My favourite definition of a capitalist is “a person who does not need to toil for a living because their capital toils for them, often with as little or as much management as the capitalist wishes”. Conversely, all those who must exchange their labour and time for wages – whether hourly, salaried or self-employed – are not capitalists. Instead, they are but some of the tools used by the capitalists to facilitate the capitalist economic system. And make no mistake the capitalist system serves the capitalists first and foremost.
The fundamental premise of the capitalist system is exploitation, a term which simply means utilising opportunities for personal gain. However, the capitalist system acquires a negative image when its members refute or ignore commonly held ethics, values, principles, and morals such as not employing slave or child labour or engaging in nefarious schemes. Granted, such practices have been employed countless times over the ages, but the issue is that such exploitations are invariably deemed abusive and criminal and inappropriate in this day and age.
Pollution, contaminated environs, cut-and-run resource plundering, frauds, scams, substandard wages, and unsafe working conditions are just a few of the issues that too many participants of the capitalist system have contributed to that negative image. Unfortunately, governments have often been co-opted and turn a blind eye to such practices, or they naively discover the harmful practices long after the plunderers have fled with the profits.
Meanwhile some capitalists, albeit a minority, believe that a well-paid and well-cared-for work force is a great economic stimulator, and environmental and resource consciousness does seem to be slowly gaining importance and long sought-for recognition within parts of the corporate and human communities that are capable of long-term thinking – an activity missing in most political arenas.
As for the current economic disasters facing the majority of Western nations, Adam Smith – often cited as the “father of free-market capitalism” – was fiercely opposed to using taxpayer dollars to bail out businesses. Instead, he wanted them to succeed or fail on their own merits, albeit within certain legal constraints. His is a premise that the people of Iceland have recently proven to be absolutely correct while many other nations have blindly ignored this sage advice.
When Iceland was threatened with major bank failures around 2005 there was panic similar to that experienced in the financial communities of many other countries faced with their own banking deregulation, fraudulent practices, and mismanagement. But unlike most other countries, Icelanders are fierce advocates of the democratic process and, consequently, held a national referendum on the bailout issue. The referendum result was that they refused to bail out the banks despite threats of economic starvation, economic sanctions, and economic isolation coming from the International Monetary Fund and many Euro nations. Iceland was even put on a Euro terrorist watch list for their insubordination!
But guess what? Today those problematic banks are gone, Iceland’s economy is one of the most robust in the world, the threats have been replaced with entreaties for inclusion, they avoided the harsh economic measures being touted as essential by so many other nations – Canada included – and the Prime Minister of Iceland recently stated that they might have too much economic stimulus these days.
What the people of Iceland seem to have picked up on – perhaps unconsciously – is that corporations are addicted to increasing profit margins. There is no greater sin in the corporate community than to make less profit than the previous year, a premise too often promoted and supported by virtually every bank in the world today. But, just like addicts everywhere, corporate executives will sell their grandmother’s walker if it helps them get their next fix. That is their weakness.
In other words they can be brought to heel but it requires a government that is willing to do so. And that is a terrifying proposition to these addicts who have spent millions ensuring that politicians everywhere are on side with the corporate mantra of ever-increasing profit margins – despite the reality of finite resources and environmental degradation.
Unfortunately courageous and long-term thinking governments are in short supply these days and the Canadian government, unlike Iceland’s, has proven it lacks the courage and/or maturity to follow Iceland’s example.
And yes, Canada is still better off than the US whose government has been successfully seconded by the corporate community to the tune of trillions of dollars of indebtedness. But for how long?
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