With all the talk of the ‘New Economy’, it’s worthwhile considering the reality of industrialism, employment and consumption, given that with every new advance in technology, jobs are being shed at a horrendous rate, not only here in South Africa but all over the world.
The ‘consumer society’ is predicated on three things: Mass Production + Mass Employment = Mass Consumption.
In theory a circular system, with each part of the equation being totally dependent on the other two. Remove one part of the equation and the entire structure falls apart. And today, that’s exactly what’s happened: mass production but no mass employment, hence no mass consumption, except for a minority of the world’s population. This relationship in theory at least, drives a never-ending increase in GNP, jobs, markets, and the whole damn shebang goes rattling off into the future, consuming and dumping its crap as it goes (most of it apparently, in the developing world).
The IT revolution (which has effectively completed the process of globalism started in the 19th century) and the primary cause of job losses, is now undermining the entire basis of modern capitalist society. This is why many of the leading ‘authorities’ on capitalist economics such as George Soros are now questioning the nature of the society that we have created. Moreover, they can produce no answers without challenging the nature of capitalism itself. The current debate on the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and indeed the unequal relationship between the developed and the developing world, although never addressing the problem in these terms, effectively revolves around this central dilemma.
Machines now create so much wealth on a global scale that in reality, there is no necessity for everyone to have a ‘job’ in order to live, at least in the traditional understanding of the word. But without jobs, where is the profit to come from? Machines form part of what is called fixed capital from which profit can never be extracted, you need humans in the equation in order to extract surplus value by paying them wages which are less than the total cost of production. The difference is profit which is then largely, privately appropriated.
So, without the Old Economy there is no New Economy, right? But where is the Old Economy? You guessed it, right here in the developing world. All that nasty, smelly old production that fucked up Nature and ruined the view is being exported. The problem is however, that there’s more of the developing world than the developed. Just too many people, so some of them are going have to be dumped.
A book I read recently titled “Jihad versus McWorld” used a term called the “Terminal World”. The Terminal World is that part of the developing world which is entirely ‘surplus to requirement’. In a nutshell, the Terminal World is a basket case and it’s just not worth bothering about. It’s fallen off the edge of the planet and out of our collective sight, at least that’s how the developed world sees it. The cartoon in a recent edition of the “Economist” pretty well summed up this view.
According to this view, Southern Africa, perhaps even Africa itself hovers somewhere between the Developing and Terminal Worlds. The end of the Cold War means that even as a testing ground for new weapons systems, Africa no longer has a strategic role to play in the battle of ideologies, a battle the West claims to have won. But as they say, I think it’s a Pyrrhic victory, and even the newly invented ‘foes’ of democracy (the Arabs, Fundamentalists, Drug Lords and all the other, assorted ‘enemies’ of the Western way of life) can’t replace the Evil Empire as a driving force of the Western economies. Thank god for the ‘New Economy’ eh?
In South Africa, we are pinning our hopes on a somewhat revised form of capitalism, sometimes called ‘sustainable capitalism’ or ‘green capitalism’. Is this a realistic view of development? It all depends on a number of interlinked factors not the least of which is the effect of the IT revolution on the developed world’s economy. The other major factor, at least in my opinion, is education, but education is expensive and the ‘learning curve’ is relatively long, given the extreme pace of change. In other words, do we have the time? Time to produce a new generation of people with skills that are firmly rooted in the 21st century as opposed to the 19th?
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