Where Do We Go From Here? (Part 1)

We Western humans seem to be at a scary point in our march towards the future. The pace of change in every area of life seems to be getting faster and faster all the time. Many people struggle to keep up, in social, professional and economic environments that are endlessly reforming themselves.

One of the great concerns facing vast numbers of ordinary citizens, is that of declining job opportunities. The causes of this are many but the two most obvious ones are simply the constant increase in mechanisation of manufacturing apparatus and the ruthless habit of business …. of relocating the process of production offshore, where human labour can be obtained more cheaply than at home.

Additional changes within the social fabric are seeing an ever increasing portion of the means of production falling under the control of a constantly decreasing number of (often overseas) entities. Fewer and fewer people control more and more of the money and more and more of the businesses.

Free Enterprise, the economic poster child of western democracy ceased to serve the majority of its citizens, some time ago. The progressive concentration of wealth and power in the hands of fewer and fewer people is delivering us into the era of the monopoly. Here in Australia, for example, we have seen the steady disappearance of small businesses, particularly in the areas of retail and manufacture …. and the rise of fewer and fewer and larger and larger mega-businesses. We now have a choice of only two major grocery retailers, a couple of hardware chains and a few Department store suppliers of furniture and household goods. The days of going into your local town to do your shopping are pretty much over. Almost all shopping is nowadays concentrated in larger population centres and, for country people, involves a trip to the fringes of the nearest city.

Manufacturing continues to move offshore to where labour can be hired at far cheaper prices, due in large measure to the atrocious exploitation of foreign workers.

Many people, observing these changes feel bewildered by a society that is seemingly less and less able to provide for the needs its own citizens. Part of the reason for their confusion is that they have been preached an endless litany of economic nonsense for years and years. The mantra that a healthy economy will deliver well-being and contentment for everyone is, of course, a load of horse droppings. A healthy economy will deliver benefits to individuals, in direct proportion to the wealth that is controlled by those individuals. And as the wealthy have become fewer and fewer and richer and richer, the relative position of the rest of society has steadily deteriorated.

Much of this deterioration has been masked, in the short term, by the economic ‘benefits’ of technological change and the flow-on effects of cheaper production (delivered in large part by sourcing cheap labour from offshore). This has resulted in the availability of massive quantities of manufactured goods at prices hitherto undreamed of. Food also is cheaper at the moment, than at any previous time in history. In fact, it is fair to say that there has never been a time when ordinary people have enjoyed a greater material standard of living. So people have been much taken up with how well we are doing in our ‘healthy economy’, a view reinforced by the obvious reality that their personal standard of living is clearly on the rise.

Unfortunately, the party can’t go on forever and I believe that very soon now, the wheels might fall off our gravy train. And here’s why. The notion that business is somehow concerned with the well-being of society is the greatest lie that has been visited upon society by politicians from all sides of politics. And the spin doctor who first coined the term ‘corporate citizen’ to refer to businesses and their behaviour towards humanity, should be recognised as one of the greatest con artists who ever lived.

The fact is, business has but one, single imperative and that is to make profits. And business makes profits for its OWNERS. It really is that simple. And ‘corporate citizens’? Citizens are PEOPLE who live in a civilised society. Civilization implies human qualities of morality, compassion and co-operation. Business more correctly (if one acquiesces to the ridiculous human analogy at all) has the nature of a savage living in a jungle where the only law is to eat or be eaten! Business will always operate, so far as it is allowed, in whatever manner it needs to, to achieve the greatest profit. If that means sacking its local workforce and moving its production offshore, then say goodbye to your job! If it means underselling smaller competition at a short term loss in order to squeeze out competition, then say goodbye to your local retailers. And if it means bringing cheap, overseas goods into the country to compete directly with locally manufactured products, then say goodbye to your local industry!

There’s a massive problem with this clever devotion of business to the laws of economics. And the same problem exists within the mindset of their customers; the consumers without whom business cannot function. It is just this. Both business and society are so enchanted by the siren song of SHORT TERM benefit, that there is no concern whatever for long term consequences. Business can only thrive whilst it has customers able to purchase its goods and services. Customers can only obtain those goods and services, if they have money with which to purchase them. And most people within society will only have money, if they have a source of ongoing income, usually in the form of paid employment.

Australia is indeed a ‘lucky country’ and we have a long tradition of selling its resources to fund our consumer lifestyles. We sell our country off, one shovel-full, one load of wood-chipped forest, one gallon of precious crude, one tonne of irreplaceable minerals at a time. And if the proceeds from the endless exploitation of the nation’s natural resources where equitably distributed amongst its citizens, it might even provide an income that could keep this whole consumer economy in motion. Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

In the next instalment of this article, I’ll talk about the consequences of our march towards monopoly and later, I’ll look at the choices that we face as a society, in adapting to our brave new world. The news isn’t all bad. Our new economic realities provide new opportunities, as well as new challenges. I’ll hope you’ll join me as I kick a few thoughts around.

Andrew Caddle 2013-11-18

andrewcaddle.com

*** For Part II of this article, please go to:  http://andrewcaddle.com/wordpress/?p=338

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