Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Middleground on Capitalism and Socialism, Where have you gone ?


In an earlier post, we discussed few fashions in our society and why certain fashions are harmful. Looks like there are more and more subtle not so obvious types of fashions for those we all fall into at one point or the other. Nothing terribly wrong with that either, as that's the usual way human beings learn, by trial and error. However it will be useful to be aware of our thinking process and be alert to occasions when we want to say or do something just because that is the fashion of the day to do so!

This thought occurred to me when following a particualr topic in the renown blogs of Chanuka Wattegama and Aruni Shapiro, where both were claiming to be capitalists but seems like there is a disagreement on the level of capitalism. Now, I don't mean any disrespect to those authors, infact I read them regularly and even learning new things from them, Chanuka of course we all know from Vidusara days, among other things. The thought occurred to me was something entirely different and nothing directly related to above bloggers.

It is not too long ago that we saw similar arguments and races to show and prove who among us are the real and most genuine socialists. The resulting irony of comparison of times (present against that of about just 2 decades ago) is too hard to go unnoticed. Do we remember those speeches we heard from stages, discussions, arguments on stage, arguments on TV and even on arguments in news papers ? Now, those days were the times where claiming to be a socialist was the order of the day. Socialism meant more progressive, more philanthropic, more advanced less greedy and purer. Different marxist parties actually fought over the rights of being true left. Intellectuals were no different! Openly and publicly claiming to be a capitalist was an unheard of thing those days.

When CBK wanted to introduce her new economy policy she had to choose the words carefully and offer something like a 'humane look for the open economy'. Just acknowledging to be a raw fan of open economic policies was a taboo. Do you support open economy.. no way! it's the cause of all evil that's why there is a war in north, the degration of social values, erosion of humanism and so on.. Fashion was to be against capitalism and open economy but to sound like a socialist. There was even a jargon, set of terms which sounded more socialist than others. Now, all this was not just among ordinary folks like you and me, it was the fashion also (or should we say 'specially') among intelectuals!  

So forgive me having a fun time watching how the world has changed. Today, the fashion is to be a capitalist! race is to be the biggest and most daring capitalist of 'em all! Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make fun of any one. Just enjoying observing the social movements and changes in society which unravel rapidly in front of our own eyes. I myself was mildly following the socialism fashion for a time being. (Well, who wouldn't like to be little stylish when they are young? Unfortunately it wasn't fun for those who didn't survive in 87/89, some just didn't make it after following that particular fashion of socialism back then.) However, this time I will be extra cautious! Just following a fashion is not so smart when one is no longer young and expected to posses a balanced mind. Fashion these days is to sound like a firm capitalist, to talk about the benefits of freemarket and how the demand and supply going to solve everything, be against all form of subsidies and welfare etc. When so many of our people and politicians getting together and saying the same thing with lot of assuarance, that usually mean something is wrong!

Sometimes fashions can be correct too. Can this be one such occasion ? Whole world, after so many experiments have evolved economically and found the one true and real system which actually works. Capitalism. Can that be the case ? This, is an argument beyond the scope of a single (or a series of) post, I'm not even trying.  For fashion lovers, we will just show that even capitalism has it's limits and will become outdated much sooner than they might think. 

Capitalism grows when the consumption grows. When consumption goes down, capitalist creatures go into that hibernate mode of theirs call recessions. In fact, consumption is the metric used to measure how developed a economy is. How much do you consume per a month? a lot more than you neighbor? ah, then you are richer than him! that's how it works. So when we grow yearly, we get used to consume more and more and more. Why is milk food expensive now ? because Indians and Chinese have got rich and has started to consume more milk. Why is fuel prices going up ? because we are consuming more and more fuel, actually to sustain economic growth, it will be needed to consume more and more fuel. (at least until solar energy become cheap, but till that happens, there will be a deep recession if not enough fuel is available to consume). There is a saying that price of fuel will sky rocket to new dimension if all Indians take a fancy to driving own cars. With what Ratan Tata is upto, that just might really happen!

So what's the problem? we will continue consuming more, standard of living will go up, advance of science will find ways of consuming more and more things cheaply. There lies the problem.... There simply is not enough resources to go on doing this forever at this pace and acceleration! At one point, the world and it's limited resources will go on strike, that will be a one strike which will need little more than a pay hike to those socialist workers to subdue. The world, it appears has it's own few trade unions to talk through. Climate change is one, increased carbon emissions as a direct result of consumption is another. Rising sea levels, polluted air and water resources, dwindling forests.. wait! some minimum land mass will be needed to keep as forests to preserve the balance of nature. As of fossil fuels, all types of metals etc they would be non-reneawable sources, that is they have a cap. Once you use them, they are not going to come back again (not in our life time that is)

So, the capitalist consumerism dream is not going to be a one which can be sustained with a steady growth forever. If we have an endless source of resources, then one might argue even a greed (consume) based system might last long, but we haven't got one. Science will advance and help us to increase the efficiency of how we are using the limited resources but even that pace can't cope with the unlimited potential of greed. Greed has no bound, even if we increase our consumption levels by each day, we will then complain about the rate of our increase in consumption. The one who grows in the higher rate would be the man to beat then!

This is not a new argument or another doomsday forecast. The world eco system simply have a limit which it can endure, the world can support only upto a certain number of humans at a time, for instance. Similarly it can support only upto a certain levle of consumption by those humans, we will eventually need to limit our consumption and limit the amount of waste we produce and amount of carbon dioxide we produce. (Every production produces CO2, so consumption is linked to carbon emissions which is linked to global warming which causes rising sea levels which warm things even further etc.) Therefore the world will eventually need a new way of thinking which transform our mindset to check our desires, consume less and be contended. That will not be a choice but a necessity.

Now, all that was just to show that there is a limit to capitalism beyond which it too will have to be discarded. That particular thinking can be a fashion in future! When capitalism go out of fashion, who knows, we all might be trying to be the most 'greener' person instead! Well, if that were to happen, at least that will be a fashion which is actually a relief for the worn out world and the environment! Meanwhile, let's not scare off anybody yet and let us generously give the capitalist dream (so called American dream!) another decade or two. Like I said, this post is not about economy, it's about fashion!

Just one last caution for fashion lovers. It's the second mouse which gets the cheese! so let's not rush, let's wait and observe the first mouse a bit.

Feel free to express your burning, flaming disagreements (and meek agreements too!) and let all of us learn something from them.