic missiles. Currently, these submarines each have 16 missiles, each with three, independently guided warheads whose power is roughly eight times that of the Hiroshima bomb. Based in Scotland, one is on patrol at all times” (Washington Post, 24 May). Education, health and retirement programmes are of little concern when compared to a bomb with the potential of eight times the power of Hiroshima. Truly capitalism is a mad house.
Old, Poor And Hungry
Experts warn that many older people cannot afford a healthy diet, partly because rising energy bills force the worst off to choose between heating and eating. “The official figures show that 531 people were admitted to hospital with a primary diagnosis of malnutrition in 2011 – more than ten a week. This is up 14 per cent in the last year and 47 per cent on the 362 who were hospitalised in 2007. The Equality and Human Rights Commission warned last year that home care was often so poor it put the elderly at risk of malnutrition. …. The figures are the tip of the iceberg, because thousands more people admitted to hospital for other reasons turn out to be badly nourished. Michelle Mitchell, of charity Age UK, said: ‘It is estimated that one million older people are malnourished. Every case is preventable’” (Daily Mail, 28 May). It speaks volumes about capitalism that after a lifetime of producing surplus value for the owning class many workers end their lives neglected and malnourished.
The newspapers may be full of economic crises with mounting unemployment and increasing poverty for millions, but it is not all bad news. “Their wardrobes are packed with haute couture and designer accessories but for the world’s super-rich shopping is no longer enough: lavish one-of-a-kind travel adventures are the latest status symbol. Helicopter skiing in Alaska or a getaway to luxury goods group Lymph’s exclusive hideaway in the Maldives are the current trends for the growing number of millionaires, according to a report. It predicts that, despite the euro zone crisis, spending on luxury goods will hit $1.5tn (£975bn) this year as the wealthy look for novel ways to spend their riches” (Guardian, 5 June). Meanwhile, “The market for diamonds is forecast for further soaring growth, outstripping even the buoyant wider luxury market, spurred by burgeoning demand from Asia. Bain & Company has forecast that spending will rise between 9 and 11 per cent this year because of a scarcity of large diamonds and continued demand among a cabal of billionaires” (Times, 9 June). For the super-rich it is a case of ‘we never had it so good.’
Dollars And Democracy
The American press is very fond of boasting about the political democracy in the USA compared to many other political set-ups throughout the world. An examination of the US political process reveals that it is far from democratic. “US Republican candidate Mitt Romney raised almost $17m (£11m) more than President Barack Obama’s re-election effort in May, figures show. Mr Romney and the Republicans raised $76.8m, while the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party brought in $60m. Mr Romney now has $107m cash on hand, almost matching the $115m Mr Obama’s campaign had by the end of April” (BBC News, 7 June). The role of the extremely rich and powerful in largely dictating the outcome of US elections shows that big bucks counts for far more than big ideas.
A Greek Tragedy
As ordinary Greeks have been thrown into ever greater poverty by wage and pension cuts and a seemingly endless array of new and higher taxes, their wealthy compatriots have been busy either whisking their money out of Greece or snapping up prime real estate abroad. “Greek ship owners, who have gained from their profits being tax-free and who control at least 15% of the world’s merchant freight, have also remained low-key. With their wealth offshore and highly secretive, the estimated 900 families who run the sector have the largest fleet in the world. As Athens’ biggest foreign currency earner after tourism, the industry remitted more than $175bn (£112bn) to the country in untaxed earnings over the past decade” (Guardian 13 June)