Tobogganing towards disaster


Tobogganing towards disaster

THE WORLD Economic Forum in Davos has been punctuated by the shrill pronouncements of the crusaders of capitalist triumphalism, Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. Both argued in their key-note speeches that it was the Anglo-Saxon economic model that was powering the world economy, adding that all other economic models should prostrate themselves before its ‘success’.

For good measure they added that this globalised capitalism had to try and fulfil certain environmental and social responsibilities. Clinton and Blair may be triumphalist but they are forced to acknowledge, as fierce protests hit the genteel Swiss resort, that there is a large, restless section of society disenfranchised by and disenchanted with globalisation.

But this plea to be ‘good’ capitalists appears consumed by the other side of the globalisers’ message. The Observer newspaper’s theorist-in-chief, Will Hutton, commented that, in his eleventh visit to the Davos forum, the ‘socially responsible’ seminars were poorly attended. In contrast, huge attendances occurred at all the seminars on the internet and e-commerce sessions..

Hutton felt obliged to remark: “The ‘hard’ conversations are about how to maximise shareholder value and how to be a winner in the new economy.”

But being a winner in this new economy means pursuing privatisation, deregulation and letting the market rip. The so-called new ‘knowledge’ economy based around e-commerce and internet stocks has created a further massive class divide in the world economy.

At the beginning of this new century some US internet entrepreneurs are enjoying obscene prosperity, as record-breaking stock market surges push internet shares – the so-called stocks – to many times the limit of what the companies could ever be worth. Yet, simultaneously over half the world’s six billion population subsist on $3 a day or less.

Blair and Clinton talk of the internet revolution liberating mankind. But the developed countries have just 16% of the world’s population but boast 90% of internet users.

In Ethiopia a personal computer costs 15 times the average annual income. One suburb of New York – Manhattan – has more telephone lines than all of sub-Saharan Africa.

The advanced capitalist countries invest over $30 billion more annually in telecoms than the developing world does. This means that the USA has 660 phone lines per 1,000 people, while in China there are 70; in Chad, Somalia and Afghanistan there is only one phone per 1,000 people.

But even within developed countries and within the underdeveloped countries there are massive wealth disparities. The gap is widening between countries and within all countries. In newly emerging capitalist China, has brought its owner, Charles Ziang, a fortune worth $4.5 million.

The internet has been successfully used by those organising protests against this rapacious global capitalism wherever it meets; Seattle or Switzerland. But access to the internet is also being used by capitalism as an increasingly sharp tool in its exploitation of working-class people at home and more savagely abroad in underdeveloped countries.

The success of the US bubble economy has been wildly exaggerated by its apostles Clinton and Blair. Inevitably it will burst and the over-inflated shares will come to earth with a greater bump than a novice skier in Davos.

That’s why they fear the growing protests against globalisation. Currently these protests are loose, internet-based constructions. But as the Seattle protests showed organised labour is starting to flex its muscles against global capitalism.

The protests against capitalism are still inchoate, but they are not just against environmental damage or social injustice – as important as those issues are – but they also show widespread questioning of the capitalist sytem – whether it is the Blair/Clinton model or the social capitalist model pursued in Europe. Workers’ struggles in France, Germany and Seattle show that just as capitalism is intent on pursuing its agenda worldwide, workers are also beginning to resist and unite globally to stop it.