Our globalized economic system, capitalism, has transcended all nation-states and become a monolith with a stranglehold on all social, political, and environmental functions. Its governing principle of return-on-capital takes precedence over any other law – natural or otherwise – and is enforced regardless of consequences to people or the planet. When a nation runs out of money and cannot meet its sovereign debt – as in Greece – the creditors, in order to be paid, impose draconian measures on the people by slashing their social benefits. Teachers are fired, health clinics are closed and doctors dismissed, pensions are cut, and even unemployment benefits are minimized if not eliminated.
The financiers blame the states’ impoverishment on profligacy, while, in truth, they have been using every ploy to starve governments. They outsource labor, which ends the tax contribution of idled domestic workers and lowers that of others whose wages erode in the process; they relocate corporations to avoid being taxed in the mother country; and they sequester profits in tax havens and – through blatant blackmail – will repatriate the money only if their tax rates are drastically slashed. Trillions of dollars are stashed out of government’s reach, and the recent Panama revelations about hidden fortunes are only the tip of the iceberg. A CEO’s only job is to raise stock value, and a better or needed product will be produced only if it serves that purpose. In the U.S. today finance – capitalism’s non-productive sector – accounts for over 30 percent of corporate profits, while in the 1950s it accounted for only 3 percent.
The ruthless domination of global financial capital is facilitated by non-democratic global institutions – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) – with every trade deal enhancing the free mobility of capital and products across national borders, regardless of the negative effect on the nation. As an agent of control, the nation-state has been eviscerated by the dominance of global capital. Democratic governments themselves, co-opted by capital’s representatives, bend over backwards to serve capital. By a failure to collect taxes, through an ongoing process of deregulation, and by the granting of lavish, unneeded subsidies to agribusiness, energy giants, and other corporations, governments further deplete themselves of the funds they need for social benefit and stability. The rich are doing an enviable job in keeping any part of their money from the people – money they originally extracted from the people as profit – and, ironically, the people’s governments are helping them do it!
Where does this over-arching global power of capital leave a fragmented world of nations separated from each other by their national borders and governments? Since it is impossible to address a global issue on a domestic level, the only option left to the isolated nation-state is to circumvent it. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders would increase taxation of the domestic rich – an ostensibly sensible but questionable strategy, since it may do no more than precipitate more capital flight to off-shore havens. Any president can, of course, attempt to enlist the cooperation of the other afflicted nations in order to create a global political counterforce as potent as global capital. There may be a move in this direction in the call by United Kingdom PM David Cameron to host a global “anti-corruption” summit.
But since leaders like Cameron are part of the capitalist establishment, it appears more and more that change will come only from the bottom up. The steady worldwide buildup of massive popular demonstrations suggests the most powerful manifestation of class struggle since the Great Depression. Protests are rife throughout Europe, with 120,000 people massing in France over the weekend of 4/9/16 in a pro-democracy, anti-austerity, and anti-capitalist demonstration. At this writing in the U.S., the Democracy Spring movement has drawn throngs to its weeklong program culminating in a 4/16 march on Washington. At the same time, 36,000 Verizon workers are on strike in New York City.
If this global response to the depredations of global finance capital unifies itself into a single organization of global resistance, the destructive autocracy of global capital will be in deep trouble. Once the people of the world have had it, so has global capital – and that day could well be on the horizon.