So Much Horror Obscured and Rationalized in a Single Phrase
Or, the Reality of Imperialist Globalization
by Raymond Lotta
February 27, 2017 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
The February 19th Sunday New York Times Book Review featured a review by Franklin Foer. Midway in his commentary, Foer blithely declares: “On the whole, thanks to the advance of capitalism, we live in a world with less abject poverty, less disease, less oppression, and greater material prosperity.”
To which I can only respond: what world, Mr. Foer, do you live in… and who exactly is this “we”?
The World We Actually Live In
You see, “thanks to the advance of capitalism” (Foer’s congratulatory phrase), the actual world we live in is one of mass, grinding poverty—and grotesque, widening inequality:
- 1 in 10 people on the planet barely survives on less than $2 a day; and 2.4 billion humans (1 in 3) still lack access to a rudimentary latrine.1
- 16,000 children, overwhelmingly in the Third World, die each and every day of preventable malnutrition and disease; 168 million children are trapped in child labor; and 40 percent of the world’s active youth population is either unemployed or living in poverty.2
- 8 men (7 in the U.S.) have a net worth equal to that of the poorest half of humanity—that’s 8 billionaires and 3.7 billion people! Between 1988 and 2011 the incomes of the poorest 10 percent increased by just $65 per person, while the incomes of the richest 1 percent grew by $11,800 per person—182 times as much.3
So, again, who is the “we,” and who is the beneficiary, of Foer’s “greater material prosperity”?
“Thanks to the advance of capitalism,” the actual world we live in is one of murderous war… dislocation and systematic dispossession… and the brutal subjugation and dehumanization of women:
- 655,000 Iraqis were killed in the 40 months following the U.S. invasion in 2003. 4
- 4 to 5 million people were killed or died in Congo between 1998 and 2007 as a result of civil war in a country bled and plundered by colonialism and imperialism for 140 years. 5
- 65 million persons, nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide, have been forcibly displaced from their homes and homelands by war, poverty, persecution, and environmental devastation. This is the greatest number of refugees since World War 2. 6
- 1 in 3 women on this planet experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.7
Where do these human beings fit into Foer’s (fictive) world of “less oppression”? They’re out of view, or seen as collateral damage, when you’re sitting in the first-class cabin of imperialist globalization.
“Thanks to the advance of capitalism”… there may not be a sustainable world for humanity to live in. The planet is approaching a perilous environmental tipping point.
- 2016 was the warmest year on the planet since records have been kept—and 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurred between 2001 and 2016. 8
- Arctic ice is melting at accelerating rates, and sea levels have already risen 8 inches—and are predicted to rise by 3 feet by 2100—threatening island nations, communities, and low-lying coastal areas and cities throughout the world. 9
- Polluted air is now causing the premature deaths of 5.5 million people annually. 10
- A mere 90 corporations, primarily oil and gas companies, are responsible for two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions generated since the dawning of the capitalist-industrial age in 1750. Half of the emissions were caused in the past 25 years alone (when the scientific fact of fossil fuels and global warming was well known).11 And now Donald Trump promises to turn on, full force, the spigots of fossil fuels.
Such is the “advance of capitalism.”
How Capitalism “Advances”
Capitalism-imperialism envelops ever-more of human life and the geography and resources of the planet into its network of economic and power relations. This is an economic system and social order organized around profit, in which a tiny handful, the ruling capitalist-imperialist class, controls the vast wealth and means of producing wealth on the planet.
Capitalism “advances,” as it only can: by exploiting human labor, by introducing technology on a ever-widening scale, to make exploitation ever-more efficient and cost-effective—and by turning nature into mere inputs to pour into production for profit… and more profit. This is a world dominated by massive, competing transnational banks and corporations that finance and organize the extraction of minerals and resources destroying livelihoods and eco-systems, and that coordinate the supply chains of low-cost manufacturing production based on super-exploitation and impoverishment of the many.
The capitalist system of ownership and control, and its financial structures, concentrate ever-more wealth, ever-more upward, to the few. But Foer tells us: there is “less abject poverty.” Oh, fucking please. There were periods when slave rations increased in the plantation economy. Unemployment went down under Hitler. And in Bangladesh today: young women can leave the countryside and raise their incomes above the extreme poverty line by working in garment sweatshops… where they’re sexually preyed-upon and can lose their lives in building collapses and industrial fires… in a country where as many as 50 million people may be forced to flee by 2050, if sea levels rise as expected.12
Capitalism-imperialism is a system of contending imperial powers vying for global control and domination. It is kept in place by a colossal apparatus of military force and repression to carry out genocidal imperial wars and occupations… to deploy drones and death squads… to deport… and to incarcerate and mass incarcerate Black and Latino youth in the U.S.
Capitalism-imperialism has produced a world of unprecedented horrors and environmental devastation. It is a sharply class-divided world; with a handful of rich dominating countries; with islands of affluence and privilege, feasting on and fortified against the vast billions.
This is the state of humanity and the planet that Franklin Foer so breathlessly and obscenely celebrates—and packs into the single phrase: “On the whole, thanks to the advance of capitalism, we live in a world with less abject poverty, less disease, less oppression, and greater material prosperity.”
1. The World Bank, Poverty: Overview, October 2, 2016 update; World Health Organization, November 2016, Sanitation: Fact Sheet. [back]
2 UNICEF, Levels and Trends in Infant Mortality, Report 2015; International Labor Organization, World Report on Child Labor 2015; UNDP, Human Development Report 2015: Work For Human Development. [back]
3 Oxfam International, An Economy for the 99%, London, Jan. 2017. [back]
4 The Lancet, October 21, 2006, “Mortality after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” [back]
5 International Rescue Committee, January 2008, Mortality in The Democratic Republic of Congo. [back]
6 UNHCR, Global Trends in Forced Displacement, June 2016. [back]
7 World Health Organization, June 2013, Global and regional estimates of violence against women. [back]
8 Scientific American, January 18, 2017, “2016 Was the Hottest Year on Record.” [back]
9 Washington Post, March 30, 2016, “Scientists Nearly Double Sea Level Rise Projections for 2100.” [back]
10. UBC News, February 12, 2016, “Poor Air Quality Kills 5.5 Million Worldwide Annually” [back]
11 Sciencemag.org/news, August 25, 2016, “Just 90 companies are to blame for most climate change, this ‘carbon accountant’ says.” [back]
12 The New York Times, March 28, 2014, “Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land.” [back]
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